Donnie The Dolphin

Jenna Brooke Bulfin is an Adelaide writer and mother of three and late last year her first book, Donnie the Dolphin was published by Olympia Publishers. Donnie the Dolphin is a children’s book aimed at young readers aged five and up.

The book’s purpose is to prepare children for school and encourage their individuality and help encourage them to make friends with others, despite how big and scary school can be.

Illustrated by Melanie Balestri, Donnie the Dolphin is the story of Donnie’s first few days of school. The school he attends is full of sharks though, and Donnie feels out of place with his blow-hole and curved tail. How will he ever fit in with all those mean-looking sharks? This is very much a story about difference—championing the message that it is okay to be different and being different can be cool.

This book is ideal for young children struggling to fit in at school, not only encouraging a love of reading but also demonstrating how to deal with challenging social situations, and how to talk about problems with someone you trust.

 


Words by Kayla Gaskell

To Rhyme or Not to Rhyme

To Rhyme or Not to Rhyme

Kristin Martin

Illustrations by Joanne Knott

Glimmer Press 2019


 

To Rhyme or Not to Rhyme is a children’s poetry collection, the first published with new publishing company, Glimmer Press. Written by Kristin Martin, the collection is divided into rhyming and and non-rhyming poems. The poems are open, visual, and easy to follow for young readers. Accompanied by Joanne Knott’s delicate illustrations, To Rhyme or Not to Rhyme easily captures the imagination.

Taking on a naturalistic bent, the poetry is told through the eyes of a child as they experience the world around them. From frogs and lizards to backyard cricket against a backdrop of the setting sun, everything is fascinating to the child narrator. Martin’s writing oozes with imagery as it reflects the world in which she lives, celebrating the beaches, the family holidays, and the wild-life in her own backyard.

While some of the poems are little sparks of light, fun rhymes, and experiences we’ve all had growing up, others are more educational. In some, Martin examines cloud formations and the rain cycle. In others, she takes young readers though explorations about different types of animals, drought, and how simply shifting your perspective can take you to an art-gallery in the sky.

Knott’s illustrations are realistic, intricate, and instantly recognisable. They are a beautiful and well-chosen accompaniment for Martin’s poetry without distracting from the imagery that comes from the words themselves.

For older readers, the book is a reminder of what it is to be young and captivated by all of the things we now take for granted. Martin’s poetry is a reminder of the time when we saw the trees and the sky and clouds as something magical. Through her words, we remember how captivating Australian wild-life is. To Rhyme or Not to Rhyme puts us back in touch with our inner child and reminds us to pause and appreciate the world around us.

A teacher herself, Martin’s poems are a perfect way to introduce children to the beauty and versatility of poetry and the written word. As the book progresses, different kinds of poetry are showcased, beginning with, as previously mentioned, rhyming and non-rhyming poetry, and advancing to non-rhyming poetry which plays with format and shape.

Easy to read aloud and boasting the type of mesmerising imagery that helped me fall in love with reading myself, I can’t wait to show my nieces and nephews.


Words by Kayla Gaskell

To Rhyme or Not to Rhyme is available to purchase through Glimmer Press.

Wundersmith

Wundersmith
Jessica Townsend


 

Book of the year at the ABI Awards in 2018, Nevermoor’s sequel, Wundersmith was recently released by Lothian books. As well as being a fantastic whirlwind fantasy it also has the added appeal of supporting a Queensland writer. Hailed by some as the next (and Australian) J.K. Rowling (minus every questionable decision since the publication of The Deathly Hallows), this is certainly one to get into.

Nevermoor we met the cursed Morrigan Crow, who was destined to die at midnight on her eleventh birthday. However, her life was irrevocably changed by the appearance of the eccentric Jupiter North who whisks her away from her Eventide home and into the Wunderous city of Nevermoor where she comes to think of the magical Deucalion hotel as home. But Jupiter’s generosity isn’t random, and Morrigan isn’t just any cursed girl. She is a Wundersmith. She possesses a highly rare and feared knack. While carefully kept ignorant of her gift, Morrigan joins the trails for entrance into the prestigious Wunderous Society, competing against hundreds of other talented children for one of nine places.

