Guest Blogger: Welcome Laura @ The Mad Hatters Bookshop!

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It gives me such pleasure to introduce Laura from the cutest ever bookshop, The Mad Hatters at Manly. I take any opportunity I can to browse this glorious feast of literary delights and never, ever come away empty-handed! Laura and her team are so knowledgeable about children’s lit and even with my long history of teacher-librarianship and reviewing, Laura is still my ‘go to’ for tricky questions like ‘What’s hot in graphics right now?’ What better way to spend a little time on one of these glorious spring days we’re having than to go for a drive, go book-shopping, enjoy some food at one of the many cafes in the neighbourhood and relish Manly’s iconic views? Get thee thy skates on – the sooner, the better!

           

My name is Laura and I’m the co-owner of The Mad Hatters Bookshop situated on Quandamooka Country in Manly, Queensland. We are an independent bookshop with a focus on children’s books all the way from babies to young adults, as well as a selection of new release fiction and non-fiction for grown-ups.

            When the store opened in 2015, there were very few bookstores around that focused on children’s books. Ann-Marie, the original owner and a talented illustrator, based the store’s theme on Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and The Wizard of Oz, with little references scattered around the store: a yellow brick road, an enchanted reading corner and a rabbit hole. (We often tell the kids the rabbit is asleep to stop them pulling on the legs, however we stopped after one little one inspected it and informed us, ‘No, he’s not breathing, he’s dead.’) A few years later, we turned our back room into a Harry Potter-themed games room—the only part of the store which the adults get more excited about than the kids.

            Over the years, we’ve hosted book launches, writing workshops, story readings and pop culture-themed parties, with our Harry Potter party being, to this day, our most popular event. We also host three book clubs for kids & teens and two for adults, which, depending on the age group, elicits important conversations such as, ‘Is social class in Australia real?’ or ‘Who has the most outlandish Stranger Things theory this month?’

            My favourite thing about the store is how eclectic and bright it feels, despite the small space. Growing up, I loved bookstores but disliked the bland uniform shelving of commercial chains, so it is always a joy to see people skip down the yellow brick road or sit in the reading chair in the enchanted story corner, or search the store for little book references.

            Bookstores are facing many challenges in a post-pandemic world, including rising book prices, low profit margins, competition from discount stores who utilise loss leader pricing tactics, and delivery delays caused by a fractured global supply chain. The past few years have seen quite a few Australian bookstores fold and little government support for the bookselling industry. But the pandemic has also bolstered a great deal of grass roots community support—with people looking to social groups like book clubs for connection. And it’s this support we hope to lean on now and in the future. To quote the great Neil Gaiman: ‘A town isn’t a town without a bookstore.’

Dreaming by Starlight – Siobhan Curham

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Walker Books

August 2022

ISBN13:9781529504019

Australia RRP:$16.99

New Zealand RRP:$18.99

I completely fell in love with The Moonlight Dreamers, and the follow-up Tell it to the Moon and have enthusiastically talked them up while pushing them into the hands of my middle secondary girls. Thankfully they agreed! So it’s really exciting to see the newest title which segues from the original group of girls into a very different but just as delightful circle.

Jazz and her parents have just re-located from Sydney to Brighton in the UK and it’s just too much misery as far as Jazz can tell. No surf, no sand just rocks, not even water warm enough to swim in, not to mention a very snobby and cliquey private school. Luckily Jazz’ older cousin Amber, picks up on her unhappiness vibe and takes her under her wing before she heads off to Paris to study. Amber is confident that if Jazz follows the example of the Moonlight Dreamers with some tweaking of her own, she will soon find her tribe.

Even though Jazz is highly sceptical, she figures she has nothing to lose so next thing she is sharing some postcards to invite likeminded girls to join forces. Jazz, Portia, Hope and Allegra are as unlikely a combination as could be, and at first, things are not entirely without drama, but before too long the four girls have become as close a team as is possible, not only helping each other to achieve their dreams but, along the way, finding new purpose for helping others to do the same.

This is another truly heartwarming story which will captivate readers from around 12 years upwards. It is sweet and feel-good and, most of all, it extols that beautiful bond that females of all ages can have and the role they play in building each other up. I defy any reader to leave this one feeling untouched!

