Raising Awesome Readers

Highlights and Lessons on the Bumpy Road to Writing in 2018.

What an amazing year 2018 has been. I’ve had some major milestone events during quite a roller coaster ride with some pretty big hills to climb and hurtle down at full speed. Has it been much the same for you or has 2018 brought you smooth sailing?

As the end of the year fast approaches, my writerly pals and I are remembering the happy moments as well as lessons we learned from challenges this past year in our blog hop: The Ups, Downs and In Betweens on the 2018 Writing Road. Check out our personal reveals, then visit the other #Gr8Blogs linked at the end of the post for more shared recollections and lessons learned along the way. We hope you'll be inspired to dive into your own special memories of 2018!

So what important life lesson did I learn this past year? You'll have to wait and see at the end of this blog. In the meantime, I'm fortunate that I had a lot of reasons to celebrate this past year. Here are four of them..

  1. The birth of my first grandson.

    Ok, I can hear you now, ‘that has nothing to do with your writing journey.’

    Sorry about that, but it was a major milestone event that I would be remiss to mention. Lachlan Edward Bennett arrived in this world on 5th January 2018, a pretty fabulous start to our New Year. In a way you could say his birth is part of my writing journey because he inspires me every day to keep writing and reading more picture books. I admit I am besotted. Love my little man.

 My gorgeous first grandson on his day of birth, 5th January 2018.

My gorgeous first grandson on his day of birth, 5th January 2018.

 End of November 2018, almost 11 months old, I can’t believe it!

End of November 2018, almost 11 months old, I can’t believe it!

2. Writing Workshops and Festivals.

This year was the year I was determined to stop hiding behind my computer screen and become more involved with fellow authors in the real world. I began in January with joining other members of SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writing & Illustrating) ACT and beyond in a fabulous day out at a writing workshop presented by none other than my all time favourite picture book author, Jackie French. I had such an incredible fun day of learning and inspiration, I became more determined to continue along this writing road.

I then followed through by attending the first Creative Kids Tales Writer’s Festival in March. Again I met and mingled with more inspirational authors, gained an abundance of knowledge and took away with me a fabulous and worthwhile manuscript assessment. I continued to attend SCBWI ACT development evenings and even attended my first CBCA (Children’s Book Council of Australia) ‘Romancing the Stars’ evening. It’s been a year packed full of learning for writing and marketing.

 Taking in all I can from the amazing Jackie French.

Taking in all I can from the amazing Jackie French.

 A few CKT members at the festival.

A few CKT members at the festival.

3. My First Traditional Publishing Contract.

After many years of editing and revising and then having such a helpful manuscript assessment by the very talented children’s author, Sue Whiting, (who I shall be forever thankful to), I finally found the courage to submit my chapter book to trade publishers. Probably the biggest milestone this year, (after Lachie’s birth) was an offer of publication by Elephant Tree Publishing in June. I could hardly contain my excitement. To think that my writing had reached a level where I would receive such an offer blew me away, and the offer includes a series. An author can’t ask for a bigger dream to come true.

Secrets Hidden Below was launched at the beginning of Children’s Book Week in August at both a public launch in Paperchain Book store in Manuka and at a school launch at Curtin Primary. After these I have done more school visits and writing workshops here in Canberra, (Telopea Park School and Forrest Primary) and overseas in Papua New Guinea at the Ela Murray International School, I even did a book signing at Harry Hartog Woden., thanks James Reddin for your incredible support of local authors. The wonderful feedback I am receiving is that kids are loving my story. That fills my heart with joy, after all. kids reading for enjoyment and increasing their literacy skills is what being a children’s author is all about.

Secrets Hidden Below will take you on an intriguing mystical adventure around Bali. With a guardian snake, rotten-egg gas and a volcano spirit you don’t want to anger, it has plenty of mystery for every adventurer in the family. A perfect holiday read together.

You can purchase a copy of Secrets Hidden Below here via my website or at any bookstore throughout Australia. If they don’t have it in stock, just ask and they will order it for you. It is now even available in Bali!

 The book launch of Secrets Hidden Below at Paperchain.

The book launch of Secrets Hidden Below at Paperchain.

4. Meeting Other Authors.
As part of this writerly life we as authors are destined to be alone, writing away in isolation. That is why it is so important to connect with other authors, whether that is virtual or in person. Like-minded people with knowledge and interests that are similar to your own that you can learn from. After getting to know members of SCBWI ACT I took their advice and joined The Duck Pond, an online writer’s group of amazing friendly children’s authors.. A few months later as my confidence grew paddling in the pond, and I splashed around, I waded in a little further and extended myself by also joining ‘Scribbles'.’ An online children’s writing course run by Jen Storer, Queen Duckie herself. It has been a fabulous experience, my learning continues and the support is immeasurable. Along with making all these lovely new author friends means I am able to help support them in person too. Book launches are a wonderful opportunity to get together and celebrate each others success.

 A bunch of amazing authors celebrating the launch of Sue Whiting’s latest PB, all holding their own recent releases.

A bunch of amazing authors celebrating the launch of Sue Whiting’s latest PB, all holding their own recent releases.

So what have I learned from all this years highlights?

  1. Breaking out of your comfort zone and spreading your wings can lead to amazing opportunities.

  2. Developing new friendships builds support and encouragement for yourself and others.

  3. No matter how much you think you know, you never truly stop learning, there is always so much more to learn.

  4. I am braver than I think, I can do this. Each small step takes me further towards my life goal - More kids reading, writing and learning.

Thanks for stopping by! How was your year? What was your biggest accomplishment/event? Most powerful thing you learned the past 12 months? Please share in the comment section. I wish you all a very Merry Christmas season and wish everyone a happy, safe and wonderful 2019.

For more inspirational recollections and lessons learned, visit more #Gr8blogs below.