Wundersmith follows on from Nevermoor, just as Morrigan is accepted into Society. She now has eight brothers and sisters, but could it really be that easy? With a nefarious Wundersmith among them, will the other children believe in Morrigan’s good nature or will the evil deeds of past Wundersmith’s affect their view? Charged with keeping Morrigan’s knack a secret, it isn’t long before tensions rise among the new society members. Coddled for her own safety and the safety of others, Morrigan finds that the Academy is not all that was promised and despite the best efforts of everyone at the hotel to keep her occupied, she grows restless. As she falls back into a pit of restlessness and self-doubt, believing she is a monster, a welcome distraction comes with the mystery of Wunderous disappearances happening all over the city. With Jupiter investigating, what is there for a restless Morrigan to do if not try to help?

Both books are filled with colourful characters and the fun of children finding their way in the world. An entirely accessible read, I would recommend the novel to children aged seven and up—although this is also the perfect book to read to people of any age. The novel truly is a magical, whirlwind adventure of self-discovery, resilience in the face or bullying, patience, and the wonder of curiosity. For anyone who loves Harry Potter or craves the magic of Diana Wynn-Jones, the Nevermoor series is a great choice.


Words and photography by Kayla Gaskell

Quirky Quentin

Quirky Quentin is a unique kind of children’s book. Released in August 2018 by Adelaide author Indianna Bell and illustrated by New Zealander Aleksandra Szmidt, Quirky Quentin is based on the character of Quentin, who is on the Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). The story is told from his sister’s perspective and is her take on Quentin’s daily life.

“I wanted to write a book that would help young kids,” Bell said, “especially those with classmates or siblings on the spectrum to better understand [Autism] spectrum and ultimately embrace everyone’s differences.”

Bell was inspired to write Quirky Quentin after helping out at a special needs school as part of a week-long year 11 service program. It was there that she met an ASD boy. She didn’t want to say goodbye and instead went on to do some in-house care work with the family. She has been working with the family ever since.

One of the common traits of people with Autism are their unique quirks. When describing Quentin’s quirks, Bell said: “Quentin has an affinity for collecting red baseball caps. He has a huge collection hanging on his wall, just where they should be. He also loves to watch cars and trucks driving by his house- he would stand there and watch them all day if his mum let him.” As much as Quentin loves traffic, he also forgets to look when he crosses the road. He also hates the texture of mashed potato but loves the texture of carpet.

The main aim for Quirky Quentin is to educate children about ASD. Bell wishes for children to identify that those like Quentin have the same desires for friendship and acceptance as those who don’t have ASD. “The more that kids hear about ASD the more normalised autism will become in their world,” she said. “Once a child understands this, it’s not so difficult for them to find a connection between themselves and someone with ASD.”

 

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Quentin’s level on the spectrum is left ambiguous in the book. “I didn’t want to exclude any part of the spectrum by defining Quentin’s Autism to one extreme or another,” Bell said. “In this way Quentin is a kind of blend of everyone I’ve ever met on the spectrum – I hope that he embodies a lot of different and relatable qualities.”Littl

Writing a character who is different can be challenging for any author. As for Bell, she admits it was quite difficult to write the character of Quentin. As people’s experiences with ASD are different, she wanted to go with a balancing act: between something that’s personal and something diverse. She decided to base Quentin primarily on the people she’s worked with and what she’s experienced from working with them. She was also lucky to have parents of children with ASD read the book and say they saw their child in Quentin.

Bell says she’s never met illustrator Aleksandra Szmidt in person. Bell was connected to Aleksandra through her publisher, Little Steps Publishing, when they showed her a list of illustrators. “One day soon I’d love to go visit her in New Zealand,” she says, “and give her a massive hug to say thank you for all the brilliant work that she did.” She also recommends Szmidt to anyone who is looking for an illustrator.

Depicting ASD in art and pop culture has always been a challenge due to its complexity. Since her mind has become attuned to ASD, Bell’s views have become more critical and personal. One thing she has noticed is that people with ASD in movies are often portrayed as a genius with a photographic memory or amazing music skills. “Whilst any kind of representation is great,” she said, “I don’t think it is really giving people the full picture of what Autism can be.”

