Monthly Archives: June 2013

The 2013 New Zealand Post Children’s Book Awards winners

The finalists in the 2013 New Zealand Post Children’s Book Awards gathered in Christchurch last night for the awards ceremony. The awards night is always themed and this year the organisers went for a ‘Witch in the Cherry Tree’ theme in honour of Margaret Mahy.  The book of the year was also renamed the ‘New Zealand Post Margaret Mahy Book of the Year’ this year.  I was  nervous myself, hoping that my favourites would take out the award, so I’m sure the authors and illustrators themselves were incredibly nervous.  Overall, I was pleased to see a couple of my favourites win awards, but I was disappointed that others missed out.  I think that Red Rocks and The Nature of Ash are amazing books and if I could give Rachael and Mandy an award I would.

Read below to find out who won each category, as well as the Honour Book and Children’s Choice Award.

Best Young Adult Fiction and New Zealand Post Margaret Mahy Book of the Year

Into the River by Ted Dawe

Best Non-Fiction

100 Amazing Tales from Aotearoa by Simon Morton & Riria Hotere

Best Junior Fiction

My Brother’s War by David Hill

Honour award, Junior Fiction

The Queen and the Nobody Boy: A Tale of Fontania series by Barbara Else

Best Picture Book

Mister Whistler by Margaret Mahy & Gavin Bishop

Best First Book

Reach by Hugh Brown

Children’s Choice

Melu by Kyle Mewburn, Ali Teo & John O’Reilly, Scholastic NZ

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On the road with the Canterbury NZ Post Children’s Book Festival Roadshow

Last week I spent the week out on the road with two awesome librarians, Saskia Hill and Susan Dodd, as part of the Canterbury NZ Post Children’s Book Festival Roadshow.  We decided that this year, we wanted to talk about and read the finalist books to as many children as we possibly could over the course of the Festival week.  We battled heavy rain, flooding, horrible traffic and a flat tyre to deliver our Roadshow to the kids of Canterbury.  We visited 11 schools, 13 preschools, presented 2 Books Before Bedtime Pyjama Parties and read to over 6000 children over the course of the week.

Part of our programme was performing Margaret Mahy and Gavin Bishop’s wonderful picture book, Mister Whistler.  I danced around as Mister Whistler, while Saskia read the book and got the kids interacting with the story.  Here’s a couple of photos of my performance.

It was an awesome experience and something that we hope to repeat again next year.  These were my highlights of the week:

  • Dressing up as Mister Whistler and dancing around while taking my clothes on and off.
  • Giving away heaps of copies of Kyle Mewburn’s Melu and Rachael King’s Red Rocks to kids all around Canterbury and seeing their faces light up.
  • Seeing kids so eager to answer questions about the finalist books so they can win a bookmark.
  • Meeting lots of enthusiastic teachers and librarians who love books.
  • Reading and talking about books with kids of all ages and doing it all with one of the coolest people around, Saskia Hill.

Here is a small selection of our photos from the week:

Best of luck to all the authors and illustrators on the shortlist for the awards.  I’m really looking forward to going to the awards ceremony here in Christchurch tonight.  I’ll be live Tweeting from the event so if you want to know the winners first, follow me – @zackids.

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Can you guess the NZ Post Children’s Book Awards finalists?

nzpcba_new_logoThe New Zealand Post Children’s Book Festival starts on Monday 17 June (that’s next week) and our committee here in Christchurch can’t wait to bring the Festival to the children of Canterbury.  The main part of the Canterbury Festival this year is our Roadshow.  We’re taking the finalist books on the road and visiting schools and preschools throughout Canterbury, from Ashburton up to Rangiora.  We’ll be reading and talking about the finalists and I’ll be stepping in to Mister Whistler’s shoes each day.

We wanted to have a cool way to promote the books to the kids in each of our sessions so we came up with the idea of reading an extract from some of the books.  The kids will then have to guess which book the extract comes from.  It’s an easy idea that you could use in your classroom or library too.  See if you can figure out which 2013 New Zealand Post Children’s Book Awards finalist book these extracts come from.

