Month: March 2019

On the trail of Leonardo – Milan, Italy.

Dear friends and family, Bill and I made it! The stretch from Singapore to Milan a mere 13 hours, and to my great surprise I actually slept more than 5 hours with the help of a magic pill. Sunny weather and a brisk cold air awaited us. The bus trip to the Milano Centrale station a good hour with too many people coughing and talking on their mobiles. Also the flight felt like a thousand coughs hit us with contamination, so here’s to double doses of vitamin C in the first few days.

2019 and Italy is overflowing with celebrations marking the 500th anniversary of the death of Leonardo da Vinci, the man who more than any other, represents Italy throughout the world. This creative mind shaped the intellectual, social, cultural and political facets of European life from the fifteenth century. Leonardo’s contribution to philosophy, nature, medicine and art is fantastic.

Leonardo statue



Some of the places we have visited on foot are the Duomo, a symbol of Gothic architecture. Unfortunately we did not ascend to the roof. The Galleria Vittorio Emanuele 11, known as the “living room” of Milan. We wandered for hours around the streets near the Duomo observing a vibrant people and lifestyle. I think we counted about 15 school groups on excursions tagging along with their teachers, giggly girls and whispering boys. The Porta Nuova district with its raised square dedicated to architect and designer Age Aulenti. Spent time looking at the Parco Sempione, monuments, cafes and bars. Republica and the Centrale Station with ticket machines and book shops.

More adorable kids books caught my attention. Above is the Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Italian style. I discovered with the help of illustrator Giuseppe Poli from Brisbane, Queensland, the artist Beatrice Alemagna whose style of art is magical. What a delight to find some of her books and browse the pages!

Beatrice Alemagna – The Disasters of Harold Snipper Pott


Apart from my love of children’s books, there’s the food. Bill and I have eaten mushroom risotto and pizzas of all types. Sipped Americano coffee and expresso. Here’s what a typical menu can look like.


So, it’s only been two days and we have walked for many, many hours, watched the trams go by and avoided the underground. The predominant colour of dress here is black. Smoking is still obvious everywhere. The mantra seems to be – shop, eat, recharge, repeat. I would like to visit some of the fashion outlets, but we’ll see. For now, we are observers in a fashion conscious city where The Last Supper by Leonardo da Vinci ( 15th century) is famous. I still pinch myself that we are in Italy with a few polite greetings that allow us friendly smiles. Very soon, I will be ready to write about Bologna and the popular Children’s Book fair. Better brush up on some more Italian phrases.

Excuse me, where is the ticket office? Scusi, dove la biglietteria?

I’m retired. Sono … in pensione. Madam, Mrs – Signora.

Giovanna is pretty. Giovanna e Bella.


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Kindness & Well Being in Children’s Books

I have recently been to the book launch of Sunshine Coast author Renee Irving Lee with The Strongest Boy, Lilly Pilly Publishing. There was a wonderful engaging audience of children responding to Bruce the cheeky bird in the story and Renee’s questions at the start. Held in the Coolum Beach Baptist Church in Coolum, Renee read aloud her picture story about Max who learns better ways of using strong words, his strong heart and a strong mind. What a resilient and valuable lesson for all of us today! Illustrator Goce Ilievski from Macedonia has quirky, cartoony bright pictures that appeal to the young.


Here is one little strong boy in the crowd. Rather than just physical strength, it’s better to use kindness strength. What child doesn’t like to push a car!!


A kindness wall was set up outside where the children could write messages and clip them onto the string. Face painting, colouring in sheets, photo booths and more were used cleverly to entertain the youngsters. Parents were involved and these activities worked well. The playgroup area venue was perfect for toddlers and noise. I really liked the strong heart worksheet that gave the children clues as to examples of having and showing a strong heart – inclusive play, help others, smile at others, give compliments and be grateful.


Renee is passionate about writing children’s books that promote life long learning, social inclusion and improve self esteem. She graduated with a Distinction in a Bachelor of Education ( Special Education). Her diverse background can be browsed and noted on her Facebook page.


