Jackie French News June 2014

Our wonderful author, and Australia’s new Children’s Laureate, Jackie French writes a blog post each month with news about her books, events, but also with recipes, gardening tips and updates on her own real life wombat visitors! Each month, we’ll be posting her updates here, but you can see past month’s blogs, other information and subscribe to recieve these updates as a monthly newsletter on her website www.jackiefrench.com.


  • Introduction and Wombat News
  • The Children’s Book Council of Australia (CBCA) Visit Our Place
  • Writing on the Wing
  • Latest Books
  • Awards
  • Schedule for 2014
  • The June Garden
  • The CBCA Lunch Recipes:
    • Pumpkin ‘Splodge’ Scones
    • Peach and grapefruit jam
    • Lamb Korma Kebabs with Spiced Yoghurt
    • Pumpkin Soup

Introduction & Wombat News

The wombats are not happy. It’s winter, which means chilly paws and cold, wet tummies for an animal built so close to the ground. The grass is cold too. The wombats want their carrots, which I am happy to supply. But how do you convince five wombats that five carrots can be equally divided? Or even ten carrots.

It’s Phil’s fault. He was such a small, timid wombat two years ago, bullied and bashed up, he would cower by the house until he recovered.

And then he got even.

Phil has been getting bigger and stronger ever since. First it was just growls, ferocious enough to keep others away; then he graduated to nose biting. Now he sneaks up behind the others and launches himself on top of them, going for the neck hold.

I’ve tried to tell him that being small is no excuse for bashing others up. He nudges my legs in a friendly sort of way, then goes off to bite another wombat.

He really is a sweet wombat. All I need to do is somehow convince him that sweetness works as well as biting.

The Children’s Book Council of Australia (CBCA) Visit Our Place 

I’m not quite sure how many there were (I counted 73 then gave up). And the wombats didn’t appear until 31 seconds after the last car vanished – you can always count on wombats to be exactly where and when you don’t want them. I think Will Whiskers was peering out from under the house so she could ambush me on the way back from waving the Annes and Geri and Justine away.

However, the sun shone and the autumn leaves glowed gold and avocadoes and tamarillos and limes were picked.

And I think, perhaps, the visitors saw what is at the heart of every book I write – this valley, the bush and its inhabitants.


Every CBCA conference is awe-inspiring, literally – it inspires awe in the extraordinary diversity of people drawn together from across Australia who do so much for kids. ‘Weren’t they all lovely people!’ said Linda, who’d come to help dish up lunch. They were all that and much, much more.

Writing on the Wing

I have discovered I can write columns and blogs in airports, answer emails waiting in line for a taxi; compose speeches at 2.00 am … all I suspect a necessary part of being a Laureate for two years, keeping the precious non-work times for family, friends and writing books, where it’s necessary to vanish for a while into the past (or future) and well as to focus absolutely on the present.

I’d expected the work. I hadn’t expected the freedom as Laureate of being able to talk about all of Australian literature, and the power of books for kids, instead of being expected to talk about my own work.

There has also been the privilege of hearing far more of the vast range of projects for kids; meeting the most wonderful people; but, also, this year, hearing from kids too. The last quarter of a century has been full of questions from kids.

Question 1. Where do you get your ideas?

Question 2. What inspired you to be a writer?

This year, I’m asking kids questions in return:

Do you like reading?

Why not?

 The answer every time has been, ‘Books are boring;’ and when I ask, ‘What ones have you read lately?’ the kids are right. The books they have been given are very boring indeed.

The next question I often ask is, ‘Who watches Game of Thrones? Every hand in the audience goes up, even if the kids are as young as eight. And, no, I’m not saying I think Game of Thrones is suitable for eight-year-olds. But this is what they’re watching, even if, in many cases, it has been a pirated version seen on a friend’s laptop. (I’ve asked about that, too.)

Compare most chapter books for eight to ten-year-old kids with Game of Thrones. Which would you find more satisfying?

Few young kids can read fluently enough to read books that they find really satisfying. Yes, there are many simply written and very clever books, like Andy Griffiths and Terry Denton’s Tree House, series that kids adore with clever humour which – no coincidence here – adults find hilarious too. But most simple books for kids are exactly that. Simple.

The answer? Look for simply written books that have complex themes, rich characters, are exciting, powerful or hilarious and, if possible, all at once. If a book bores you as well as the child, remove it from the kid’s shelf.

And read to them. Read and read and read. Every school needs an adult reading a BIG book – big in number of pages, big in ideas – to kids every lunch time. (And I bet many then want to borrow the book to read more.)

Don’t stop reading to your own kids once they learn to read either, not until they pick up Lord of the Rings with confidence.

And if you child doesn’t enjoy reading ask them why. And pay attention to their answer.

Book News

I Am Juliet

Good Dog Hank (with Nina Rycroft)

Okay, I’ll admit it. Hank is a real dog, my ‘grand-dog’. And he is a very good dog. He just decides how he’ll interpret the rules. The first time I took him for a walk he was angelic all the way to the park, across two major intersections. Hank guessed where we were going as soon as we turned that way. He WANTED to go to the duck park. And as soon as he was there he slipped out of his collar and galloped off, with a grin as if to say, ‘You are not the person I obey’.

So I lay down. And Hank, being a loving dog, came to see if I was okay. And I grabbed him.

He didn’t forgive me all day. Turned his head away every time I came into the room. I had abused his good nature, tricked him when he was being a Good Dog. Good Dogs obey their mistresses when they go to the park. But no one had ever mentioned that Good Dogs have to do what grandma says.