  • ‘Then came the long metal howl.  In the canyon mouth, Hodie saw a bright blur.  Next moment a wind-train shot out of the canyon and snaked above the valley floor towards the Depot. Lamps shone at the front.  Four large swivelling wings on the engine made it shift this way and that to catch the currents of wind.  Larger wings were spaced along three carriages, one of which looked like a dining car, and a van that must be for luggage.  Concertina metal cages linked the carriages.’
  • ‘All the time, the song raced round and round his head, and his feet tried to dance him round and round the platform.’
  • ‘Gorging grubber, larvae-lover, snail-scratcher, beetle-battler.’
  • ‘He looked out to sea.  He had never been down here at night and he took a moment to enjoy the strangeness of it.  In the patches of light, he thought he made out seaweed in the surging water, and something else, floating out there, waiting.  Seals!  He stood up and shivered in the wind.  He heard it again: ‘The skin. Jake.’ A row of seals, their wet heads dark against the sea, watched him, like a row of sentries guarding the sea.  Or the beach.’
  • ‘The creatures here have to watch out for other hungry animals looking for a meal.  Some dig into the sand to escape.  Some hide under rocks.  Others have clever ways of protecting themselves.’
  • ‘We’re safe where we are, but we don’t wait around to speculate, just run like hell until we’re through the gardens and back in town.  It’s chaos there.  People packing out of offices.  Shops boarding up their windows.  Lucinda takes her leave of us, promising she’ll keep in touch.  All the frantic activity underlines how stuffed I feel, not helped when Mikey whines about being hungry and tired the rest of the way home.’

I hope you all have a great festival week, whatever you may be doing.  I certainly can’t wait until the awards ceremony in Christchurch on Monday 24 June to find out who takes out the awards!

 

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Picture Book Nook: Luther and the Cloud-makers by Kyle Mewburn and Sarah Nelisiwe Anderson

What would you do if a choking, thick, black cloud of pollution covered your home?  Would you sit back, worrying, and wait for it to go away and for someone else to sort it out, or would you want to find a solution?  In Kyle Mewburn and Sarah Nelisiwe Anderson’s new picture book, Luther and the Cloud-makers, this is the issue that Luther and his family face.

At the end of a wide, green valley lies a secret village, full of laughter and singing…until one day the clouds come.  As the clouds gather, turning day to night, Luther sets out to find the cloud-makers and make them stop, before it’s too late.  He meets many cloud-makers along the way, but can he convince them to see the error in their ways?

LutherLuther and the Cloud-makers is a powerful story with an ecological theme, about a boy who stands up for what he believes in.  It shows children that even one small act can make change happen and make the future brighter.  When everyone in his village is sitting around feeling sorry for themselves, Luther decides to do something about the problem and make the cloud-makers stop.  It’s a unique take on the ecological and environmental theme that will entertain and educate readers.

The story is full of Kyle Mewburn’s characteristic word-play and he paints a vivid picture with his language.  I love the way he describes the air in the valley as ‘so fresh your skin soaked it up like an old, dry sponge dropped in the sea,’ and he describes the pollution cloud as ‘tongue-tingling, nose-crinkling.’  Kyle makes the cloud-makers sound so menacing by using words like ‘rumbling,’ ‘belching, booming,’ ‘roaring’ and ‘crackling.’

Sarah Nelisiwe Annderson’s illustrations for Luther and the Cloud-makers are superb and really suit the tone of the story.   I love the way that Sarah has contrasted the colours throughout the book.  At the beginning of the book there are lots of bright and vibrant blues and greens to highlight how clean and fresh the village is.  Then the oozing black clouds appear and bring darkness to the landscape.  When Luther meets the cloud-makers Sarah has used lots of red, orange and black to highlight the danger and evil nature of the cloud-makers and their pollution.  When he finally gets to the city, almost all colour has disappeared, to be replaced by grey and black.  It’s on the last few pages that Sarah gives your eyeballs a wake-up call.  One of the things I really like about Sarah’s illustrations is the way that she frames them and uses different panels on the page.  One of my favourite examples of this in the book is when everything goes dark in the village and the animals become confused.  This style will certainly appeal to older children who like graphic novels.  I’d actually really like to read a graphic novel (or even a wordless picture book) written by Sarah.

Luther and the Cloud-makers is a wonderful picture book to read to children young and old, and it’s a must-have book for teachers.