Highly recommended for readers from Upper Primary onwards.

A Little Spark – Barry Jonsberg

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Allen & Unwin

August 2022

Imprint:A & U Children

ISBN:9781760526924

RRP: $16.99

Once again Barry Jonsberg has crafted a narrative that will speak volumes to middle grade readers. 13 year old Cate is in her first year of high school and her seventh of being the only child of divorced parents. Neither is too bad really. At school she has her best friend Elise, who is also now going through the whole parents splitting trauma. Outside school, she lives with her teacher mum and her new partner, Sam, who is an incredibly kind and understanding guy. Every fortnight she spends the weekend with her dad, who feeds her imagination with rich role-playing and theatrical wonder. Cate is a gifted writer despite her youth and already on her way to being a published and prize-winning author.

But, as can happen, life throws a curveball. Sam is offered a tantalising and life-changing work opportunity in the UK and Cate’s mum is determined they will all go. Cate is resistant to the whole idea, not least because she knows she will leave her dad with no one, not to mention abandoning Elise in her hour of dire need. And then, in one of their fun-filled adventures, Cate and her dad are involved in a major car crash which almost kills him and leaves her with some serious injuries. Understandably, Cate’s mum is even more determined that Cate will go to the UK. But this is one feisty and clever girl who resents being used as a pawn, so with her father’s assent, a court case begins to establish where Cate will live. But what seems like an almost 50/50 chance falls apart at the last minute and things just go from bad to worse. Without saying any more, or throwing in spoilers, Cate’s life changes for the better in some ways and then for the worse in others. Readers will laugh with her (and Elise) and they will cry in her moments of utter despair.

It is a truly magical story which will capture hearts and minds. I love that Barry has completely nailed authentic voices for both these teen girls (and in a way which will not date). With strong themes of family, domestic conflict, friendships, divorce, grief and self-belief, mature and discerning readers from around 11/12 years old will thoroughly enjoy this one. I absolutely loved it and I think it would make a superb title for a book club for your lower secondary readers.

Highly recommended for Year 6 upwards – there is some low level swearing, so if your school is particular about that, exercise caution. Grab teaching notes here.

Ash Barty presents Little Ash…:Ash Barty with Jasmin McGaughey/Jade Goodwin

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Harper Collins

July 2022

Little Ash Perfect Match! #1

  • ISBN : 9781460762769
  • ISBN 10: 1460762762
  • Imprint: HarperCollins AU
  • List Price: 9.99 AUD

Little Ash Friendship Fix-it! #2

  • ISBN: 9781460762776
  • ISBN 10: 1460762770
  • Imprint: HarperCollins AU
  • List Price: 9.99 AUD

Little Ash Tennis Rush! #3

  • ISBN: 9781460762783
  • ISBN 10: 1460762789
  • Imprint: HarperCollins AU
  • List Price: 9.99 AUD

Little Ash Goal Getter #4

  • ISBN: 9781460762790
  • ISBN 10: 1460762797
  • Imprint: HarperCollins AU
  • List Price: 9.99 AUD

These little chapter books for your emerging readers are just great fun but, of course, also promote some terrific values and ideas – healthy exercise, friendship, sportsmanship, family values and school – along with the inspiration of one of our most celebrated sports stars. There is no doubt that Ash Barty has won hearts worldwide, not just for her prowess in her chosen sport but her unfailing good grace and exemplary behaviour. In a world of so-called ‘sports stars’ who behave far more like spoiled brats, Ash is a shining beacon of what we all hope for our children.

Beginning with her first foray into tennis, and her progess, and charming stories of friends, school and family, these will be a huge hit with any of your younger readers. Ash not only exemplifies the best of attitudes in sport but is such a huge inspiration in particular for young First Australian kiddos. She truly is a champion ‘on and off the court’.

I for one hope there are more to come in this series and would love to get it in the hands of some people (planning on doing that soon!). Highly recommended for small humans from around 6 years old.

Congratulations CBCA winners 2022!

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Especially glad to see Tiger Daughter (one of my favourite reads from last year) but well done to all the winners as well as the Honours and Notables! We have such a wealth of fine creators in this country for our kiddos.

