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Thursday, April 26, 2018

A to Z Blogging Challenge: W Is For Gabrielle Wang and the Wilkinsons

Today I will be telling you about three Melbourne children’s writers whose work I enjoy and whose books I have had trouble keeping on the shelves over the years. They are Gabrielle Wang and Carole and Lili  Wilkinson. Carole and Lili are mother and daughter, though they don’t collaborate on their books, which are very different, although Carole writes a variety, while Lili mostly writes YA novels. 

Let’s start with Gabrielle Wang, who draws as beautifully as she writes and illustrates all her own books. Most of her books are for younger readers. They are all gentle, mainly Chinese-themed stories. They aren’t all set in Melbourne, though, or even in Australia. Some are set in China, one, The Beast Of Hushing Wood, is set somewhere in the US because the publisher suggested that the ambience just didn’t work in an Aussie setting. We don’t have local woods here, we have eucalyptus forests. 

The first of her books I read was The Pearl of Tiger Bay. Tiger Bay was inspired by the Victorian coastal town Lorne. The Pearl of the title is the name of an old hotel, which used to host celebrities, movie stars and royalty. Now the only person rattling around it is the elderly owner, but it’s her home and it’s beautiful - and developers want to tear it down. To the rescue come a bunch of local kids. There are also fantasy elements, including ghosts and a ghost-busting Chinese grandmother who turns up again in a prequel written later, A Ghost In My Suitcase, which is set in China. In fact, I believe the author liked this character so much she thought she deserved a book of her own. 

A Ghost In My Suitcase is one I used for Literature Circles, and the kids got a lot out of it. The author kindly agreed to be interviewed by a group of my students who had read the book. Here it is. One of them, a fine artist, even turned a bit of it into a page of graphic novel, which the author put up on her web site. 

What is it about? A Chinese-Australian girl whose Chinese born mother has died takes her ashes home for burial. While there, she finds out that her grandmother is a real dyed-in-the wool ghostbuster, who even has an apprentice, and some strange and scary things are going on in the neighbourhood... There is a sequel coming out in September, about the adventures of the girl apprentice. I can’t wait! In fact, it’s coming out on my birthday, so I’ll go to the launch and spoil myself. 

Her very first novel, The Garden Of Empress Cassia, already set the gentle flavour of the rest. A Chinese-Australian girl, Mimi, is given a box of magic pastels which she is warned never to let anyone else use. There is good reason for this. Remember the pavement pictures in Mary Poppins? Well, it’s sort of like that, but not quite. Centuries ago, the Empress Cassia saved her people from invaders by taking them all into a garden, drawn in pastels. Now, Mimi finds herself drawing pictures of the garden on the footpath. People with problems and stress are drawn into the picture, where they stay as long as it takes to heal. When they return, they don’t remember where they have been, but they feel better. However, there was a very good reason for the warning not to let anyone else use the pastels, as Mimi finds when they are stolen...

I’ve read most of her books, but if I keep writing about her, there won’t be time or space to tell you about the Wilkinsons, so - just buy her books! Here is a link to her web site, where she will tell you what she had in mind with each book.

Carole Wilkinson has written books for teens and younger readers as well as non-fiction. Today I will focus on one series, Dragonkeeper. It is simply amazing! I believe there are plans for an animated movie of the first book for next year. 

Dragonkeeper begins in ancient China with a girl slave, unnamed until later in the book, because slaves aren’t named. Ping, as she is later called, looks after the last of the Imperial dragons. There were a pair, but the female died. The male dragon turns out to be intelligent and able to have telepathic communication with his young keeper. When Ping finds out that a dragonslayer is on his way to kill her charge and make money selling his bits and pieces, girl and dragon escape on a journey to the sea, followed by the dragonslayer, heading for an island where he will be safe. He insists on carrying with them a strange stone(yeah, I guessed quickly what it was, as did the students who studied the book for Literature Circles. But it takes a while for Ping to work it out).
There are historical figures in it, including the young Emperor, the one who built the Great Wall of China. He had an obsession with immortality, which made him try all sorts of potions and remedies. 

