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Snapshot at Voices on the Coast


Author Karen Foxlee meets a student who wins  a book prize – she asks the audience the question – What’s the best thing about life? His answer – Waking up each day and learning a whole lot about life and myself. Her shortlisted book Lenny’s Book of Everything tells a marvellous story about feeling different and a set of encyclopaedias. Karen started with the idea of what if?

Stories are everywhere, They tickle your mind and heart when you least expect them. At Voices on the Coast, Sippy Downs University, hundreds of eager children and adults meet for unexpected surprises. Workshops, talks, catch up time, reading – what more could you ask for on a perfect winter’s day. Books to buy, authors to meet and tips from the experts.



Illustrator Frane Lessac from Fremantle explored picture books about history. Simpson and his Donkey and Midnight, a fabulous horse story. Frane took us inside the double page spreads and drafts of editing that her husband Mark Greenwood writes. As a team, they travel, research, explore and work on many drafts before the book comes to life.

Frane showed the children how she dips into a feather to make the quills of an echidna come to life. Her Australian animals series are favourites. Gouache paints are used in her studio to bring to life soldiers during war or animal heroes like Midnight.

Other excellent titles are seen on the book tables. Challenging fiction that engages the readers, pushes boundaries and allows the imagination to grow.


When things get too hyped up with the crowds, there’s always times to sit alone and read.




At break time, there’s a rush to the QBD stand to purchase a book.



IMG_4815Whether you meet author Oliver Phommavanh ( How to write funny stuff) or bump into Peter Carnavas ( Quiet Stories in a Noisy World), perhaps you might listen to Emily Larkin, Kellie Byrnes , Allison Paterson, or Thalia Kalkipsakis ( Get it Right from the Start). Voices is a literary festival that is a winner. Today’s snapshot is for the first day – Thursday. It’s an annual event presented by Immanuel Lutheran College on the Sunshine Hinterland Coast – 24 years running and still going strong.

If you get a chance read Megan Daley’s book called Raising Readers. Use it daily as a meditation, a resource at home, in the schools and to buy as a gift. It has years of passionate research, understanding and knowledge.

This year I used the Voices app. to provide a simple download about the sessions and map. Most of the sessions are 45 minutes long and workshops an hour with smaller groups.

Watch out tomorrow. Here I come!



Magic Early Reader Series

Oh! to be a child of 4-8 years again, when life is simple and reading is fun. New readers want to read. Many labels are attached to this enthusiastic group of children, like beginner readers, emerging, easy and younger readers. There are countless titles in the book stores and Big W, where I happened to be shopping last week for mundane household items, like a toilet brush and new pillow cases.

Series books are everywhere, Kids want them like lollies. Except books and stories do not contain sugar. They are healthier and better for them in every sense. Dull stories won’t fulfil the very vital fundamentals of an emergent reader. They want action, simple words, repetition and funny characters.

The Billie B Brown series by Sally Rippin has been very successful. Box sets sell at $13.95 approx. up to $50. The Birthday Mix up and other titles capture the interests of young girls and boys. Billie’s party is going to be the best ever. She has lots of fun things planned. Now she just has to wait for her friends to show up. With titles like The Midnight Feast, Stolen Stash and The Soccer Star, author Sally Rippin knows what kids like.


Must have series include Clementine, the cheeky sparky heroine of author Jacqueline Harvey. Horse Crazy by Alison Lester, The Cleo Stories by Libby Gleeson and Freya Blackwood, Old Tom by Leigh Hobbs, I Spy Fly Guy where words are repeated, there’s hide and seek and lots of laughs. Kensy and Max too shine through.

The Ella and Olivia series have won many hearts too. A whole rainbow collection with quirky characters, fast plots and witty dialogue to engage readers. I am presently reading Hula Hoopla where Ella and Olivia’s school is having a hula-hooping challenge! But Olivia can’t do the hole hoop. How will she join in? Scholastic have branded these books in bright greens and purples covers with large text, simple illustrations and enlarged key words to attract and teach the children vocabulary.


Hey Jack series by Sally Rippin look sensational in their gift box sets. Look at the above titles. Once a child starts to read these, they are hooked. Roald Dahl sets are popular too, perhaps for the mid primary age group. Always a winner for their amazing story lines and contrast in characters, the plots thicken and each book can also stand alone.


While I encourage parents to buy a boxed set for Christmas or  birthday, children also need to read above their age level and find deeper meaning in stand alone books. I encourage reading practice, discussion and after reflection. Most children simply want entertainment at this age but parents who know their children’s interest can enhance their understanding by keeping abreast of what’s out there.