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David Levithan and Andrea Cremer talk about Invisibility

This book sounds amazing and I’m a huge fan of David Levithan, so I will get this book the minute it’s released!  Invisibility by David Levithan and Andrea Cremer is released in NZ by Penguin Books in July.

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Win a stack of new books from Walker Books for your school

Walker Books Australia have so many fantastic books being released this month.  From a tale of Ancient Greece, to a story of a girl who wants to act but suffers from stage fright, and even a new book by David Almond and Dave McKean.

Thanks to Walker Books I have a stack of their latest release novels to give to one lucky school.  The pack includes:

  • 2013-06-10 17.49.33That Boy, Jack by Janeen Brian
  • Murder at Mykenai by Catherine Mayo
  • In the Wings by Elsbeth Edgar
  • View from the 32nd Floor by Emma Cameron
  • Wild Boy by Rob Lloyd Jones
  • Mouse, Bird, Snake, Wolf by David Almond and Dave McKean

To get in the draw just enter your name and email address in the form below and tell me why your school deserves a stack of books.  These books are suitable for ages 9+.  Competition closes Wednesday 19 June (NZ only).

Thanks to everyone who entered.  The winner is Grace for St George’s School.

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Interview with Mandy Hager

Mandy Hager is the author of some of the best Young Adult books in New Zealand, including the action-packed The Nature of Ash (shortlisted for the 2013 New Zealand Post Children’s Book Awards).  Mandy’s latest YA novel is Dear Vincent, one of the most powerful and emotionally-charged books I’ve ever read (you can read my review here).  I had a few questions for Mandy after reading Dear Vincent and she very kindly answered them for me.  You can also enter to win a copy of Dear Vincent and read an extract from chapter one at the bottom of this post.  Thanks to Mandy and the wonderful people at Random House New Zealand.

  • What inspired you to write Dear Vincent?

It’s always hard to look back and focus on the starting idea, but I’ve been thinking about the issue of suicide for a while now, through my work with youth at risk, and wanted to send a book out into the world that showed the long term pain suicide brings to those left behind, and to explore the seduction of the idea, and how it is possible to resist, given the right support. The problem with the current ‘don’t talk’ policy around suicide is that kids only get to see the outer manifestations of grief when someone they know kills themselves – the memorial pages on facebook, the highly emotional services – it runs the risk of making suicide seem ‘sexy’ to young people – a kind of ‘you’ll all be sorry and celebrate me like this when I’m gone’ mentality. It also denies those who have contemplated or attempted suicide a voice to say how relieved they are that they didn’t go through with it – and to share the things that helped stay their hands. And I wanted to show that suicide leaves the surviving family with such terrible guilt and grief – for kids to understand the full impact of a suicide on those left behind. I wanted to de-glamourise it – so that it underlines the finality of such a decision – that ‘dead’ means ‘dead’ – no going back, no second thoughts.

I also love Vincent Van Gogh – so it was a perfect opportunity to explore his life and paintings more fully.

  • You tackle some tough issues in the book, including suicide and physical and emotional abuse.  Was it a story you felt you had to tell?

Yes, it’s been in the back of my mind for a long time now.

  • What research did you have to do for the book? What was the most interesting thing you discovered about Vincent Van Gogh?

Van Gogh’s letters are now available online – over 900 of them, so I worked my way through them and also some biographies and documentaries (plus, I had studied him for art history at school many hundreds of years ago!) The first thing that surprised me was just how elegant and literate he was – he’s often made out to be this crazy, rough, boorish man, when nothing could be further from the truth. His letters are beautiful, vivid and incredibly sad. The other really surprising thing was the discovery, through the most recent biography of him by Steven Naifeh and Gegory White Smith, that it is highly likely Van Gogh did not kill himself, but was shot by local boys – though, once shot, he then kept quiet about this act and died in his brother Theo’s arms (in other words, not instigating the act, but not fighting it either.) So it was suicide by omission to fight his injuries or reveal their source. The biography’s evidence for this case is very convincing. Plus, it illuminates more about what was going on in Vincent’s head – for a long time it was thought he was bi-polar, now it seems more likely it was a kind of temporal lobe epilepsy that would descend upon him.

  • One of the things I like the most about your books is that your characters are authentic and they feel real.  Have you ever been challenged by the ‘gatekeepers’ of young adult fiction because of your characters actions or language?

