Monday, November 19

Weekender Books - November 2018

Sometimes I come across books that are so enthralling that I can't help but devour them in one weekend (even on busy weekends). Because these books are funny, witty or simply magical, I want to give them a special space (other than my fabulous new library!) Besides, they are 

MOOD books 

and come with a recommendation!

Here is first instalments of books that I have read in the past few months and which deserve to be included in this special list:

Piglettes by Clementine Beauvais
The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
Finch by Penny Matthews
Joel and Cat Set the Story Straight by Nick Earls and Rebecca Sparrow

Piglettes by Clementine Beauvais (Pushkin Press, 2017)

Funny,  so funny and witty - dealing with serious issues such as body image, bullying, as well as war and post-traumatic stress disorder in a very easy going way, keeping the integrity of these themes and making them even more 'real' that way. Comedic optimism, feisty girl power and bicycles - what more do you need to take on the world of haters!

Recommendation: Read when in serious need of a dose of I-can-not-take-on-this-cruel-world-right-now-but-have-to. Uplifting.

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins (Scholastic, 2009)

I didn't get into the movie at first and had to watch it a second time to see the postmodern take on a dystopian society that is not that dystopian at all but is reminiscent of the spectacle of Roman Colosseum, appeasing the masses - Roman citizens only, not their slaves or their subjects in the colonies. I liked the film well enough to read the book afterwards (not the usual order for me). The book                                              didn't disappoint.

😎😎😎😎😎 Recommendation: Read when depleted of any will-to-action-anything-at all (not only for when you are supposed to edit your WIP!). Great motivation booster - do or die!

Finch by Penny Matthews (Walker Books, 2018)

What a gentle, 'quiet' book about unusual and perhaps too often considered as unlikely friendships. I sooooo can relate to the role nature plays in this beautifully told story about a girl who doesn't fit in! On her exploration into the woods, she not only finds a friend, but herself.

😌😌😌😌😌 Recommendation: When the no-one-gets-me-because-I-see-ghosts mood hits and the world around you spins too fast. Soothing. 

Joel and Cat Set the Story Straight 

by Nick Earls and Rebecca Sparrow (Penguin Books, 2007)

Clever concept of online/ off-line interactions that determine the way the two protagonists - you guessed it - Joel and Cat, perceive each other and feed of each other. Great use of inner and outer voice in this 'tandem' story.

😉😏😏😏😆 Recommendation: Feeling nostalgic? Want to revisit your high-school-years-angst-anger-anguish and douse it with words? This is the book for you.

Wednesday, November 7


(Scholastic, 2016)

written and illustrated by Aura Parker

Tags: Picture books, Reading, Insects, being invisible, friendship, 

This is one of the books I brought home from the Kids & YA Festival at Writing NSW 2018 that made me all excited to go home and read. Funny thing was, I saw the author, Aura Parker, at the first panel session I attended. She stood in the corner, drawing a picture on a paper that was propped up on an easel. I wasn't sure why she was doing that. The other four panelists, Paul Russell, Dub Leffler, Kirli Saunders and chairing Sarah Davies were having a good time talking about all sorts of themes picture books tackle these days, including dementia identity and freedom., while she was quietly drawing in the corner. I mustn't have paid attention, because after ten minutes or so, Dub Leffler swapped places with her. (I think people could win them in the raffle tickets at the end of the day. I bought some but didn't stay till the end and so I'll never know - I could have ended up winning one of them!). I realised later, Aura standing in the corner, isolated and seemingly not part of action like  the rest -- mirrored, uncannily, Heidi, the heroine of her delightful picture book.

The Plot

Heidi is a stick insect starting at a new school. Her problem is nobody notices her. Not even the teacher because Heidi just blends in too well with her surroundings, because that's what stick insects do -- brown, long and thin, they are masters in camouflage!

"Nobody saw her at lunchtime. Nobody saw here, here... there...or anywhere."

Heidi is not included in the learning, the playing or anything else around the school grounds, which makes her sad. She remains invisible until she gets mistaken for a twig to be used in a school project, she finally speaks up:

"I'm NOT a twig. I'm me! Heidi!" 

and ta-da! She speaks up and is no longer invisible. She makes sure that everyone will notice her from now on and the whole school is in on it and all the forest children weave a scarf as a welcome gift and as a way to de-camouflage Heidi! Now she can join in the playing and learning and discovers her hidden talents along the way.


Being different and shy at the same time can be overwhelming -- especially on your first day at a new school. Yet, sometimes you gain more by stepping forward and make your voice heard!

Heidi doesn't get only overlooked because she looks like a twig and blends in in the woody environment too well. The reason why nobody notices her is because she doesn't make an effort to stand out. 

"Bug school is abuzz with hundreds of shiny, scurrying shapes.
 But not one bug noticed the new girl, Heidi, 
tall and long like the twig of a tree. "

Heidi's story shows that sometimes we need to step out of our comfort zone and speak up - even if we are shy, every now and then, we need to do things differently to what comes natural to us. And once people get to know us, being different can come in handy for all--and well, 'bridge'- building when we need one! 

