Welcome to the blog of the Tasmanian branch of the Children's Book Council of Australia!

Tuesday, 12 July 2011

Mann Meets World (or what Maureen did in Canada) ...

I am lucky enough to have spent several weeks this year overseas, including Canada visiting my daughter and grandson. While travelling I tend to read easily-accessed adult books, such as mysteries and detective fiction – I haven’t yet joined the ebook reading brigade. Of course, as many book lovers do, I try to spend time in bookshops wherever I go: to see what’s there, especially in the children’s/young adult area, and which Australian authors have managed to get international rights. Sometimes in non-English speaking countries, the range of English language titles isn’t very wide, and that’s to be expected. But there’s always the exception to this statement and it’s always a wonderful surprise too. And I find it really encouraging when the English-language titles are not just the classics, but reflect in a small way what’s being published.

Our daughter lives in Moncton, a town similar in size to Launceston, on the east coast of Canada. There, I had the opportunity to chat with the manager of the children’s/young adult section of the national chain bookshop. It is now essentially the only bookstore in the city. Of course, there are other places which sell books but they tend not to specialise and stock relatively little for children. The children’s section is vibrant and interesting to look at. There is a huge stock across all sections, books are arranged in clear categories but there is no allowance for picture books for older readers. For example, Lemony Snicket’s brilliant 13 Words is shelved in the 3-5 section but it has so much to offer readers older than this age range, and therefore might be missed.

One of the answers gave confirmation of my impression that almost everything in North America is first published in hardback format and the paperback comes later. It has always surprised me that publishers of young adult, and to a lesser extent titles for younger readers, still present books in hard covers. I know from my years as a teacher librarian that most Australian (and can I therefore extrapolate North American?) YA readers prefer paperbacks. Her comments lead me to believe it’s because adults prefer hardback books, assuming that they are going to be long-lasting titles. And what publisher doesn’t believe/hope that this will happen to each one of their publications? What do you think?

So what did I see interesting on the shelves? Colleen Houck’s Tiger’s Curse has a great cover. Emerald Atlas (John Stephens) is a well-developed and hefty 417 paged fantasy novel for younger readers. Loved the cover, which reflects the emerald theme. Tim Wynne-Jones’ new YA urban thriller is Blink & Caution: another title which attracted me by its cover. It may challenge readers with its use of second and third person narrative but I am going to have to get myself a copy. I found a new James Rollins Jake Ransom and the Howling Sphinx so that’s gone onto my must-read list too. Blood Red Road (Moira Young) is a gripping fantasy with a great story line and which will challenge the reader because of the narrator’s vernacular voice, with its lack of accepted grammar rules.

Picture books are my favourite genre so I always spend lots of time in this section. Frank Viva’s Along a Long Road was a delightful cycle journey, using a very limited colour palette of black, pale blue, a dash of red and cream with the road in gloss yellow. I was a little bothered by the lack of commas or full stops though! I thoroughly enjoyed Cats’ Night Out (author Caroline Stutson, illustrator Jon Klassen) which won the 2010 Canadian Governor General’s Literary Award for illustration in an English language book. I’m not sure how the reader (and judges) can separate words and pictures in a good picture book but this award only goes to the illustrator, not the joint production. The book has wonderful digital illustrations of pairs of cats sashaying in alleys and across rooftops as well as unexpected details, complemented by Stutson’s sophisticated rhyming text which introduces the reader to many forms of dance and music: blues, hip hop, rock and more. It’s a firm favourite of mine, although it remains in Canada. Rob Scotton’s mischievous cat Splat is one of my favourites so I enjoyed his new title, Splish, Splash, Splat. Splat joins Spike at the pool and is not happy about getting into the water but discovers that he and Spike may have more in common than he thought. Slightly Invisible returns Charlie and Lola to our shelves with Lauren Child’s trademark format of varied fonts and page design.

There were a few Australian authors to be found in the children’s/YA sections too. Several titles from the following authors: Mem Fox, Graeme Base, Markus Zusak, Garth Nix (including his new adventure title Trouble Twisters, written with Sean Williams which Kate reviewed last week), Emily Rodda, Scott Westerfeld and Justine Larbalestier, John Marsden’s Hamlet and Ophelia, (Hamlet, A Novel in Australia). Nicholas Bland was in both the English and French section. One of my favourite illustrators, David Mackintosh, now living in UK, has a new picture book: Marshall Armstrong Is New To Our School which is about settling in to a new school.

Happy reading to you all!

- Maureen

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