I haven’t been challenged on this in person, but I am sure there are some people who find the language and issues difficult. All I try to do is be faithful to the character and reflect how I believe they would truly talk, feel and respond.

  • There are some very raw emotions in the story and Tara goes to some quite dark places in her head.  Did you need to get into the right head space each time you sat down to write or was Tara always with you?

I always sit and centre myself before I write each day, calling the character into my mind. However, there always reaches a point where the character is there all the time until you finish writing – consequently this was a particularly exhausting and grueling book to write. Being inside Tara’s head was an intense experience.

  • I love the character of the Professor (Max). How did he come to you?

Max is, in many ways, my father. He, too, was born in Vienna. He, too, was forced to leave with his parents to escape the Nazis. He introduced us to art, music and literature (as did my mother), and was a charming, cultured and kind man.

  • Like Tara, does ‘art in all its forms’ have you in its grip?

It most certainly does!

  • Do you have a ‘teen test’ for your books during or after you’ve written them?

My first reader, chapter by chapter, is my daughter Rose. She is incredibly good at spotting anything that jars or doesn’t have an authentic ring. I also send the finished draft out to my niece as well (along with several other adult readers) – their feedback is always most welcome and useful.

  • Why do you write books for teenagers? What is it about YA that appeals to you?

I think what I like most about YA fiction is that it focuses on strong story and authentic characters. It also appeals to me in terms of who I am writing for – as I tend to write about the things that trouble me, and this primarily is around issues that will affect the up-and-coming generations, it gives me the opportunity to start a discussion with young people about the different ways to look at the world and the challenges they are/will be presented with. So much media these days is controlled by corporate interests I feel it’s important to get alternative thoughts and ideas out there. I strongly believe that only through honest discussion of issues can we ever hope to move forward in a positive way.

Read on for an extract from Dear Vincent.

1

Whenever I tell Father anything, it goes in one ear and out the other, and that certainly applies no less to Mother. Similarly I find Father and Mother’s sermons and ideas about God, people, morality and virtue a lot of stuff and nonsense.

— Letter from Vincent Van Gogh to Theo Van Gogh, Etten, c. 21 December 1881

My father slouches in his wheelchair, a dough ball of resentment. Only the fierce penetration of his eyes registers life behind his rigid face. If he moves at all it is involuntary. The twitch of a finger. The jerk of a leg. But for all his immobility, his presence still looms over us. The gargoyle in the corner. The silent judge.

There is a gritty meanness in his eyes sometimes. Or worse, bottomless sadness — the kind that rakes your soul. Though more often than not these days, anger flares: embers trapped within an iceberg. He is living the inflexibility he’s practised all my life.

Even as I finish hanging out the washing and tilt my face up to the morning sun, I know he will be waiting for me to feed him, wash his face, brush his teeth — all before I have the luxury of heading off to school. Luxury? It’s funny how perspective shifts.

Buttered light filters through my eyelids and I hold my breath, waiting, waiting, waiting, with a sense there’s something I should know. It teases at my memory. Tickles at my nose. I crack one eye open and there’s the clue: a butterfly, chalky white, its tiny dome eyes staring straight back into mine. Of course! How could I forget?

It’s Van’s birthday. The 11th of June. She would be twenty-two today. So old. It’s hard to picture how she’d look. Beautiful? Without a doubt. Respectable? Not for a second. Not my Van. The odds that she’d have turned into a merchant banker, IT nerd or anything, in fact, where she’d have to toe the line are about two billion to one.

Meanwhile, my own life’s reduced to a different numbers game. Nearly six years since Dad’s first stroke. Just under five since we were woken by that gutting midnight call. Three since Mum was forced to take on night shifts at the hospital to pay the mortgage on this shitty hole. One since I began to work half-time to help. And the amount of time I get to lead a normal life? No whole number’s small enough.

‘Tara?’ Mum’s shout repels the butterfly. It flutters off, a ghost adrift. ‘Don’t forget to take the shopping list. I’ll pick you up outside Countdown at ten to nine.’

Does she remember it’s Van’s birthday? Surely she must. But Mum’s declared everything about my sister a no-go zone — as if by refusing to speak of her the past can somehow be erased. If only it was so easy.