The series goes over several centuries, because dragons live a lot longer than humans, so each novel has a different protagonist, descended from Ping. I read one of them, Shadow Sister, for the Aurealis Awards, and it won hands down, though there were some wonderful books on the short list. 

Here is a link to her very good web site

It doesn’t tell you where to buy the books, though, so I’ll suggest you check out the regular bookseller web sites. 

Lili Wilkinson has been writing since her teens. Her early books were non fiction for younger readers . Her later ones have been YA. 

For the most part, her books are very funny romantic comedies for teens. Definitely books I just couldn’t keep on the shelves! When girls asked for a romance I could give them one of our very good Girlfriend Fiction books(written by some of Australia’s top YA writers, including Lili) or I could offer those who were finished with the Girlfriend books one of Lili Wilkinson’s very funny romantic comedies. I haven’t got very far into her recent serious book, The Boundless Sublime, set in a cult, which is winning awards, but is very unlike what her fans in my library expect, so we’ll skip that one for now. 

Let’s talk about some of those I have read and enjoyed and been unable to keep on the library shelves! 

A Pocketful Of Eyes is a murder mystery set in a museum. The heroine, Bee, has landed a holiday job in the taxidermy section of the Museum of Natural History in Melbourne(fictional but sounds rather like the State Library, where the author used to work). While there, she meets a rather cute boy - and her boss’s dead body is found in the Rotunda, with a pocketful of the glass eyes used to put into stuffed animals. Can Bee and her new friend solve the mystery? Can Bee find true love? Will she ever get her mother away from the video games she loves playing? Read and find out! 

Pink is another Melbourne-based story, in a recognisable middle class suburb. The heroine, Ava Simpson, has started at a new selective high school, one very unlike the old one, or her old, terribly cool life. She gets involved with the school show as a member of the backstage crew and finds new friends and a new way of life. Oh, and she observes friends who break up, and get back together at a Star Trek marathon... very funny and entertaining! 

My favourite Lili Wilkinson book, which I’ve found kids love too, is Green Valentine. I’ve reviewed it on this blog, so we’ll keep it simple here. 

Environmental activist Astrid meets Hiro at the local shopping mall, while she is handing out pamphlets and he is working. The thing is, he doesn’t recognise her from school, because she is dressed as a lobster at the time. And she can’t tell him, because he has contempt for people like her. Astrid wants to start a garden at school, but is hopeless at it, though very good at her studies. When Hiro gets into trouble for the umpteenth time, he is assigned to work with her as his detention. As it turns out, he is terrific at gardening, due to learning from his Italian Nona. Soon, the two of them are doing guerrilla gardening around the town, and having to stand up to developers...

There is plenty more, but we’ll stop here. 

Here is Lili’s web site.

A writer I would have liked to include is Fiona Wood, author of a trilogy of linked books you can read standalone, but how many can I fit into one post? And this author has had both reviews and an interview on this site. so just follow the links. 

See you tomorrow for Xylophones Above Zarundi - and other Jocelyn Osgood Adventures!


Stuart Nager said...

I was curious to see what my library system was carrying. Only one book by Wang. Both mother and daughter Wilkinson have a good showing available.

I'm in Westchester County, NY, and the library system has 38 libraries you can borrow from.

Tale Spinning

Jacqui said...

More wonderful stories I've never heard of. Thank you for this.

Sue Bursztynski said...

Hi Stuart! Only one of Gabrielle Wang’s books? What a shame! It might be worth asking them to buy one or two more after you read that one - which was it? The books are available outside of Australia.

I do recommend starting with the Dragonkeeper series by Carole Wilkinson.

You’re welcome, Kali! I hope you have a chance to check out some of these books.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Sue - lots here ... but I think you've engaged me with other adult books - but it's excellent there are so many authors in and around Melbourne ... cheers Hilary

Sue Bursztynski said...

Hi Hilary! Children’s and YA books are not for everyone. ;)