On a very similar theme and message are the fantastic collection of glossy paged BIG books published by Enlighten Press. These exclusive books make up a well being tool kit that Author Melissa Reve and her daughter Ayla are designing. It’s a family business with Melissa leading the way in life long learning. These big books help to calm and connect children. Mostly designed for the educational community, the titles vary from Emotions, Family, Yoga, Friends, to multi-cultural themes about Festivals, Waterwise and Australia.


A closer look into the Emotions book shows impressive insight into what children feel and how to manage their emotions. From sadness, anger to joy and disappointment, author Melissa has communicated a powerful message of hope and resilience today.

The photographs are dynamic, relatable and colourful. They immediately engage their reader. Some are dream like and captivate an amazing quality that suits the topic.

As Melissa states,” these books are a direct result of conversations Ayla and I have together, sharing our opinions of how our perception creates our experience and the ways we can reframe our thoughts and choose our feelings to feel better.”




Kindness is a strong message in The Strong Boy and some of these Big books. Well being and mindfulness are relevant and current topics for everyone. That’s why I love these laminated and double sided big books, with big heart felt messages. Enlighten Press also produce teacher’s notes and posters for the classroom. Check out their website.

The posters are on ‘how to make a friend’ and ‘choose a greeting’. Above all, the books are designed to support teaching of the Australian curriculum. You can order online or by email and choose any combination of books and posters.

I believe if Renee were to meet Melissa, as parents and educators, they would smile at one another for the way their books empower children to be resilient, strong and emotionally shining. Thumbs up!



As a grandparent myself, I recommend these beautiful books. Why not tell your friends, local library or share these new books. What could be more important than improving self esteem, kindness and the ability to show compassion.

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Renee, Emma Middleton, Marg Gibbs

Toddlers, Books and Bedtime – part 2

There is no greater gift that a parent can give a child. Greater than jewels and gold, a mother who reads to me. In our busy digital world of flipping back and forwards screens on Iphones, the book for a toddler is an experience of worth and great value.

I love the way toddlers around one year to two years babble, make sounds, giggle and stare as the pages of a book unfold. A story brings language, a rhyme, patterns and beauty. And so I am fortunate to have three grand children at the moment between these ages to share stories with.

Some pointers for the parents/ care givers. Don’t rush, even when they insist on pushing and pulling the pages. Read with excitement and energy to make them engaged. Choose a wide range of reading – hard books, flip books, peek a boo, counting, ABS etc. Get comfortable with your child and books. Tucked up in bed or sitting on a sofa or bean bag.

At 18 months twins Annie and James choose their favourite books.



Hattie and the Fox


Toddlers like repetition. They also like the book to be read several times. This bond is fantastic. Point to pictures, ask simple questions, look for hidden clues, let them lift the flaps. Reading poetry is fun. Memorisation is good. Any time is a story time. before breakfast, before nap time, after dinner. The Walker Book of Poetry is a great collection.

A wonderful author Meg McKinlay and illustrator Leila Rudge


I enjoy setting time aside with my grand children to read books. Each of them have different tastes. Simple stories like The Three Bears is easy for the telling. Explore the latest books and re-read old favourites. Toddlers can visit libraries, although their attention span is limited and often they want to play or touch as many books as possible.

Look out for some popular titles.


Nick Bland books are popular; hungry, cranky bears sell well. I think you’ll guess why.

Aaron Blabey books are favourites right up to 3 years. A bit of fun and nonsense.

The Storybox Library is an online database of children’s books read aloud by famous authors, musicians, comedians, sports people and actors, suitable for listening for ages 2+. It has a catchy tune that young children like and the stories are well chosen.



Noisy books that make sounds are terrific too. Press a button, listen to the cow moo!!

Always carry a book on holidays, in the car, on a picnic, to grandma’s house, to church, or pile them up near their bed. When toddlers see that their parents love and value reading, then they will pick up these good habits/ Persistence is everything.

Wordless picture books such as Jan Ormerod’s Sunshine and Moonlight are a treat.

Check out Emma Quay’s marvellous picture books, Daddy’s Cheeky Monkeys and Bear and Chook.  NZ writer, illustrator, Pamela Allen is a winner too.