Inside, I shoo Mum off to bed before I start on Dad. Her shifts play havoc with her sleep patterns — and her moods. She’s turned into one of those wizened peasants Vincent loved to paint: a small grey shadow, sour and disconnected, all joy in life sucked out of her.

While I’m waiting for Dad’s porridge to cook I eat the last of the bread, sandwiching a scummy wedge of budget cheese. Our cupboards will stay bare until I’m paid later today and do the shop. When we were small, the only time Mum used to make a fuss was over birthday breakfasts: an Ulster fry with bacon, eggs and sausages, and golden crisp potato farl. Now the only fuss she makes is the kind I hate — the kind Van called Mad Cow Disease to wind her up.

I mince Dad’s morning medication into dust and smother it with yoghurt. Pop it in his drooping mouth, scraping the teaspoon across his lips to catch the overflow before I stuff the dregs back in. He shudders as he swallows, his eyes saying it’s my fault that it tastes like shit. I help him drink a sip of water, then cool his porridge with milk and coax it in, one spoonful at a time. I know I should be chatting to him, helping pass the time, but, really, what is there to say? Do you know what day it is? Does the thought of Van thump you in the guts like it does me? Even if he could answer, he’d only throw it back at me. Wind yer neck in, girl. You’ve got a face on like a Lurgan spade.

By the time I’ve finished everything with Dad I’ve less than half an hour to get to school. Who’d have thought I’d ever want to spend more time there, but with my rest home shift starting at two it pretty much wipes out the afternoon.

All I really want to do is paint — hide out in the art room and let the colours wash through me in a heady rush. Vincent says to attack a painting the way a lion devours meat, to call on the grain of madness that is the best of art. Imagine trying to explain all this to Mum and Dad. They view creative madness as a sin on par with striking a priest.

I park Dad in front of the TV and head off on my bike. Our street is full of tacky mansions, but ours is the doozy that drags the others’ values down. Good old leaky home syndrome. The day Mum finally admitted we had no money to fix it or to chase the builders through the courts I cried — I’d had a gutsful of our neighbours’ snide remarks.

‘You think your life is difficult?’ she’d said. ‘Try walking to school in Belfast when the Proddies are on the march.’ She talks about the Troubles the way the old boys in the rest home remember El Alamein.

Since then I’ve built a force field that shouts ‘fuck off’. You have to in a school like mine, where the fact I used to go to the best private Catholic school is all the ammunition the gangs need. In my first week they bullied me out of my iPod and mobile phone and stripped the Nike jacket off my wimpy back. Admittedly I’m safer now. Three years on and we’re dirt poor — I don’t even have an internet connection at home, let alone a replacement phone. There’s nothing left to nick.

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Dear Vincent by Mandy Hager

I had quite a sheltered upbringing.  I had a loving family who cared for me and life was never tough.  When I really got into reading when I was a teenager I discovered teenagers who had a very different life than mine.  These teenagers had abusive or neglectful families or they had been touched by tragedy of one kind or another.  I have never known anyone who has suicided so I haven’t been affected by it in any way.  As a teenager I didn’t want to read books about it because I didn’t think it related to me.  When I first heard about Mandy Hager’s new YA book, Dear Vincent, I wanted to read it, but I wasn’t sure if I would like it.  It affected me so much that I was in tears for the last few pages.

17 year old Tara McClusky’s life is hard. She shares the care of her paralysed father with her domineering, difficult mother, forced to cut down on her hours at school to help support the family with a part-time rest home job. She’s very much alone, still grieving the loss of her older sister Van, who died five years before.

Her only source of consolation is her obsession with art — and painting in particular. Most especially she is enamoured with Vincent Van Gogh: she has read all his letters and finds many parallels between the tragic story of his life and her own.

Luckily she meets the intelligent, kindly Professor Max Stockhamer (a Jewish refugee and philosopher) and his grandson Johannes, and their support is crucial to her ability to survive this turbulent time.

Dear Vincent is one of the most powerful, emotionally-charged books I’ve ever read.  I don’t think I’ve had such an emotional response to any other book, both adults or YA.  The story is narrated by Tara, so you experience all the ups and downs of Tara’s life and you go into the dark spaces inside her head.  When you figure out the path that she is taking, you just want to yell at her to stop and think clearly.  You want to be the person that she can talk to and help her see sense.