Early readers are books that sharpen skills, develop fluency and progress the child’s journey into a rewarding and stimulating experience of reading.

Picture book author and illustrator Zanni Louise has written Tiggy and the Magic Paintbrush has about 6 titles. Adorable Felix, Poh and Tiggy have their first sleepover. But when Tiggy realises that she has forgotten her special toy, she starts to feel nervous. Can Siggy’s magic paintbrush help her to get to sleep? The cover of this book is vivid with metallic letters for the title. Every page is filled with sketches, large lettering and bite sized story line.


Finally, Lemonade Jones has 2 stories in this delightful book, by Davina Bell and Karen Blair. As a hard cover, it shows a fiesta girl with a lot of fizz. Allen and Unwin have published this clever book with gorgeous illustrations in bright colours. I think it’s an imaginative book with contemporary, every day ideas.

Whether it’s read aloud Dr Seuss books or Nate the Great, about a boy detective George Brown, Class Clown, even some Lego Star Wars series, be sure to connect your children to engaging, fun filled stories that sparkle.

A Quiet Girl called Mary

Recently I returned from Canberra at a children’s book conference where I saw Peter Carnavas dressed as a pirate, barefooted, patch- eyed and with a wicked sense of humour. Peter Carnavas, story teller was throwing lollies to his audience and playing with 2 other funny authors. Peter writes and illustrates books for children and the grown ups in their lives. He’s a gentle man, versatile writer, gifted illustrator, a father and adoring husband who lives in Flaxton on the Sunshine Coast Hinterland. Actually not far from me in Mapleton. I bought his picture story called The Children Who Loved Books and my grand children enjoy the pictures and ideas in the story.


Now Pete wears many hats – he visits school for workshops, he attends conferences for book launches, he loves libraries and he persists at his illustrating until magic happens on the page. That magic is seen in a picture book that I purchased in Canberra, A Quiet Girl. Mary, the main character is a girl who likes solitude, stillness and serenity. She whispers words and listens “to the soft sigh of the sleeping dog.” Away from her noisy family who are busy talking on the phone and playing music, Mary enjoys the senses of the world around her – ‘the tickle of the breeze and a fine thread of spider silk.’ These moments count for Mary. She likes to be quiet. But her parents hardly notice when she goes missing.


‘Have you been here the whole time?’

‘Yes,’ whispered Mary.

‘But we didn’t hear you, said Dad, until we were…’

‘Quiet,’ said Mary.

Peter has captured the soothing calm in this story by his pastel soft illustrations. A gentle soft green cover suggests nature, with birds on the inside and back covers. The use of white space emphasises the calm for Mary to experience. There are small words to suggest a quiet tone. Mary, herself is a cute girl who loves climbing trees, swinging and paying attention to beautiful things. The reader is drawn to her because there is such a contrast between her world and her noisy family. The final double spread clearly brings all the elements of design, layout and colours together to show a happy family.

Well done Pete! A magical story. With birds, animals and an everyday family.


In our busy digital/ screen age, it’s important to find those special quiet moments to read, notice plants, flowers and the earth. Books can connect our hearts, minds and souls to each other. A Quiet Girl successfully achieves this.



Recently my grand daughter Audrey and I spend an hour reading our own books side by side out on her deck. It’s nice. We even bring her bird out in the cage to feel the air and be close to us while we sit in silence. She’s at the age when we can do this together. My other gorgeous grand children who are under 4 snuggle up and demand my reading voice and time. What a treat!

Thanks Peter! You are a talented man who wears many creative hats – happy in libraries, out in the parks walking the dog, attending conferences, book launches and giving talks to school aged children. I am sure in the evenings when you are at home, you find time to sit quietly and read to your daughters. Like Mary in her own gentle way, you make a difference.

And Now They’re Laughing!

With more than 330 delegates attending the Children’s Book Council conference in Canberra, I was one of the fortunate ones to be present. The first weekend in June saw teachers, librarians, publishers and children’s authors and illustrators mixing together to share their knowledge of humour in kid’s books. Lots of laughs. Jokes. Panel discussions with a twist and costume. Verbal explosions, the tragedy and comedy of humour, book launches etc.

Dyan Blacklock and Margaret Hamilton were the brilliant co-conveners of the conference. From Welcome to Country with Duncan Smith, Wiradjuri Echoes to the closing Great Debate on YA fiction is too serious, there was something for everyone.