And if you blog and want to join us on this hop, just add the family-friendly link to your blog post in the comment section. We’ll visit and give you some blog love-:D

Rosie Russell - https://booksbyrose.com/index.php/kidlit-blog-by-rosie/

Julie Gorges: - http://babyboomerbliss.net/a-baby-boomers-ups-downs-and-in-betweens-in-2018/

Rebecca Lyndsey - https://rebeccalyndsey.blogspot.com/2018/12/rockin-around2018.html

Cat Michaels - http://bit.ly/2G17SQf_IndieAuthor2018 2018 closes on a high note after turmoil from rightsizing and writer’s block

Carmela Dutra - http://carmeladutra.com/blog-post/the-ups-downs-and-in-betweens-of-2018/

Auden Johnson https://www.audenjohnson.com/2018/12/blog-hop-2018-my-ups-downs-and-in.html

Corrina Holyoake https://corrinaholyoake.blogspot.com/2018/12/my-ups-downs-and-in-betweens-on-2018.html

Writing Workshops Are So Much Fun.

One of the best things about being a children’s author is that I get the chance to visit schools and meet lots of young readers. Whether that means reading and entertaining the younger ones with my emu puppet or engaging older readers in writing workshops. Either way, a school visit doesn’t have to be daunting, if well planned it can be exhilarating for the students and the presenter.

Recently, with the launch of my new chapter book, ‘Secrets Hidden Below,’ I have had the opportunity to visit two schools and work with students to encourage them with a few new writing strategies. During Literacy Week in September I had the fantastic opportunity to work with a very talented writing group of year 5 & 6 students from Forrest PS in Canberra, then at the end of October I had the incredible opportunity to work with all year levels from Prep right through to year 8 at the Ela Murray International School in Port Moresby, PNG.

IMG_5903.JPG

Here are my top 5 take-home points to remember from the experience.

1. Be well prepared. Being asked to present to kids ranging in age from 5 to 14 yrs means varying your workshop to suit their requirements. Even the Preps and year 1-2’s had a slightly different presentation than the other. While the majority of the lesson centred around my picture book, ‘Emma the Eager Emu,’ some fun facts (with pictures) to learn about emus and other Australian birds, I was able to ask higher level questions to the 1’s and 2’s when discussing the themes or lessons learned from the story and able to give them a worksheet that required higher order thinking than their Prep counterparts. It was the same with the writing workshops for the rest of the year levels. With each growing age group I could extend their activities.

2. Be adaptable. No matter how organised you think you are, something will always happen to make you have to change things. In some instances the scheduled time slot for a particular group was longer than I had anticipated, while others had been shortened. Remember, you are a visitor to the school and must fit into their timetable. When my time with the year 3’s and 4’s was extended from 90 min to 2 hours, it meant I could relax, slow the pace, allow more time for students to work on each writing task. It also gave me more time to read exerts from several of my books to use as examples of writing strategies instead of the originally planned one. I initially planned to demonstrate writing devices from ‘Gingerbread Aliens’ only, but given a longer time period I was able to include ‘Secrets Hidden Below’ as well. I loved seeing the students all so engaged and full of questions. On the other hand, because there was a large year 5 - 6 cohort, it was decided to split their original session in two. This meant instead of having 2 hours to work with all of them, I now had an hour each for two groups. To make this work I had to decide which parts of the workshop to skip so that they would get the most benefit out of me being there to help them. Some groups were bigger than I had thought, some were smaller. Again, if you are prepared to adapt, you can make this work. As the year 5-6 groups were so large, the teachers decided to move the lesson into the old library. Not so bad, except in 32 C degree heat with rising humidity and an air con system that seemed to be working overtime, it was a) extremely hot, I could feel the sweat running down my back and my face felt quite flushed no matter how much water I drank, and b) the noise of the air con was so loud I had difficulty hearing some of the students answers. I hope they coped better than I did.

IMG_5917.JPG

3. Year 7 & 8 aren’t so scary after all. I haven’t taught students of this age in a very long time. In fact, not since I graduated from teachers college over 30 years ago. So the prospect of working with them while exciting, was also a bit daunting. I needn’t have worried, they were a fantastic bunch of kids. I began the session by recognising the fact that my books are not targeted at their age level and presented them as a learning tool for examples of writing devices. The students were all very enthusiastic and eager to participate. We had some great discussions, excellent writing and a whole lot of laughs along the way.

4. Questions and answers can stretch your thinking. Sometimes the responses to questions you ask can be surprising. When demonstrating how to draw a mind map I discovered the enormous vocab students have, no matter their age. Talk about thinking on my feet, I suddenly became very aware of my spelling. To say the year 7 - 8’s tested me, is an understatement. I’m still not sure if I spelt telekinesis correctly. I’m sure they all spotted my mistake. I had some surprising questions asked of me too. Things I had never been asked before that really made me think on my feet. I enjoyed the challenge and hope I answered them all to their satisfaction. I can’t believe I did forget to mention the one thing I do everyday during my spare time, I guess because it has become more of a routine than a spare time activity. That is, walking my dog around the country hills where we live. I walk an average of 5 Km everyday with her. We look for kangaroos, echidnas, wombats, lizards and all sort of birds. You never know what I might find that may spark an idea for a story.

5. Relax and enjoy. It all goes too fast. Relax, breathe and take in every delightful moment. Watching students from all age groups write with such engagement and enthusiasm was awesome. Listening to the excitement in their voices as they shared their work with each other and myself felt wonderful. Observing students madly taking notes from every word I said and slide I presented was surprising yet made me feel quite honoured that they wanted to remember it all. It’s all over all too soon and before you know it, you find yourself alone back in front of your computer screen looking forward to the next school visit. I send my sincerest thank you to everyone at TEMIS, I enjoyed my two days there enormously. A big warm hug to you all.