Like Mandy’s other stories, the characters really resonate with me.  You understand why Tara has so much anger and hatred towards her parents, but through her discoveries you can also understand why they have become these people.  You can’t help but become completely wrapped up in Tara’s life, as you know all her thoughts and feelings.  While Tara takes you to some dark places, some of Mandy’s characters bring some light and hope into Tara’s world.  My favourite character is Max (or the Professor) who Tara meets in the rest home that she works in.  Max is a sort-of grandfather figure to Tara.  He loves art, music and philosophy and he reminds Tara of Captain von Trapp from The Sound of Music.  Right from when Tara first meets him he’s there to help her through and tries to make her see things from a different point of view.  He has some profound words of wisdom, like his metaphor on page 140. This is one of my favourite lines from Max,

‘All life is suffering.  One way or the other, damage attaches to us all.  In the end it’s how we deal with it – or don’t – that makes us who we are.’

Max’s grandson, Johannes, and Tara’s Auntie Shanaye and Uncle Royan, are others who try to help her through her tough time.  They are each incredibly loving and caring in their own ways, and they go out of their way to prove that they are there for Tara.  Even though Shanaye and Royan are struggling and they have their own issues to deal with, they are getting on with their life, and they show Tara more love than her parents ever had.  While Tara’s parents ran away from The Troubles in Ireland and were miserable, her auntie and uncle stayed and are doing the best that they can for their family.

Dear Vincent is an important story that all teenagers should read.  Thank you Mandy for telling Tara’s story. The fact that it can have such an emotional response on a reader is testament to your amazing writing.

I’ll leave you with this quote from Tara on page 249 that mirrors Max’s words from earlier in the story,

‘Hell, maybe it’s the suffering that makes us who we ultimately are.  Not just the hurdles, but how we deal with them.  Or don’t.’

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Boy Nobody book trailer

I’m really looking forward to reading this one.  It looks like a great action-packed read. Boy Nobody by Allen Zadoff is out now in NZ from Orchard Books.

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Picture Book Nook: Queen Alice’s Palaces by Juliette MacIver and Lucia Masciullo

Do picture books about princesses and queens make you want to tear your hair out?  Your little girl may like to be endlessly read stories with sparkles on every page, but if you have to read it one more time will you go insane?  Well Juliette MacIver and Lucia Masciullo have just created a picture book about a queen that adults will enjoy just as much as children.  It’s called Queen Alice’s Palaces.

Queen Alice has a palace that’s ‘gilded and grand’ while poor, hard-done-by Sir Hugh has a castle that’s ‘crumbly and small.’  Dastardly Sir Hugh hatches a plan to get his own palace – he’ll get Queen Alice to build a palace of ‘stunning design,’ then he’ll steal it, ‘by means of a military coup.’  Queen Alice constructs a series of unique palaces, made from bamboo, ice, cheese and other strange building materials.  Can she outwit Sir Hugh or will he steal his own palace?

Queen Alice’s Palaces is a rollicking picture book filled with imagination, wonder and humour.  Juliette and Lucia have let their imaginations run wild and built all sorts of wonderful, if slightly impractical, palaces.  Juliette’s rhyming text bounces along, making it a joy to read aloud.  As with Juliette’s other books (Marmaduke Duck and the Marmalade Jam), you need to warm up your mouth because you find your mouth doing gymnastics and getting tongue-tied as you read.  Just the title alone gives your mouth a good work out.  I love Juliette’s use of language too, like ‘gilded and grand’ and ‘cunning, conniving and callous.’  I think it’s wonderful when you can read a picture book and learn new and interesting words.

Lucia Masciullo’s illustrations are the perfect match for Juliette’s text.  I really love the way that she has portrayed the characters, especially the ‘cunning, conniving and callous’ Sir Hugh.  He looks very villainous and his creepy little mustache makes me laugh every time (especially when he twirls it).  He will appeal to the boys, while the very glamourous Queen Alice will appeal to the girls.  Lucia clearly had a lot of fun creating the palaces, which all look spectacular.  There is certainly plenty to discover in the illustrations on each page.

Warm up your mouth, fire up your imagination and share Queen Alice’s Palaces with the children in your life.

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