Young Dark Emu with Bruce Pascoe, New Voices with Bren McDribble, Kelly Canby and Rebecca McRitchie, Making Funny Pictures with Michael Speechley and Matt Stanton made the morning of Day One a success. In the afternoon I attended the session called My Inner Duck and How I found it with Meg McKinlay, R.A Spratt (with a blowing horn), Adam Cece and Zoe Norton Lodge. They talked about humour as entertainment, a quirky and honest business of writing with light and dark shades. Adam shared his weird family background with a childhood of hip, funky and zany. Spratt mentioned it’s the way “her brain processes the funny and twisted.” All the authors love going into schools to read their stories and absorb new ideas for their funny narratives. The “randomness of kids,” says Meg is what she loves.

We celebrated Grug’s 40th birthday. There were auctions, book raffles, merchandise from CBC. Dymocks from Canberra sold many books. The trade stalls were filled with eager editors, publishers and inquisitive people like myself, signing up for prizes. Morning tea, lunches and afternoon teas were brilliant with opportunities to see book launches like the one with Playing with Collage (Walker books) by Jeannie Baker, with Dr Robyn Sheahan-Bright, and Winston and the Wondrous Wooba Gymnastics Club by Tamsin Janu ( Scholastic).



Punchlines, Pirates and Alpacas was a real treat with Matt Cosgrove, Oliver Phommavanh and Peter Carnavas. Starting with The Elephant by Pete, the topic of how can a book about depression shed some humour? Well, it’s all about the lightness and moments in the illustrations that add to humour. The lads talked about funny names in books, family, friendship and amusing books they read as children. They also reflected on where are all the funny female authors?

With the slogan, Reading is my Secret Power, I imagine that humour can be a secret, magical and mysterious power that transforms a story, bringing questions, escape and truth to kids. Some of the authors mentioned about that we can’t bubble wraps kids today. There are confronting issues in life that young children face, so there can be a fine line between humour and sadness.

I managed to find the duckies from The Duck Pond ( Jen Storer) and met Tania McCartney whose picture books, Maime and Hip Hip Hooray were popular. A vibrant author/ illustrator, Tania has an excellent podcast called The Happy Book. Listen to it. Enjoy the banter and wisdom of the interviews. Grab a herbal tea.

On Day Two there were the independent publishing team with Rochelle Manners, Mark McLeod and Davina Bell. They each have a wonderful list of books to share, fantastic quality books that make an impression.

A highlight of the conference was the announcement that Paul Jennings received a lifetime Achievement Award recognising a long-standing contribution by an Australian citizen to Australian children’s books and a life time commitment to Australian readers. Well done Paul, who delivered a heartfelt thanks on the big screen.


I really appreciated the interview by Sue Lawson with Aunty Fay Muir, exploring our Nation’s Rich Cultural heritage. “Country” refers to Mother and we must look after the land. “First Nations” is the better way of saying Indigenous or even Aborigine. “Aunty/ Uncle” are terms that remind us to look after family. Aunty Fay encouraged us all to meet and talk to an Aboriginal person. Ask the questions. meet face to face. Get the kids involved.

From Strange New Worlds of Karen Foxlee, Rhiannon Williams and Eliza Henry Jones to Emily Rodda’s  ( awarded Order of Australia on Aust. Day 2019) brilliant presentation, the conference exuded brightness, talent and passion. I did not attend the conference dinner so did not hear Leigh Hobbs’s life as the Laureate. I do however, love his picture books and my grand children find them very funny.


Bravo to the team who put this conference together. It was a winner. Love you James Roy, Emily Rodda, Morris Gleitzman, Danny Katz and Mitch Vane,  Jeanette Rowe, Sonia Bestvlic, Allison Paterson, watch out for Allayne Webster ( Sensitive – YA novel) Zana Fraillon and Tamsin Jansu. Cheers for Michael Speehley with a new picture book on consumerism, The All New Must have Orange 430, and go get yourself a coffee and share a good, funny story with a child today.

Emerald Isle – part 2

There’s nothing quite like a traditional Irish pub scene, especially when you are an Australian looking for a Guiness beef pie, lager and sweet Celtic music. When in Dublin the popular first place to visit is the Temple Bar, a busy riverside neighbourhood spread out over cobbled lanes. What attracted me to this place was the red buildings and men standing around having a chat. On Talbot street there are more pubs, Seans’ Bar, Moloneys, and Crosskeys Inn, Molloys. Not only is the food decent, it’s the lively conversation and friendliness that is so attractive. Pull up a stool and order a pint. One gentleman with his wife who I spoke to was having his 10th pint!