IMG_5921.JPG

Now it’s your turn. Have you ever experienced the joy of a writer’s workshop or author visit? Whether from the author’s or student’s point of view, please leave a comment below.

Do you have any questions? I will do my best to answer.

Spring is in the air.

It’s that time of year again where we Canberrans begin to live in hope of a little warmth and sunshine. But don’t put away your winter woollies too quickly. Just when the weather feels like it has turned a corner and we can end our hibernation, the cold winds from the south return.

Late August and September did bring us some beautiful days, enough to start dreaming of Summer holidays, visiting the beach and long country walks.

Towards the end of August after a hectic bookish month, (see last months post), I escaped for a well earned rest to warmer skies. Perth already felt like Spring had sprung. I shared several glorious days with my eldest son and his wife. We explored the wonderful Swan Valley region with all its delicious offerings of wineries, chocolate factories and even a gin distillery.

I discovered like Canberra, Perth too, has a tulip festival. Their’s is set among the beautiful hills behind Perth in the Araluen Botanic Park. A hidden native garden I had no idea existed until this visit. We had planned to visit the gardens for the day anyway, when on arrival we found to our delight the tulip festival had begun. It was a perfect Spring day for meandering along garden paths under Eucalypt trees taking in the abundant colour.

Araluen Botanic Park, Perth
20180826_155310.jpg

Naturally, as with all my trips to Perth, we also visited Kings Park Botanical Gardens. Many of the native wildflowers were just beginning to bloom, but I did take a few lovely shots of some of the Kangaroo Paw.

 
20180827_172125.jpg
 

Springtime in Canberra means tulips, wattles and cherry blossoms. Not to mention the inevitable hay fever that comes along with all the pollen. On one of my morning walks around our valley I did stop to take a few pics of the wattle. Its bright yellow blossoms always bring sunshine to any day.

20180913_092015.jpg

Back home in Canberra our own Floriade has begun in all its amazing glory. I have had the opportunity to walk around the festival twice already this year. It is wonderful to see all the families out and about enjoying the weather and all that Floriade has to offer. Including the tulips and pansies, Floriade also entertains with an annual painted garden gnome competition, ferris wheel rides and art & craft, and local produce stalls. I found my picture books ‘Emma the Eager Emu’ and ‘Frazzled Freya’, both being sold among the stalls and enjoying the sunshine, (thanks so much to Monica of Wombat Cards & Gifts).

20180921_130807.jpg

We even managed our first trip to the beach this month. Although the wind was still a tad chilly, it was fabulous to soak in the sun and watch our grandson experience the sand and surf for the first time.

 
IMG-20180920-WA0011.jpg
 

I did do one school visit, for a writer’s workshop with year 5 & 6 students, (and a book signing too, at Harry Hartog in Woden.) but that is the topic of another blog post. Maybe next time.

With the Spring also came a bit of much needed rain. (We still need a lot more.) The paddocks have been looking very hard and dry and our water tanks have never been so low. On a positive note the rain brings the kangaroos out more to graze during the day. It is a chance to see all the cute new joeys as they begin to pop out of their mother’s pouches. We have also had deer grazing in our paddocks more frequently than ever before. I think they have discovered the green grass where our grey water waste flows. Deer are curious creatures and get up to rather a lot of mischief that includes eating the blossoms from my ornamental pear tree and pulling branches off my gum trees with their massive strong antlers.

20181004_153208.jpg
IMG-20180915-WA0003.jpg
20181001_082428.jpg

Spring is in the air and Summer is just around the corner. Time to start making plans for those lazy hazy days down the beach. That also includes a reading list for time spent in the shade of a tree, swinging in a hammock or lazing by a pool. Perhaps it’s time to plan your next Summer getaway? Don’t forget to include a book for the kids. ‘Secrets Hidden Below’ will take them to the beaches of Bali and beyond. Filled with adventure and surprises it just might inspire you and the kids to book that well deserved holiday.

36707513_1132659366872370_5200395613732077568_o.jpg

Have you ever been to a tulip festival?

What are your plans for the upcoming warmer months?

What is on your reading list?

A Bookish Month, Engaging Book Launches & School Visits.

August has been a busy month with lots happening for authors of children's books. With Book Week in the middle of the month, we have all been busy launching books and attending school functions. This years theme was 'Find Your Treasure.' So hang on to your pirate hat me matey,, lads and lassies, this is going to be one amazing adventure into the world of children's books. You may even want to make a cup of tea, this was a long month.

Children's Book Council of Australia

It all started back in July, 25th July to be precise. The ACT branch of CBCA held their Romancing The Stars meeting here in Canberra. Craig Cormick encouraged us with his stories about writing books in a series, those that are successful and those that are not quite so successful. Jacqueline de Rose-Ahem discussed ways to broaden your books reach internationally. Kerry Malone took us along on her journey to self-publication. Jack Heath brought us to tears with laughter as he looked back on his teenage years searching for books he wanted to read which became his reason for writing. Pauline Deeves discussed the abundance of research necessary when writing for the NLA (National Library of Australia and Maura Pierlot delved into her interest in dramatic play writing.. It was an inspirational evening, we all came away filled with information and motivation to continue our writing journey.

CBCA meeting.jpg

May Gibbs Exhibition

Still in July, but at the end, 30th July, I attended the opening of the 100 year anniversary exhibition of the works of May Gibbs at Queanbeyan Library. There hasn't been a generation in Australia in the last 100 years that hasn't grown up reading about May Gibbs much loved and iconic characters Snugglepot and Cuddlepie and the rest of the Gumnut Babies. To my international readers, if you have never heard of these adorable stories I highly recommend you find yourself a copy and learn about these beautifully illustrated Australian bush characters.  May Gibbs was a magnificent and much loved author and illustrator. Author Tania McCartney had the fantastic opportunity to open the exhibition. She has spent years researching the life of May Gibbs to be able to have the honour of writing a children's picture book somewhat loosely based on her life story.

may gibbs works.jpg

Wyrd Book launch

Cate Whittle held her book launch for her new chapter book, Wyrd, to a great crowd at Harry Hartog, Woden on August 11. The audience was enthralled to listen to Cate read an enchanting chapter full of magical wishes. Followed by delicious cupcakes, colouring-in for the little ones and plenty of books to be signed. I couldn't wait to take my signed copy home and start reading. Cate didn't disappoint. The story was wonderful. Imagine the horror of two girls who can't stand each other suddenly discovering their parents are planning to marry. Add to that mistakenly becoming a reluctant witch and you have the potential for disaster. Cate Whittle handles the story with both gentle humour and sensitivity.