Mem Fox and Alison Lester both have a glorious collection of board books for the small children.

Lastly, don’t agonise over toys and what to give as a gift for a birthday. Buy a book that brings a forever beauty to a child’s day.


A showcase of Children’s Authors and Illustrators in Sydney

An exclusive event recently in Sydney saw me and Bill amidst the crowds of enthusiastic professionals from the children’s book industry. It’s called SCBWI or the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, Australia and New Zealand. The program was held at the Novotel Sydney Central. There’s always a buzz when you come face to face with passionate writers and picture makers.

Panel discussions, interviews, master classes and book sales feature along with portfolios of brilliant children’s artwork and the line ups for coffee and food. Networking is possible. A must really. A chance to celebrate successes and new possibilities. I met so many fascinating people, including Elise Hurst and Stephen Axelsen, both commanding illustrators. The trio of Sue Whiting, Sally Murphy and Claire Saxby were in a happy mood as they met up to celebrate the evening.

Topics discussed at the conference were How To Make Yourself more Marketable as a writer – and sell books! The Craft and Business of Getting and Staying published with US Editor Mira Reisberg, and Success in Publishing with Vivian Kirkfield, acclaimed US blogger. MC Susanne Gervay captivated her audience with witty comments and a friendly, warm approach.

The perfect pitch to publishers was wonderful; in other words, how do pitches become a published book? Several emerging and established authors pitched their books to Lisa Berryman, Claire Halifax, Tara Wynne, Maryann Ballantyne and Brian Cook. Always a bit nerve wracking for the speakers, this session proved to be most informative.

illustrator Thea Baker

So many bright faces in the crowds. Catherine Pelosi ( Quarks Academy) in the red dress with me. Nicola Bolton, bottom left and Liz Anelli with Maddie’s First Day, bottom right. Snippets of conversations about ideas and publication. Inspiration. Questions. Sipping coffee and muffins. Sharing ideas. Catching up.


Illustrators like Emma Middleton enticed many lookers to her keenly observed illustrations. Christina Booth who believes, “art is not what you see, but what you make others see.” Edgar degas’s quote. Nicky Johnston’s clever sketches, Gemma Patience’s fun and likeable drawings, and Giuseppe Poli’s vibrant and quirky paintings.


I attended a Masterclass with Zoe Walton, above, whose approach to writing dialogue was demonstrated by her skilful examples of correct punctuation, dialogue tags, ‘beats’, authenticity, character, intention and extracts read to help the students. We were given time to edit our manuscripts and ask questions.


Mira Reisberg, art director and US editor provided outstanding examples of visual humour and exercises for us to complete on a worksheet. Our group of 6 worked hard to imagine all sorts of mish mash situations, plotting, goofy characters and teasing out a narrative. Mira’s slide presentation was so helpful to the many versions of humour in kid’s lit. ( sarcasm, parody, hyperbole, dark humour etc)


Writer Christina Booth on right


David Lewis writer

The keynote speeches, face to face manuscript appraisals ( I was lucky to have Linsay Knight from Walker Books talk to me about my middle grade novel) the Pitch to Publisher panel and so much more made SCBWI a fabulous 2 days.

Added to this Bill and I rocked up at Dymocks bookstore to be part of the notables presentation and to catch the passionate Matt Cosgrove ( below) with his Macca the Alpaca picture books. What a treat! Cute clever alpaca in all sorts of humorous situations. Matt even showed the audience how to draw the face of the animal with a simple YOU technique. The shapes of YOU are the essence of the drawings. And Matt’s childhood story to the present day is worth listening to.

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Reviewer Joy Lawn

And our dear Sheryl Gwyther from Queensland had the best moment of JOY when her Middle Grade book Sweet Adversity was recognised as a notable. Congratulations Sheryl!


Coming home is always a time for reflection and improving one’s writing. The sea of faces I met made the trip memorable. Special thanks to all the amazing helpers, volunteers and dedicated staff. Personally it was fun to meet many talented illustrators and writers who love what they are doing.


Emma Middleton illustrator and author