While in Galway, Bill and I found ourselves immersed in listening to contemporary guitar music with great rhythms and vibes. People eat, talk, sing and drink. You would be surprised that someone else in the room also has travelled from suburbs in Brisbane that you may know. It’s a small world.

Dingle offered a unique experience when our Backroads group ended up at 9pm in the Dingle Pub listening and watching world class Irish dancer David Geaney toe tapping and jumping on his wooden board. Lively. Fantastic! Brilliant. Such entertainment and for little cost. And David’s danced on Broadway. There are haunted pubs like Grace Neills, McCarthy’s in Tipperary, Dick Mack’s in Dingle, The Brazen Head in Dublin, The Filthy Quarter in Belfast, Kelly’s Cellar also in Belfast offers traditional music. Some pubs are named after poets like John Hewitt. Pub crawls and Guiness are popular. Fiddled trad tunes hang in the air.


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Moving on from the pub scene is the sheep dog trials. Our Backroads group were so fortunate to watch a brilliant trainer and his 3 gorgeous, well tuned border collies, Rose, Lyn and Leigh in action. Swiftly they raced across the fields to round up their sheep to the command of the whistle and voice. The temperament of the dog must be right when training them. We watched as the man gave the orders. Obedience, control and praise are in order for these intelligent dogs.



Apart from sheep and pubs, a fascinating place we visited was the Ulster Folk Museum in Omagh, in Northern Ireland. It tells the story of three centuries of Irish emigration. We wandered through the thatched cottages, the blacksmith, school house and gardens on this historical site. It takes about 2 hours to explore. Not to be missed is the Dockside galley, American Street, West Pennsylvanian Log House, and shop/ cafe. Adult prices are 9 pounds.

Also, the Doagh Famine Village allows visitors to explore one man’s lifetime of models, displays and hands on exhibitions through time. The Isle of Dough is a small peninsula in the north of Inishowen on the north coast of County Donegal in Ulster. This village takes you on a journey through Irish life from the great famine in the 1840’s. There are original dwellings, the Orange hall, Hedge school, and a Republican Safe House. Of interest to us was the Irish Wake room, a traditional send off for the dead. Most of the Village is under cover. Children, families are encouraged to visit.




There’s so much to share about Ireland and our time there. It lingers in your mind and soul long after you leave. So to wrap up, I’ll post a few more pictures to whet your appetite for a perfect holiday in the Emerald Isle. Enjoy.





Children’s Books in London


Celebrating 250 years of bookselling is the fabulous Hodges Figgis both in Dublin and London. Founded in 1768, it is given a passing mention in James Joyce’s modernist novel Ulysees. Excited to step into any book store, I am particularly curious and in a hurry to see the children’s sections. Up the spiral staircases are treasures in Picadilly with Peppa Pig visits London, Winnie the Pooh classics, Gruffalo, Paddington Bear, Quentin Blake and poetry to send you crazy. It’s a world I love – the magic, imagination and creativity of story tellers.

Everything in Waterstones is well set out with display titles on each table. Clear headings. Easy walking space. Roomy atmosphere and children browsing the shelves. I spoke to one father who brought his 11 year old son in for his birthday book party with three friends who could buy 2 books for a gift. What a treat for them. No washing up or cleaning later. A fun thing to do and the kids choose what they like.

I happened to be there for the surprise visit of the Hungry Caterpillar. I couldn’t miss that experience!




Daunt Books for Travellers is superb. It’s “the most beautiful book shop in London – designed for travellers who like reading.” ( Daily Telegraph) Opened Monday to Saturday 9.00am – 7.30pm and Sunday 11.00am -6.00pm. It’s located in the Marylebone High Street.

The heart of the Daunt book shop is an original Edwardian book shop with long oak galleries and graceful skylights. Its soul is the unique arrangement of books by country – where guides, novels and non-fiction of all kinds will interest traveller and browser alike.

Upstairs the climb to the children’s section is worth it. Natural light filters through the windows. There are categories easily detected – ages 5-7 years, teens, poetry, atlases etc.



Above book is by Italian illustrator Beatrice Alemagna who I saw at the Bologna Book Fair. The picture books were exquisite and prices similar to Australia.



Who cannot resist reading to a child The Tiger who Came to Tea by Judith Kerr or the Mog the cat series. The Moomins and the Great Flood was the original Moomin story, published in Finland in 1945.

Waterstones is spread out over three floors in Trafalgar, with book signings, views of the famous Square and everything from Cookery, gardening, politics, popular sciences to children’s. Hatchards in Piccadilly was beautifully designed and excellent customer service.