Meanwhile, due to the fact that I’ve pulled the pin on the job I started this year (for many unhappy reasons – got any work for an unemployed t-l who needs to feed The Kid?) for the first time in 25 years, I am neither celebrating Book Week nor dressing up but here’s a favourite pic from 11 years ago – Book Week in Canberra – Sylvia Daisy Pouncer from The Midnight Folk (also a favourite book!). Hope your celebrations are magical!

Miss Penny Dreadful & the Midnight Kittens – Allison Rushby

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Walker Books Australia

August 2022

ISBN: 9781760654030

RRP: $15.99

Allison Rushby‘s delightful new book brings together a host of currently popular themes but presented for your lower primary readers. In the vein of Enola Holmes or Rose Ravensthorpe, this tricky mystery combines all the charm of Victorian quirkiness with strong female characters who possess both boldness and intelligence.

Young Penny Pickering is stuck in a miserable existence at Miss Strickland’s School for Girls of an Enquiring Mind while her scientist parents are who-knows-where busy with who-knows-what. Penny does not fit in at all with the school’s aims nor the other girls. She is far more interested in the type of activities frowned upon by Miss Strickland, for example, the avid reading of ‘penny dreadfuls’ such as those written by her famous Aunt Harriet.

When the celebrated authoress turns up in person and whisks Penny away – with a very evasive explanation that the girl’s parents are indisposed – Penny is only too keen to depart the much hated institution. Not so pleased is Aunt Harriet’s publisher, the rather surly Mr Crowley although there is little he can do about it. And so the first adventure begins as it has been arranged for Aunt Harriet to visit a Mr Toddington’s Museum of the Curious and Absurd where, reputedly, some taxidermied kittens come to life during the night and enjoy a tea party. The very bizarre nature of the exhibits in the museum are pure Victoriana and will fascinate, although likely repulse, young modern readers.

Penny may not have the sort of enquiring mind Miss Strickland expected from her young ladies but she certainly is canny enough to realise that stuffed kittens do not come alive on a nightly basis and begins to unravel the mystery in a very efficient manner. And not surprisingly, the unpleasant Mr Crowley is deeply involved in the whole dubious attempt at hoodwinking. Miss Penny Dreadful may have saved some helpless kittens and helped out the local Lord in doing so but she certainly hasn’t earned any brownie points from scowling Mr Crowley. Readers will very quickly realise that this odious man will continue regard Penny as his bête noire while the delightfully eccentric Aunt Harriet remains blissfully unaware of the undercurrents surrounding her.

All in all this is jolly good fun for readers from around 7 years upwards with adventure, mystery, humour and a splendid dash of history as well and I have every confidence that any reader will look forward to the next instalment with great anticipation.

Highly recommended for lower to middle primary kiddos.

Book Week is coming!

The Book of Wondrous Possibilities – Deborah Abela

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Penguin Australia

  • 2 August 2022
  • ISBN: 9781761044021
  • Imprint: Puffin
  • RRP: $16.99

From the opening paragraph this brilliant book simply sparkles with magic and adventure – unsurprisingly, for those of us who have followed Deborah Abela’s writing career for years!

My first encounter with this joyful creator was when, as the organiser of an extravaganza showcase at Marrickville Library, way back around 2004, I invited Deborah )who had just hit the kid lit lists with her Max Remy serie) to be our special guest for the kiddos. She was a huge drawcard then – and still is!

Your readers of such books as Inkspell and Pages & Co are going to flip out about this one. It has everything needed to enthrall and excite middle graders: a reluctant and self-doubting hero, a feisty girl to organise things, a sweet guardian, a nasty villain, a dubious pillar of society with a very strong-minded daughter – and a completely endearing pet mouse who will steal everyone’s heart – all tied up in a world of literary magic like no other.

Arlo Goodman has lived with his uncle Avery, in the bookshop, since his mother was tragically killed in a hit-and-run accident. When bolshie Lisette, runs into the shop and promptly hides from a particularly intimidating pursuer, Arlo’s quiet – and rather dull – existence is suddenly turned upside down. It appears his mother has left him a grimoire – a mysterious book in which the stories written are magically realised – and his own story is to help understand just how brave he truly is. Lisette’s grandmother has also died, under terrible circumstances, and now the girl’s inherited ability to magically write the stories of the grimoire is being sought by wealthy and sinister business tycoon, Marcellus, via his brutal henchman, Silas.