 
Wyrd book launch.jpg
 

SCBWI ACT Meeting

Only a couple of days later, on the 15th August SCBW! ACT held their next development meeting,  Putting Yourself in the Picture was an amazing evening of shared learning experiences. Award winning author/illustrator Caroline Magerl had us in stitches with her light-hearted journey through the publication world from before technology right up to present day with the launch of her latest beautiful picture book Maya and Cat. Emma Allen, Hannah Sommerville and Susan Hall spoke about the benefits of collaboration, while Maura Pierlot discussed the advantages of going away on a writer's retreat. We all came away from the evening enriched and inspired once again. I also came home with an armful of gorgeous irresistible picture books.

PictureBooksSCBWI.jpg

CBCA Book of the Year Awards

These were held at the National Library of Australia on 17th August and mark the beginning of Children's Book Week. I didn't have the time to attend this year, maybe next year I will make it. Congratulations to all of this years winners. Check out the list of recipients on the CBCA website.

Secrets Hidden Below Book Launch

Saturday 18th August was my turn for the official book launch at Paerchain Bookstore in Manuka of Secrets Hidden Below. Thank you so much to everyone who braved the cold wet wintry afternoon to come out and join me. My dear friend and colleague Lynne Audsley kindly agreed to launch my book for me. A small part of her wonderful speech said,

'As a child I loved reading the Famous Five books. Books that took me to a world where children had amazing adventures involving smugglers and hidden treasure. Secrets Hidden Below is that for modern children. They can experience the thrill of reading a book they can't put down. In fact it would be a good contender for dragging children from 8 years, away from their electronic devices  as they get caught up in the mystery of Secrets Hidden Below.'

After Lynne's amazing speech that I appreciated very much and felt rather humbled by, I spoke about the inspiration behind the story before reading a chapter that had everyone hooked. We then went on a treasure hunt around Bali before to the delight of the kids I revealed the hidden treasure inside the treasure box. Yummy Volcano cupcakes were enjoyed by all as the signing of books began.

Paperchain book launch 1.jpg

Official School Launch

Monday 20th August took me to Curtin Primary school to launch Secrets Hidden Below with the year 5/6 Indonesian LOTE students. We were fortunate to have Pak Baskora from the Indonesian Embassy join us for the morning. A huge thank you to Ibu Karen Kennedy for organising the event. The kids really enjoyed the presentation and were enthusiastic to read more of the book. We held a writing competition beforehand whereby I selected the best story to win a free copy of the book. The students were asked to write a story using several Indonesian words. The winning entry was titled The Berapi Harimau, (Volcano/Fire Tiger). I selected this one as I felt it read like a Balinese legend. I could see that Madison has the potential to be a great writer as she grows and learns.

Curtin school visit 2.jpg

Telopea Park School Visit

There was no rest, this was Book Week after all. Tuesday meant another fabulous school with more kids eager to see me, learn from me and read my new book. This time I visited year 3 students at Telopea Park School. On arrival I was surprised to find an awesome display the kids had made from their work about my earlier books. They were so excited as they entered the library, the chatter bubbled with hello's, waves and whispers. By the end of the session I was swamped with requests for my autograph. It was a beautiful moment to be able to share time with these gorgeous kids. The competition here, I asked them to come up with a title for an adventure story. The winner I selected was 'The Caves Beneath The White Cliff of Dover.' I could imagine all sorts of intriguing situations arising from that title.

Telopea school visit.jpg

Forrest Primary School Visit

Thursday 23rd August I found myself back at Forrest Primary. I have very fond memories of my teaching years at this school, but today I was not teaching, nor presenting my book. This time I was supporting fellow author Skye Davidson and illustrator Agnes Rokiczky as they launched their gorgeous and mischievous picture book Archibald the Naughtiest Elf in the World Goes to the Zoo. It was a lovely afternoon, the Kinders and year Ones had a lot of fun.

Forrest school visit.jpg

Of course there have been many children's authors launching books and presenting at schools this month. I couldn't get to all the launches, as much as I wanted to. I apologise to those I missed. I was there in spirit and hope to catch up with your amazing books soon.

My hectic schedule did not stop there. I flew to Perth for my eldest son's 30 birthday at the end of Book Week. Still can't believe he is that old! Where do the years go? Then flew to Port Moresby to attend the PNG Independence Day Ball with hubby, That takes us into September and there is still so much more to come. More school visits, more book signings. These are exciting times.

 
Independence Ball 2.jpg
 

If you missed the book launch of Secrets Hidden Below at Paperchain but would like a signed copy, you have a second chance. I will be signing books Saturday 15th September from 11:00 am at Harry Hartog Bookshop in Woden. Hope to see you there. For those who are not in Canberra, books can be purchased through Elephant Tree Publishing.

I will also be returning to Forrest Primary this Friday, 7th September to do a writing workshop with students from years 5/6. 

How about you? How was your August? Did you dress up for Book Week? Let me know in the comments below, add a photo too. I'd love to see those bookish costumes. 

 

Patience and Persistence Does Make Dreams Come True

Emma the Eager Emu has patience and persistence, so does Frazzled Freya. In both these picture books my main characters learn the essential life lessons that to achieve anything in life you must practice, be patient and continue to try. 