Quirky Quentin’s recommended reading age is 3-6 and the book can be purchased by following this link: https://www.indiannabellbooks.com/product-page/quirky-quentin

 


Words by Cameron Lowe.Meet-the-Team-Cameron2

Cameron Lowe is a horror and sci-fi writer, editor and student. He’s had fiction and articles featured in Speakeasy Zine and Empire Times. He loves to read, play video games, and drink green tea. He’s one of the 2018 editors at Empire Times. He tweets at @cloweshadowking.

Our Giddy Aunts: Queer Readings of Mentors in Children’s Fantasy Fiction

With the recent revelation that Dumbledore, our favourite gay wizard, won’t be all that gay in the next Fantastic Beasts movie, I think it’s fair to say that the tide has finally turned; J. K. Rowling’s table-scrap representation is no longer enough. Readers are no longer satisfied with post publication declarations that an unaddressed, unimportant character might have been Jewish or something. This is not effective or accurate representation.

The thing we should keep in mind, however, is that J. K. Rowling wasn’t brave or unique in codifying Dumbledore’s queerness. She was just tapping into an unconscious trope that has been in children’s fantasy fiction since the very beginning.

Explicit queerness in children’s fiction is relatively new. The conscious and unconscious link of homosexuality and sex is an old and tough link to break, and is even tougher to get past a gatekeeping adult public. Children are not in charge of what gets published; adults are. It is these gatekeepers that are as capable as being whipped into a panic – like the one that saw the demise of the Safe Schools program – that decide whether or not queer characters see any representation in children’s fiction. Forgetting, of course, that children’s fiction is all about characters just like the bullied queer kids of real life. Children’s fiction is all about the ‘other’.

Children’s fantasy is filled with ‘others’, like Ged from Earthsea, Morrigan Crow from the Nevermoor series, or the inescapable example Harry Potter. Then there are those who might be completely of the ‘normal’, but find themselves feeling like ‘others’ because they’re in an entirely new world, such as the queer icon Dorothy in Oz, the sons of Adam and daughters of Eve from The Chronicles of Narnia, and the Alice of Alice in Wonderland.

It’s not uncommon for children to feel this way about themselves – approximately 1 in 4 children reported being bullied at school in 2009. This is particularly key for children who may be struggling with sexuality or gender, feeling different for a reason poorly explored in the fiction around them.

Even without bullying, growing up is difficult, and the process of changing from child into adult is a metamorphosis that overwhelms even the best of us. It is here that books become a key in figuring ourselves out through sympathy and empathy, relating our feelings of ‘otherness’ with those on the page.

These ‘others’ find themselves in places and situations that are impossible to the uninitiated. They require guidance and teaching to understand their otherness. In real life we have our parents to fulfil these roles. But it’s usually the case in fiction that these characters that give guidance don’t have the familial attachment of ‘parent’. They are the tertiary adults, who fulfil the role of parent without the prejudice and judgement that entails.

Perhaps it’s just that writers have bad relationships with their parents, but rarely – if ever – does the most important guidance required to see these characters through to the end of the narrative come from parents. It might be because the characters are orphans, or the parents are absent – both of these tropes are mainstays of the genre. Fiction for children lends itself well to wise older characters, because children’s fiction is filled with outsiders needing guidance, yet it seems that when parents are present, children don’t go on adventures.

Who does this leave? Teachers. Old women. Grandparents. Distant relatives. In many cultures, they all fall under the same word. It may have fallen out of fashion now, but that categorisation applies in English too – in short, we’re talking about aunts and uncles, informal or otherwise.

What better word is there for the adults that assume the role of parent in the absence of parent? There are honorary aunts and uncles abound in the real world. Why not in imagined worlds?

The word ‘aunt’ or ‘uncle’ does not denote responsibility per se, but it does open the possibility of care. An aunt or an uncle is usually a temporary presence, but with opinions and power the same as any parent. In real life, as in fiction, an orphaned child might find themselves with an aunt or uncle.