The start of any friendship takes one step. Sometimes this step needs to be ours. And when we do, we get rewarded with new friends --and when we're super lucky with a new scarf!


The world of Heidi's new school of bugs is softly painted in pastel tones. The school yard in the woods, is filled with life, fun and games and invites to look for where Heidi might be 'hiding'.

This is nicely contrasted with Heidi's inner feeling of loneliness, depicting her and her shadow surrounded by nothing but white space:

"One, tow, three. One tow three. Why won't someone play with me?"
Bug school looks like so much fun and there is so much detail that it's easy to get lost in the delightful images.


Hiding Heidi -- is there a better name? 

TWIG is a beautiful book - to read and to just look as the pictures on each page tell their own story. It is a book that I wish one could physically dive into and play with all those cute little bugs of all sizes, shapes and colours in this perfect little bug world. They look like they're having the best time of their lives!

Here are fun links to the fabulous book trailer and Aurora Parker drawing Heidi the stick insect 

Tuesday, November 6

Question time #1 Social media etiquette: To Correct or Not to Correct 

To correct or Not To Correct?

On the internet, we usually look for answers to our own questions. Sometimes, other people's questions bring on new questions. This is why I decided, I want to have a place where we can talk about things I, for one, would like to get an answer or two. My kids often laugh at my inadequate social media reactions and so my question today:

Q: Is it rude to correct someone's pronunciation or is it helpful, even an act of collegial kindness on social media, to tell people when they are mispronouncing names?

Today, I came across an Instagram post where the author asked, or rather in a sort of throw away fashion, stated that she was unsure about the pronunciation of some famous publisher's name:

Alfred A Knopf

She decided that it was probably ok to drop the K and P, so she'd say N-O-F. Now, this of course makes sense when you are an English speaker, but the name is German and you pronounce every single letter: K-N-O-P-F (knɔpf). It also means button.

She didn't ask directly -- the question was rather implied and certainly not directed at me -- I don't know and never heard of her until today. 

So why am I hot and bothered (to the extend that I write a blog post about it)?

Well, here is why:

a) Knopf is a name but also a noun. If the author of the post would go to Germany, Switzerland or Austria and ask for a button, pronouncing it that way--that could be potentially embarrassing for her.

b) I love the origin of words and names. 

c) A few months ago, a young emerging writer I work with told me how embarrassed she was when she found out how to pronounce 'Hachette' ([a.ʃɛt) (Yes, hachette means hatchet but that doesn't mean it's pronounced that way.

Anyway, someone responded and corrected the pronunciation which was different to the author's but equally wrong. And so, my teacher's hat itched and I nearly corrected the person who--with seemingly great authority--corrected the author. In a real world situation, I would have done it, no question. On the internet, however, it seems not quite the right thing to do and so I didn't.

Would you rather stand corrected then going on for years, saying a publisher's name wrongly?

On the net, BOOK RIOT sheds some light on some of the more difficult publisher names out there, but forgets to drop the 'H' in Hachette as someone also pointed out in the comments! It's difficult to get it all right, I guess...

Any thoughts?

Friday, October 19

Reading at Wollongong Writers Festival 2018

I read my most recent work, A Tale From The Cabbage Tree Forrest in August (see poster) and I'm excited to announce that I will be reading my eco tale again at the upcoming Wollongong Writers Festival at the beautiful Wollongong Art Gallery on 24 November, 2018. 

(If you are looking for Freddy Iryss on the program you won't find the name anywhere - I let you in on a secret: I also read and write (non-Fiction) under another name, Friederike Krishnabhakdi-Vasilakis!)

I will do so alongside writers I have looked up to for years: Joshua Lobb, his book The Flight of Birds, will be released by Sydney University Press in 2019, Christine Howe, author of Song in the Dark (2013), which was published by Penguin in 2013, and of course Catherine McKinnon whose latest novel, Storyland was published by Harper Collins in 2017. Catherine and I talked about her book last year at the Sydney Writers' Festival Live&Local before it was short-listed for the Miles Franklin Award 2018 and voted one of the 5 most popular books in 2017 on Jennifer Byrne’s ABC Bookclub! 

I hear you asking what am I doing amidst such a stellar line up? Good question. Well, I'll be there for the young ones in the audience --and those who like to listen to stories about frogs, whales and lyrebirds and majestic Cabbage trees (the ones that once stood tall in Figtree).

Things We Want To Know But Forget To Ask

Stories about the painted past and the precarious future. 

Join Illawarra writers as they come together to read short works inspired by paintings from the Jewels in the Crown exhibition at Wollongong Art Gallery. These diverse writers of poetry and prose, fiction and nonfiction are interested in the land and waterways of the Illawarra, in the relationships between humans and other species, in wind, weather and waste, and the changing nature of life on this planet. Featuring readings by Tess Barber, Christine Howe, Luke Johnson, Friederike Krishnabhakdi-Vasilakis, Joshua Lobb and Catherine McKinnon.