One thing is certain, I have also learnt this lesson. In my blog post in May, I wrote about my chapter book set in Bali and how after almost twenty years of writing, rewriting, editing, learning and more editing and rewriting, I finally felt my baby was ready to go out into the world . First I submitted the first three chapters for a manuscript assessment by the incredibly helpful Sue Whiting at the Creative Kid Tales Festival in March. Following Sue's advice I returned home motivated and full of ideas for more rewrites and edits. When finally I felt the manuscript was complete, I found the courage to press the send button and begin the submission process to publishers.

I waited with baited breath. Just when I started to allow self doubt to take over again, I received a reply.

An offer of publication! You can imagine my excitement. To say I jumped for joy would be an understatement. I squealed with delight and ran around telling anyone who would listen. It's not everyday your dream comes true. 

That is not to say I have not been happy with self publishing so far, I have. I enjoy the road I have travelled  that helped  me reach this point. I have met many wonderful authors both indie and traditionally published and learnt so much from them all. It's just an amazing feeling to know that someone else believes in your work enough to take a risk on it and publish. I may still self publish my next picture book, it is so close to being ready, but for now I must concentrate on 'Secrets Hidden Below.'

The story has improved quite a lot over the years. It is almost unrecognisable from it's original draft. The setting and characters are the same, (almost). We have had a gender change. Instead of three brothers, the middle child is now a sister. It was a great suggestion by the publisher and I couldn't agree more. Not only does it widen the book's readership but as I edited I realised the character actually made sense as as a girl. I don't know why I hadn't seen it before? Sometimes we are a little too close to our work and it takes fresh eyes to see the obvious.

This week I have had to write the blurb for the back cover and look over several alternative front cover designs. The blurb reads as follows -

The Adamson family are set for a surfing holiday in Bali they’ll never forget.
Dad wants to surf all day and Mum wants to shop. Zac is eager to explore a sunken WW2 shipwreck. Luke is keen to cause mischief wherever he goes. Clare on the other hand, just wants to stay out of trouble.
But while building sandcastles on Kuta Beach, the kids unearth a surprising find that dramatically changes their holiday. Curiosity leads them on a dangerous path to an adventure where difficulties lurk around every corner.
Secrets Hidden Below takes the reader on an intriguing treasure hunt around an exotic tropical island that includes plenty of rotten-egg gas, a guardian snake and a volcano spirit you definitely, don’t want to anger.

I've written my bio for the publishers website and thanked them for their awesome words of encouragement. Part of their wonderful review reads 'our latest treasure is very much in the style of the classic mysteries we all loved, ( Famous Five, Secret Seven, Nancy Drew, Hardy Boys). Canberra author Sandra Bennett has written Secrets Hidden Below, a rollicking adventure set in Bali for children aged 7-10. What child couldn't resist a sunken Ww2 Japanese shipwreck, a message in a bottle, a treasure map, a guardian snake, lots of rotten egg gas and a volcano spirit? ' I am so humbled that my writing has been mentioned in the same category as my childhood heroes. The new book will be released in August during book week. Thanks Elephant Tree Publishing for having faith in me. 

Next my story will go off to the type setter. I will do one last proof read and we will be ready to send the book to the printer.

School visits and book launches are next to plan.The chance to spend time reading, entertaining children  and helping them learn is my favourite part of writing children's books. Being able to share read aloud moments with them  and seeing their joy makes  my day. Exciting times ahead.

Are you are a teacher or parent in Canberra or Sydney who might like me to visit your school for a reading or writing workshop during book week or the weeks that follow? Please contact me here in the comments section below, my email gingerbreadaliens@gmail.com or through Elephant Tree Publishing. I would love to share my new chapter book with your kids.

Now for the big reveal! Here is the cover!

Secrets Hidden Below

Have You Been to Bali?

Sun, sand, surf, you can find that on any beach right around our beautiful Australian coastline at any time of year. So why fly north to Bali?

Most Aussies fly to Bali for a sun drenched holiday where they can sit back , relax, be pampered, surf and party.

However, there is so much more to see and do around the island beyond the beach resorts.

As a family, we first experienced the exotic island over twenty years ago. This was when my idea for an adventure chapter book set in Bali was born.

Throughout the years since then, I  have nurtured its growth and believe it is now ready to fly the nest just like the rest of my children.

In recent days I have with hesitant fingers pressed the send button on my submission to two publishers. The harrowing wait begins.

Perhaps now is the time to revisit this beautiful tropical island, its people, culture and mystique.

Animism

Did you know the Balinese are a very spiritual people? Their religious belief system is steeped in history and mythology.

Animism is an ancient form of Hinduism that combines Hindu gods with primitive ancestor worshipping. It includes the battle between the forces of good and evil. 

Animism holds the belief that large stones, trees or other natural objects may house invisible spirits. Consequently, a small shrine is often built for them either nearby, or as a protective covering. Offerings of food and flowers are placed on the ground in bamboo trays to deter demons or evil spirits.

You may find an effigy of an animal god or a pair of mythical demon statues guarding many temple entrances. These too, are places to present offerings.

There are many places to visit around Bali where you will find evidence of this spiritual belief. Below are a few such places, that the Bradberrie Brothers discover as they follow their adventure trail around the island in their quest to find 'secrets hidden below'.

 

Ubud

In my chapter book one of the places the boys are amazed by, is the drive through the village of Ubud. Here they encounter streets along the roads that wind through lush green tiered rice fields lined with spirit poles, presenting offerings to appease evil spirits.

Ubud is only about an hour drive north inland from the main tourist beaches around Kuta, yet it is where you encounter a hub of the traditional Balinese lifestyle. It is known for it's culture, arts, crafts and market stalls set among the cooler climate of the rice paddy backdrop. Ubud is also where you will find health and yoga retreats, as it is a place of calmness and well-being.