The concept of gay aunts and uncles is not a particular new or interesting idea. It is a prevailing theory as to why homosexuality hasn’t been bred out of any population. In fiction, their presence mirrors the real world. If queer people exist to support the lives of children, then more than a few of the children supported in fiction get a little help from their queer aunts and uncles.

Children’s fiction is – for obvious reasons – devoid of sex. The only evidence that anyone has sex in the sanitised world of children’s fiction is the children themselves. This is not to say that the world of children’s fiction is devoid of sexuality – adults may be partnered, children may (and often do) have love interests, and male/female pairings are often implied by proximity.

If there’s any more egregious display of enforced sexuality, it’s in old fashioned children’s fiction. It creates love interests by convenience and proximity by pairing the nearest boy (of similar age) to the nearest girl. It’s not just something applied to the children in children’s fiction, either, but adult framed love isn’t integral to children’s fiction. Indeed, love interests aren’t key to children’s fiction at all. Alice, for example, had no need for love interests.

However, in a world where characters have enforced romantic inclinations, what happens where there is an absence of romance? What happens when a character that could easily have a heterosexual partnering – and has a convenient and proximate heterosexual partner – has none? Why are perfectly loveable characters single?

This happens frequently in children’s fiction because it’s not necessary to explore adult feelings. But adults reading children’s fiction can’t help but wonder about the inner lives of characters. Who does Dumbledore love?

The absence of relationships is as questionable as the presence of them, because for a long time, representation of any queer characters – happy ones, anyway – was illegal.

The absence of relationships isn’t the only evidence, of possible queerness. The circumstantial evidence is as varied as it is flimsy, but it’s no less flimsy than a knowing glance between two Valkyries in 2017’s Thor Ragnarok. Queer people have been forced to see representation where there’s questionable evidence and word of God for decades. Who would have known that Mrs. Danvers was apparently a lesbian without this handy Wikipedia article?

Fiction is filled with flamboyant bachelor uncles, and interesting albeit reserved bachelorette aunts. Flamboyance and extravagance are stereotypes now, but in previous years they could be seen as cultural markers. Dumbledore was extravagant and weird. What is flamboyant if not a bird that catches fire? Diana Wynne Jones’ Chrestomanci and Howl, though both textually heterosexual, were both flamboyant and extravagant in an era when the term metrosexual was uninvented. In the Nevermoor series from Jessica Townsend, we have the extravagant flouter of rules, Jupiter North. These are, of course, male stereotypes. The female stereotypes are little murkier.

The maiden aunt trope is one based in reality, and one that is replicated in many children’s narratives. When healthcare for women started becoming a Thing, so was Incredibly Deadly War, leaving many women widowed or without husband. How many of these women were happy to do without we will never know, but their presence has endured in fiction, even outside of the realm of children’s fiction. The Austen novels are nothing without their maiden aunts.

Of course, many of these women – in real life at least – lead unpartnered lives as wholesome heterosexuals. But there are innumerable queer women who would have found this arrangement invigorating, either because they preferred the same sex or preferred no partnership whatsoever. The maiden aunt could be seen as a miserable character, or they could just as easily be fulfilled and happy without a man.

Outsiders in their own worlds, they provide an anchor for ‘others’. These flamboyant uncles or interesting aunts provide a glimpse into the future for characters that are otherwise incapable of imagining a future as an ‘other’.

In real life, the adults we see as children are the adults we believe we can become. The most normal of which are usually our parents, and possibly our grandparents. If our families are large, we might see a deviation from the parental norm through our extended relatives – our aunts and uncle, our cousins and niblings, adults that don’t need to exist in a nuclear family unit to be happy and healthy adults.

When J. K. Rowling revealed that Dumbledore was gay in 2007, there was a short silence and then burst of applause at Carnegie Hall. Applause for representation? Or an acknowledgement of something that has always been there?


Words by Mark Tripodi

Mark is a writer and comedian. He is a host on Radio Adelaide’s Pride and Prejudice and The Range. He also hosts The Piecast.