A trip to London is finding Foyles Book store. It’s an award winning independent book store with millions of titles. There’s a chain of 7 stores in England.

From Madeline in London, The Railway Children, Goodnight Mister Tom, The Ice Monster, Dickens, to Bloomsbury Publishing and Walker book titles, there’s something to suit everyone. At Hatchards, the young man I spoke to said, “it’s the uncles, aunts and grandparents who buy the books. So upstairs it’s fairly tidy.”


I do admit to buying a few books and sending them home. I am now the proud owner of  The Moon Spun Round – W.B Yeats poems for children, Comet in Moominland by Tove Jansson, The President’s Glasses and The President’s Cats by Peter Donnelly and Michael Rosen’s Centrally Heated Knickers ( poems)

Long live books!



The Emerald Isle with Eva – part 1

Where would you find a Swiss Cottage in Ireland? or the World’s best Irish dancer who works in a pub at Dingle, or for that matter, who would take you to the dungeons of Huntington Castle where a feminine shrine is created for interested tourists? Who loves to talk non-stop and balances wit, charm and practical good sense all in one – well, it’s Eva Donoghue, the young, dynamic girl ( she says she’s 26 and wearing braces!) who was our guide on the Back Roads 12 day tour in Ireland.

Eva along with Kirstie, a brilliant driver whose road skills we admired, made our holiday fantastic. Thirteen eager travellers, mostly from Australia, including a lovely couple from the UK, journeyed in a small coach, the winding back roads, country roads, through the cities, past castles and bridges, sheep grazing and steeper narrow streets of the green hills of Ireland.

Kirstie was the “bag” woman – efficient in carrying our suitcases to the hotels and making sure they returned. Eva spilled out all her love of Ireland, the Celtic stories, legends, history and political ideals. She even hired local guides to cover things that she was not knowledgeable on, like the lads from the Black taxi in Belfast. Accents, jokes, poking fun at each other and the Peace Walls all come into play here with these men.








one happy carefree child in the flowers at Blarney castle


A display of bluebells in a garden

From local guide Charlene’s passionate speech in Derry (Londonderry) to Dave’s theatrical storytelling in Kinsale in the south, the tour provided many opportunities to interact with the locals. It’s the people, their warmth and friendliness that appealed to all of us. Open hearted, spirited and in tune with their violent past, the Irish have moved forward to strengthen their ideas and values. It was very emotive for my husband Bill who wrote a poem and read it to the group. As Fran said, “it encapsulated perfectly the sorrow/ laughter and hope of the Irish people.” That very evening in Derry, young journalist was killed, Lyra whose compassion and work for peace and justice, will not be forgotten. Sadly, it reminded us all of the precious moments of our lives.






From William Morris wallpaper in Kilkenny castle, with its Gothic Revival ceilings of the 1820’s, the Tapestry Room and Library with claret silk damask curtains and Berber style floor carpets into the Blue bedroom, Chinese bedroom and panoramic views of the gardens, our Back Roads riders were privileged to see so much beauty and heritage.

Me in the Tapestry Room


Gothic Revival hand painted ceiling in Kilkenny Castle
rocking horse and doll in child’s nursery


Now we visited many fine castles. Up steps, into hallways, through corridors, out into the splendid gardens with fountains and yew trees and the few fun dogs like Bill and Myrtle.

Sheep, donkeys, and museums were all on the agenda. From Gaelic football, street art, the hurling statue, the famine walk of Doolough Valley where many families died, to the magnificent Blasket Islands, to the Dingle Peninsula, Galway, Cork, Tipperary, County Kerry – so much to take in.

Fine dining – YES!! We enjoyed a lunch at Richard and Rosanne’s mansion, the gardens at Blarney castle, the Cliffs of Moher and the Giant’s Causeway. PLUS all the delicious filling meals at the fine hotels.





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The Back Roads team at the Stone Circle




Richard and Rosalind’s mansion.


Bill and I really enjoyed seeing Newgrange. It’s a prehistoric monument in County Meath, located about 8 kilometres west of Drogheda on the north side of the River Boyne. It is an exceptionally grand passage tomb built during the Neolithic period, around 3200 BC, making it older than Stonehenge and the Egyptian pyramids.

That’s enough to read now for part one of our tour. The memories will live on. And Eva seemed to solve any problem we had, including feeling hungry on the bus. Out came the Penguin chocolate bars and honey and oat bars, lollies and brilliant maps to follow. Stay with me for Part 2 later. More on Dublin, the sheep dog trials, Ulster American Folk Park and the pub scene.

Kinsale and Bill