Tanah Lot Temple

Not far up the coast from Kuta, stands this magnificent and iconic temple. Sat on a rock surrounded by water, it is accessible at low tide.

One of many along the coastline, including Uluwatu, this temple was built centuries ago in order to worship the gods of the sea.

Nowadays, tourists flock to this destination for photo opportunities, particularly at sunset. A note of caution at these Temples, not only are they guarded by spirits, (good or evil) but monkeys too, all too willing to grab your food, bag or jewellery.

Along with the mystique of the culture, poisonous sea snakes are believed to guard the temple from both intruders and evil spirits.

I wind this into my story as the boys encounter something lurking in the shadows of the caves in and around Tanah Lot Temple.

Mt Batur

There truly is something for everyone on this island. If you are not into sun, sand and surf, history and culture, or arts and crafts, there are volcanoes.

Mt Batur is an active 700 m tall volcano to the north of the island. It is formed between two craters. At its base in one of the craters is Lake Batur.

The volcano rises above several small villages nestled among rice fields within the craters and can be quite a formidable sight  It is well worth the day drive to watch the volcano quietly smoulder among the clouds.

Within the pages of my book a thirst for adventure, temptation and intrigue lead our mischievous boys on a dangerous path to this volcano.

Amed Beach

Like most Aussie kids, the brothers in my story have grown up loving water sports. Whether it's at the beach learning to surf or in a backyard pool, we all learn to swim. Water is in our nature and swimming is a big part of our culture. So when visiting Bali we are all drawn to the beaches. Brian, my main character, has discovered the perfect snorkelling location. It is a small coral reef made from the remnants of a sunken World War 2 Japanese ship wreck. The coral and fish that are to be found there are renowned to be some of the most spectacular in the world.  Found in the middle of the 'Coral Triangle' just off the coast of Amed beach, it is in shallow enough water to allow snorkelers and divers a chance to see her many treasures. The boys are however, in search of another treasure. Does Brian ever manage to have his day snorkelling? Maybe one day, you will be able to read my story to find out.

 

Have you ever visited Bali? Basked in her sun and culture?

Have you ventured out of the beach resorts to discover her natural wonders?

The Bradberrie Brothers discover much more than they bargain for in "Secrets Hidden Below.'

 

5 Reasons to Attend a Conference.

The thought of attending a conference on my own makes me shudder with fear. My husband can step into a room of unknown people and before you know it he has made friends with at least a dozen of them.

I'm the complete opposite. Born in July, I am a typical crab. I like to hide in my shell. build up my walls and observe while everyone else around me talks.

In social situations where I know all the people that are invited I'm fine, but put me in a situation where I am out there on my own I suddenly dry up. I  can't find anything to talk about,  and certainly can't begin to think about joining a group where they all seem to know each other and I am the odd one out.

Sound familiar? So why would you put yourself in this situation and attend a conference of like-minded people?

In the past two months I have done just that. The first was a writer's workshop in the beautiful Araluen Valley with the amazing Jackie French. The second was the Creative Kids Tales Writer's Festival in "The Shire." The place I grew up and called home for my younger years.

I learnt a lot from these events and I am so pleased I put myself out there on a limb, took a chance and dove into the experience.

Here are my top 5 reasons you should consider attending a conference in your field no matter how introverted you are.

Developing your Network.

This could be one of the hardest for me. Online, I have no problem connecting with other authors. In person, this is a lot harder. While at the festival I had hoped to introduce myself to other authors that had also been involved in the Creative Kids Tales Story Collection. I don't think I managed to speak to one of them, until perhaps the end of the day when this photo was taken. I did connect with other authors and illustrators that were new to this publishing journey and I hope I was able to help them with a little insight of my journey so far. It was a few small steps, but at least I have now met a few more like-minded people to continue along the road with. I encourage you to do this too. You are never alone, there are always other people in your field willing to share their experiences and wisdom.

Increasing your Knowledge.

The keynote speakers at the festival were amazingly generous with sharing their knowledge. I wrote copious pages of notes so numerous I don't know where to begin. A huge thanks to Georgie Donaghey, founder of Creative Kids Tales for bringing together these wonderful writers, illustrators and editors to speak to us. Also a massive thank you to Susanne Gervay, Wai Chim, Tristan Banks, Sue Whiting and Sarah Davis for being so willing to give their time to us novice writer's so that we may learn from your incredible experiences. A few of my take-home points from their advice is as follows -

  • Do your research, read a lot, rethink your work, rewrite, make it relatable.
  • Don't be afraid to write about hard topics, but soften it with highs and lows. Add laughter as well as tears and always finish with a happy ending.
  • Start with what you know, then lie. In other words, be creative, stretch the the truth, add a twist and see where it leads. Build on what you know to find an original story.
  • When marketing think outside the square, be unique, different but always be true to yourself.
  • Write the story that only you can tell. Look at it from different angles, make it topical, be brave, bold and write from the heart.

Improving your skills.

As a member of Creative Kids Tales we had the bonus of being offered a one on one manuscript assessment by either Clare Hallifax, Sue Whiting, Sarah Davis or Susanne Gervay. This was an opportunity not to be missed. Sure, you can pay for a manuscript assessment without attending a conference. You can email your manuscript off into the ether to someone and wait for a written response, but to meet and personally speak to the assessor makes the experience all the more personal and worthwhile. I truly appreciate all the advice Sue Whiting gave me for my junior chapter book. It has been a work in progress for many years. After speaking with her and listening to all her valuable advice I now feel I am on track to finally complete the story and begin the submission process with more confidence. Sue was able to guide me in the right direction where I could see I wasn't quite right but wasn't sure how to fix it.  Like anything, writing takes practice and is a constant learning curve. No matter how much you read or study, there is always something someone can teach you.

Build your resource library.