On Saturday 24 November 2018 at 2:30pm-3:45pm
Tickets $15
 Wollongong Writers Festival -Visit our website to see the full program nt.
Wollongong Art Gallery
46 Burelli Street, Wollongong, NSW 2500

Sunday, October 7

Dr Boogaloo and The Girl Who Lost Her Laughter - Review

Dr Boogaloo and The Girl Who Lost Her Laughter

(Penguin Random House Australia, 2017)

Written by Lisa Nicol, illustrated by Daniel Gray-Barnett

Tags: Children’s novel, Reading, Music

I’ve been wanting to write this review for a long time, especially since I unofficially declared this book my favourite children’s novel of 2017. I even met the author, Lisa Nicol, at this year’s Kids&YA Festival at Writing NSW and was able to tell her that in person. So, here it is.

The Plot

Dr Boogaloo is a specialist in curing ‘unusual complaints’. In fact, it is said that he treats ‘every kind of childhood disorder you can think of, from Can Only Sleep If Wearing A Pair Of Goggles And A Snorkel Syndrome to uncontrollable swearing every time the afflicted opens his or her mouth.

In other words, Dr Boogaloo steps in, where ordinary treatment fails.

He treats illness not with pills and portions. No, no, no! He has one cure only – music! The key, he knows, lies in the dosage and kind of music, of course.

“Musical medicine is an exact art. And it’s extraordinarily complicated.”

The way Dr. Boogaloo explains it is this – everyone has their own tune but

“Sometimes, for one reason or other, we get all out of tune. We lose the beat, you might say.”

A girl named Blue, yes after the colour (I will come to that in a moment), suffers from an awful illness for quite some time: 712 days, to be exact. Only one person might have a clue as to how to cure this debilitating and isolating, stigmatising affliction of No-Laughing Syndrome that causes Blue to be misunderstood and lonely.

That person is Dr Boogaloo.

But Blue’s loss of laughter is a challenge unlike any other he’s faced before. In three hundred years, not one patient left Boogaloo’s Family Clinic of Musical Cures uncured, but when he can’t seem to find a cure for Blue he is about to give it all up.


Blue is different because she cannot laugh. Blue is not a name, but a state of mind. Not that we don’t understand why – her mother treats her like a fashion accessory – she changes her daughter’s name regularly, depending on the colour theme of her designer home; her ever absent, animal shooting father make her feel different:

"Blue found many things about her parents difficult to understand […] Blue felt as though she was born into the wrong family."

Dr Boogaloo and The Girl Who Lost Her Laughter is a book about the power of music.

It shows the ability of music to transform thoughts and feeling; its ability to nurture the act of listening – to others and to one self.  The story illuminates the role music plays in everyone’s life  and wellbeing.

“Not everyone hears the right music – or knows how to listen. And they suffer terribly… if you don’t let your heart fly, your tune gets right out of whack. It’s a bit like spending your whole life indoors – it’s just not good for your health.”

The book introduces the reader to a global collection of musical instruments, their sounds and the way they are plaid. Nurturing creativity/music from early childhood can bring not only joy, but basic life skills that can be a tool to feeling and expressing connectedness with one self and others.


Musical notes, people, animals and other objects depicted throughout the book, as well as on the cover, seem in a state of flux: they move in different beats and rhythms, or float on melodies across the page.

Illustrator Daniel Gray-Barnett captures Blue’s isolation particularly well in the image of the cover where some invisible force pushes her outside world – people, music, animals – centrifugally to the margins of the paper.

Whatever sound or vibration causes this – it has no rhythm, melody, pitch, or timbre. Blue is visibly out of tune.

The Words

Apart from the fact that Dr Boogaloo’s wife Bessie uses an iBike that transports them both to higher grounds while paddling to the clinic everyday, the book offers a number of beautiful sounding words.

(There are so many, I can’t choose, so I leave this for the reader to explore!)

Back to the iBike ride:

"Off they went. Bessie’s skirt billowed out like butterfly wings. Blue closed her eyes and felt the iBike lift up into the sky."

It also makes Blue feel the music in her body:

"You can feel your heart flutter as soon as the music hits you, right? That’s the wings being attached. Snap, snap! Then if you pay attention, you can feel your heart nudging your ribs, dipping into your stomach and flying out through your skin. That’s that tingling feeling."


"Sometimes our strings get tangled up. That’s called falling in love. That’s why you can’t fall in love without music."

Sometimes, the sentences have a song-like feel to them:

"The research was in.

The facts were firm.

The truth was crystal clear!"

But also:

"Any little hee hees in that time?" Asked the Doctor."No,""ho hos?""None.""What about tee hees?""No," said Blue, barely a whisper."haw haws, yuk yuks?"

Dr Boogaloo and The Girl Who Lost Her Laughter is funny, sad and witty and makes you laugh every other page.  It makes you want to learn a fabulous instrument - who wouldn't want to try out the djembes or the swan-bone flute? It’s a great book for middle-grade readers or for reading together out aloud. A good book when you feel the need for a good tune or a good laugh. :-)