Mystery and adventure, humour and pathos all mix together to create this abundantly glorious new narrative from one of middle schoolers’ favourite writers. I, for one, would like to see more adventures from Arlo, Lisette and Herbert – just saying!. Congratulations Deborah on another superb read! Highly recommended for your kiddos from around Year 4 to Year 7.

Read more about Deborah’s wondrous writing during lockdown here and if you are a Sydneysider, get thee to the Glee party!

The Silver Sea – Belinda Murrell

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Penguin Australia

  • August 2022
  • ISBN: 9781761045554
  • Imprint: Puffin
  • RRP: $16.99
I really can’t rave enough over this new series of Belinda’s! The first The Golden Tower was a book that I literally gobbled up and this one took only a little bit longer (due to the fact that The Kid has been sick and I’ve been tired!). And how delightful it has been to re-visit Tuscia, the parallel world that Sophie has come to love.

Young Sophie is still living with her grandmother while her mum and brother are busy with Archie’s summer camp for young geniuses. During her summer sojourn Sophie has discovered, by complete accident, her Nanna’s connection with beautiful Tuscia and the Rossellana family. After one grand adventure, Sophie has been spending lots of time learning to fence and just generally enjoying the time with her grandmother.

Then one morning she wakes up to no Nanna, just a note explaining that her grandmother had to return to Tuscia to help her sister. That in itself would be strange enough – to leave Sophie without notice – but when grumpy cat Baccio arrives to tell a tale of kidnap and danger, Sophie knows it is not just strange but frightening. The only solution is for her to return to Tuscia herself and work with her Rossellana family to rescue the two old ladies.

Little does Sophie, or her family, know that the kidnapping is the tip of an iceberg of intrigues, long-held grudges, monstrous and cruel villains and devious plots.

Belinda Murrell takes her readers on another exciting and fascinating adventure through this fictitious, but almost real, land with a real focus on friendship, courage, resilience and initiative throughout. Sophie’s encounters with travelling players and evil sorcerers, a sea monsters and a winged lion and more make for thrilling reading, which is made all the more enjoyable for the introduction to Italian language and cultural references throughout.

Another cracking read (and series!) from this delightful author. If you missed the first, make sure you catch up and add this one. Highly recommended for readers from around Year 4 upwards.

Scorpion Falls – Martin Chatterton

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Ford St Publishing

August 2022

ISBN: 978781922696090

RRP: $18.99

Honestly, my first thought as I really got underway with this new offering from Martin Chatterton was: the Stranger Things fans are going to LOVE this!  Lo and behold when I visited Martin’s website before beginning to write this review, he makes the same comment. Always good to know you’ve got the right take on a book – haha!

It’s Australian Gothic horror/dark comedy at its best and if you have those readers who seek out the somewhat bizarre or unusual plot lines, make sure you get this on your orders list now.

14-year-old Theo Sumner lives in a Queensland mining town, Scorpion Falls, where he is a bit of a loner – and often a victim of school bullying. His best friend Ari and her parents run the Iguana Motel, where Theo works after school. His mother is wheelchair-bound with MS and things are exactly a picnic for Theo either at home or elsewhere.

When a creepy stranger moves into the motel and even creepier things start happening around Theo, he begins to see a very different side to dull and boring Scorpi (start thinking Upside Down style!). Cue the samecreepy stranger finding a pair of ‘gooey’ eyeballs on his bed, and Theo’s mum admitting she put them there – and away this twisting and turning plot goes! A mysterious white van, the apparent abduction but then re-appearance of Theo’s nemesis, a student (who has apparently never existed) being dragged into a store room and vanishing without a trace – all this and more is doing Theo’s head in.

Teenagers disappearing, fake cops, robotic spiders, winding subterranean tunnels, a kid literally laughing his head off – it’s all unravelling in a completely disturbing and spooky way in Theo’s world.

Chatterton explores themes of trust, friendship, exclusion, racism, identity and mortality.  The sting in the scorpion’s tail will completely blow readers away and I’m looking forward to my first kiddos to read it to see their reactions!

Pre-order now!

Highly recommended to your secondary readers who love the quirky or weird pseudo-supernatural particularly.