Conferences always supply goodie bags and the Creative Kids Tales Writer's Festival was no exception. There were two bags on offer, one for members and one for non-members. Inside among all the pamphlets and wonderful information were also a couple of books to add to your resource library. Inside my bag was the fabulous picture book 'I'm Australian Too,'by Mem Fox, (which is among the Children's Book Council of Australia's short listed books of 2018), and a YA novel 'The Things We Promise' by J. C. Burke. I also managed to buy for myself copies of Georgie Donaghey's PB 'Clover's Big Idea.'  Can't wait to start reading that to my 3 month old grandson. Susanne Gervay's JF,  'Super Jack' and Sue Whiting's MG 'Missing." I have already finished reading 'Missing,' it was certainly an 'unputdownable' irresistible story. You never know what fantastic things you might come home with. It goes without saying, I wore my CKT badge with pride on the day and hope to find other occasions to wear it too.

Opportunity to Challenge yourself.

As I said at the beginning I am by nature a rather introverted person. I overcame this to an extent as a teacher. Put me in front of a group of kids and I can read, teach, perform for hours, but put me in front of a room full of adults and I freeze. So the decision to enter the draw to 'Pitch Ya Book' was a biggie!  While introducing myself to people at an event is difficult, this was even harder.The idea was to prepare a picture book pitch, place your name in the box on entry to the festival and hope to have your name drawn out.  When the time came for the pitches, I actually sat there hoping my name would not be called out. My self doubt had overwhelmed me. Sure enough my biggest fear eventuated. Before I knew it I heard Georgie call my name. It felt surreal as I rose and walked to the front to take the microphone. My mouth dried up, I felt myself begin to shake as my face flushed. I opened my mouth and began to stammer. Before I knew it my two minutes to explain my latest Australian animal picture book were up and it was all over. I was left to hear the response from the panel. They gave some fantastic feedback and brilliant advice to take home to help with my edits. I always felt the story needed a different ending. I now have a new antagonist, Mr Fox is no longer. I have heard before, 'Don't be afraid to kill your darlings.'  The panel advised that a fox as an antagonist was too predictable. Foxes have been hard done by in children's stories, perhaps it would be better to find another option, preferably another Australian animal. Enter a Tasmanian Devil who brings a different slant to the story that is all the more stronger and improved. Armed with Tassie as my new baddie, my new ending became obvious to me, the story practically wrote itself. Challenging myself to attend a conference on my own proved far more worthwhile than I could ever have hoped. Who knows, I might even try to do it again one day.

So there you have it. This little crab is proud to say she has poked her head out of her shell, challenged herself and taken steps to move forward. Next Thursday night I will be attending the SCBWI ACT meeting here in Canberra. Who knows, I may even raise my hand to ask a question...but don't count on it!

Do you attend conferences? How do you feel about them?

A Fun and Educational Journey.

Join author Rosie Russell and Sherman the Shopping Cart on a fun and educational adventurous journey through a supermarket. In this delightful new picture book Ms Russell has incorporated a cute little story with bright, enticing illustrations and packed it full of educational learning opportunities.   https://www.amazon.com/Sherman-Shopping-Cart-Search-Find-ebook/dp/B076VZVW3G/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1509588811&sr=8-1&keywords=sherman+the+shopping+cart Kids enjoy books that encourage participation, this search and find story provides ample occasions on nearly every page  for children to be involved. Whether your little ones are just beginner readers or not yet reading, there is something for all to find. Early readers look for simple words while non-readers are able to find shapes and colours. This is a wonderful idea as it includes the whole family in the read aloud experience. The book is filled with language learning and vocabulary building, it is sure to be a winner in homes and pre-schools.

The story itself is brief but teaches children all the basics of each department category in the store as well as basic shopping etiquette, for example returning trolleys instead of leaving them in the car park. It allows for discussion topics on various food items, general household items and even pet food.

Provided in the final pages are extra learning activities for parents to extend their children's education opportunities by taking the search and find experience into the real world of a supermarket. Rosie includes games and suggestions again for both the early reader and non-reader. She also takes it one step further by incorporating maths activities along with the literacy based ideas.

All round this book has been thoroughly well thought through to provide as many learning experiences for young children as possible. While it is recommended for children 4-8 years, I believe Sherman could be used as a read aloud search and find from as young as 2 years as it is rich in colour and everyday vocabulary.

Sherman the Shopping Cart, a Search and Find deserves 5 out of 5 sparkling stars.

Rosie Russell has brought her many years experience as an Elementary school teacher into producing a series of educational books for young learners, "Engaging young readers one book at a time." You can learn more about Rosie and her books by visiting her website http://booksbyrose.com/index.html or meet her on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/BooksbyRose/

Imagination and Realism Combine for a Fabulous Learning Opportunity.

One of the great advantages of becoming a children's author, other than the obvious, which is kids reading my stories, is that I get the opportunity to meet other amazing authors from all around the world. I feel I am so lucky to be asked to read and review their stories and help spread the word about their wonderful children's books too. Last week I brought you 'Sweet T and the Turtle Team' by Cat Michaels. This week, I am pleased to tell you all about 'Doonsey Returns - The Great Rescue, Part 2' written and illustrated by Rhonda Paglia. It is summer in America and both authors have timed their new release perfectly for summer holiday fun reading at the beach. Down Under we can at least dream of lazy warm days at the beach and reading these stories with our children or classroom students to help keep those memories alive.

Doonsey Returns is perfect for the little ones in your family. We have all made sandcastles while at the beach, but have you made other sand sculptures? Rhonda Paglia takes this fun and creative idea to make "Beach Buddies" that are decorated with items that children find all along the beach. Seaweed, shells, even fishing bobbers (we call them fishing floats) are just a few decorations that enhance the buddies and help them come to life. While reading this cute and creative story children come to realise the importance of keeping the beach clean.

There are two basic problems to be solved. The first in finding the sand made beach buddies, the second in helping a very real, very different kind of beach buddy. I read this story with a neighbour's son who was delighted to find what arose out of the sand. No spoilers here! Suffice to say his face lit up when he realised what had been buried and then came crawling out of the sand. Keeping these little creatures safe is the second issue that needs solving. This idea brought a wonderful discussion of possibilities and a writing exercise during our tutoring session on what he would have done in the same situation. He was fascinated by the facts in the back pages, the glossary and the photos of sand sculptures.

The illustrations are simplistic but adorably cute for little ones. I thought the inclusion of realism along with the cartoon-like characters made for a fabulous way of relating the story with children's knowledge of beach settings. It opens up even more opportunities for discussion as children can relate their own memories of holidays at the beach. 

Another awesome story from author "Grammy Pags." Packed full of fun, imagination, creativity and learning. Teachers and parents couldn't ask for anything more. I recommend this book for children 3-8 years, as there is so much you can take away from it.

I give Doonsey and her Beach Buddies 5 out of 5 star(fish).

 Doonsey Returns, The Great Rescue, Part 2 is available on Amazon: Doonsey Returns

Summer Fun, Adventure and Learning.

Come dip your toes into the warm North Carolina coastal waters, smell the fresh salty sea air and taste a bit of southern hospitality in the new release by Cat Michaels, "Sweet T and The Turtle Team." It is summertime in the States and author Cat Michaels has timed her new beach book perfectly for lazy days in the sun. This is a great story for kids to read at the beach or to transport them there. Written for children ages 6 to 11 years this story is sure to engage both curious and reluctant readers.

Take a summer holiday to Gull Island and experience the wind in your hair and sand in your toes as you make friends with Tara, (Sweet T) her little sister, Jenna and Fuzzy, a blue stuffed rabbit that has a tendency to get lost. I'm sure most families can relate to this concept. Who hasn't lost a favourite stuffed animal at one time or another? It makes the characters so relatable as we read about their desperate search for Fuzzy.

Most kids on holidays seek to make new friends and T is no different. She is not happy to settle to play with her little sister (and Fuzzy if they ever find him), but why is the boy next door being so difficult? Cat Michaels was rather clever to bring into the story an issue that provides a learning opportunity for discussion of different needs. While the other children on the island are being bullies, it is Sweet T who finds a way to resolve the problem, demonstrating to the reader that there is always a way to help and make things right if you are willing to think about alternatives.

 

The story is also a delightful way to learn about Loggerhead turtles and their hatchlings. Included at the end of the book are quizzes, questions and even a few gorgeous photographs of these turtles, but first, you have to read the adventure and see if Sweet T and her turtle team can save them before the big storm threatens to devastate their survival.

The other unique learning tool Cat Michaels has included in the story is the way T and her older sister keep in contact throughout the summer. Like most kids these days they are allowed to text, (with supervision). Each interaction between the two is a short chapter that appears in the form of texting on a mobile device. I found this a rather clever way to move the story along, keep the pace interesting and link with today's younger generation. A glossary of texting terms is also included at the back just in case anyone needs to look them up.

Feel hungry? Aunt Mae, who Sweet T and her family are visiting, is always cooking up something yummy. I admit this Aussie girl has never tasted most of the treats Aunt Mae prepares, however Cat Michaels certainly makes them sound quite delightful. You'll have to read the story to see what I mean.

I recommend this short chapter summer adventure to all kids who love the beach, sea creatures and fuzzy stuffed animals. The story is not only entertaining, it provides ample opportunity to learn and discover through social interactions and environmental awareness.

I give this gorgeous new release 5 out of 5 star (fish)

 

 

Note: I received a PDF copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

About Cat Michaels :-

Author, blogger CAT MICHAELS, M.S., Ed., has more than two decades of experience helping students from kindergarten to college with learning disabilities and Asperger’s syndrome.

Her chapter books and Sweet T Tales series for beginning readers tell of every day life with a twist of magic and mischief.  Cat’s books encourage young and reluctant readers to use their imagination and solve kid-sized dilemmas as they enjoy reading.

Cat lives in North Carolina with her family, where she enjoys digital photography and graphic design, creates pocket gardens, works out as often as she can, and writes.  

Website/Blog  |  Facebook |  Twitter  |  Pinterest  |  Instagram

Find Cat’s books on Amazon and iTunes 

I'd like to take a moment to give a big thank you to Stacie Theis at BeachBoundBooks who put together the materials to add to this post and coordinated the blog tour for Sweet T and the Turtle Team. I’m so happy to join the fun and to present my Sweet T and the Turtle Team book reviewThis children’s book written by Cat Michaels and beautifully illustrated by Irene A. Johns was a pleasure to read and review. Both the story and the learning included in this book made it easy for this review to be written. The tour will run from July 12 – August 9, 2017.

 

Blog Tour Giveaway

Prize: One winner will receive a $75 Amazon gift card or $75 PayPal cash prize, winner’s choice Giveaway ends: August 9, 11:59 pm, 2017 Open to: Internationally How to enter: Please enter using the Rafflecopter widget below. Terms and Conditions: NO PURCHASE NECESSARY TO ENTER OR WIN. VOID WHERE PROHIBITED BY LAW.

A winner will be randomly drawn through the Rafflecopter widget and will be contacted by email within 48 hours after the giveaway ends. The winner will then have 72 hours to respond. If the winner does not respond within 72 hours, a new draw will take place for a new winner. Odds of winning will vary depending on the number of eligible entries received. This contest is in no way sponsored, endorsed or administered by, or associated with Facebook.

This giveaway is sponsored by the author, Cat Michaels and is hosted and managed by Stacie from BeachBoundBooks. If you have any additional questions feel free to send an email to stacie@BeachBoundBooks.com.

a Rafflecopter giveaway