That story isn’t in the book. The others are all true, or changed just a little, to protect the guilty. But it means I can’t judge this book at all. It’s about Hank, as interpreted by Nina and I love her work, and love Hank too. And so I adore this book.

The Hairy-Nosed Wombats find a New Home (with Sue de Gennaro)

I hope you all celebrated Hairy-Nosed Day on May 8 and wore Whiskers for Wildlife to raise money for endangered animals with this new book – and you can raise more on any day of the year by buying this new book. It is a good news story – how the last 35 of the world’s most endangered species, the Northern Hairy-Nosed Wombat, began to turn into a growing, thriving population as volunteers raised money to protect their home. Now the wombats need a second home and with Sue’s enchanting pictorial interpretation (those whiskers are divine) they set out to find it…..

To find out how you can join in Hairy-Nosed Day next year have a look at the Wombat Foundation’s website www.wombatfoundation.com.au

All my proceeds from the book will go to the Wombat Foundation helping to ensure a safe future for Hairy Noses – and other whiskery wildlife too.

Fire (With Bruce Whatley)
Fire is what happened when Bruce and I have three years to produce a book, not three weeks as we had to do with Flood to raise money for the Queensland Premier’s flood appeal. Fire is astounding: Bruce’s artwork goes from genius to sublime. Only Bruce could do a centre-spread of fire that sparkles with red and make it beautiful, makes even the terror beautiful. It is always the most extraordinary privilege to work with him.

A young man survives a freak wave and arrives in the Australia he had dreamt of. But his companions in the game on the beach come from many different times and have their own Australia. Together they learn to accept reality and each other.

Let the Land Speak: How the Land Created Our Nation
This is a reinterpretation of Australian history, focusing on how the land itself, as much or more, than social and political forces, shaped the major events that led to modern Australia.

Our history is mostly written by those who live, work and research in cities but the land itself has shaped our history far more powerfully and significantly than we realise. Let the Land Speak reinterprets the history we think we all know – from the impact of indigenous women who shaped their nations far more profoundly than firestick farming – to Eureka and to the role of the great drought of the 1890s in bringing about Federation, the land has shaped our past.

Let the Land Speak also provides insights into ways we can read the land, predict the future – and survive it.

The Road to Gundagai
It’s the third in the Matilda saga, following A Waltz for Matilda that began in 1892 and continuing with The Girl from Snowy River set in 1919.

In The Road to Gundagai, Blue Laurence has escaped the prison of her aunts’ mansion to join The Magnifico Family Circus, a travelling troupe that brings glamour and laughter to country towns gripped by the Great Depression. Blue hides her crippled legs and scars behind the sparkle of a mermaid’s costume; but she’s not the only member of the circus hiding a dark secret. The unquenchable Madame Zlosky creates as well as foresees futures. The bearded lady is a young man with laughing eyes. A headless skeleton dangles in the House of Horrors.

And somewhere a murderer is waiting… to strike again.

The Road to Gundagai is set in 1932, at the height of the Great Depression. Matilda is still running Drinkwater Station, but has put aside her own tragedy to help those suffering in tough economic times and Joey, from The Girl from Snowy River, uses his new medical skills to solve a mystery.

Wombat Goes to School
The wombat is back! It’s simple and hilarious and showcases Bruce Whatley at his wickedest. The scene outside the Principal’s office is priceless. We had enormous fun with it. And I suspect that kids will have even more.

Awards and Shortlistings

Pete the Sheep has been selected by the IFLA International Federation of Library Associations (IFLA) for the ‘World Through Picture Books’ project. A polite sheep travels the world!

Refuge was named a Notable Book by the Children’s Book Council of Australia, and was short-listed for the 2014 NSW Premier’s Award in both the Patricia Wrightson and the Community Relations sections. It was shortlisted for the 2014 Aurealis Awards (Australia’s premier speculative fiction awards) Best Children’s Book too.

2014 Schedule

There are more bookings still being finalised to be added, but this is what’s been confirmed so far. If I can’t get to your school or preschool, then a video conference may be possible, arranged through HarperCollins. Please contact Jacqui Barton at jacqui.barton@harpercollins.com.au

Invitations to speak should be sent to the Laureate Office, or check the Laureate web-site, www.childrenslaureate.org.au, for schedule updates. If I’m in your area then I’ll try to fit in any other invitations.


9-12 July: ALIA conference, Darwin, and other talks in the Northern Territory

8-10 August: Bendigo Literary Festival, Bendigo

23-26 August: Sessions at the Melbourne Writer’s Festival

27 -28 August: Christchurch Writer’s Festival, New Zealand

29 August-2 September: Storylines Festival, Auckland and Wellington, New Zealand

1 October: History Teachers Conference, Brisbane

22 October: Launch Children’s Day, Canberra

8-9 November: Araluen Open Garden Days. Contact the Open Garden Scheme

14-22 November: Port Hedland, WA

The June Garden:

This one is easy. Sit back and enjoy it, all the lemons, limes, oranges, mandarins, tangelos, custard apples, kiwi fruit, avocados and macadamias that you planted years ago. Or if you didn’t, make a note to plant them next spring.

Plant onions in the bare spots left by hauling out last season’s tomatoes and corn and plant rhubarb, artichokes and asparagus roots if you really have an urge to plant. However, the soil is cold and your fingers will be too.

At the moment, we’re just raking up the leaves for next summer’s mulch and watermelon patch – I’ll fork on compost and plant in that. It should be the kind of hot sunny – and dry – summer that watermelons love. If I get a spare moment I’ll cut back the salvias (or Bryan will) as they have grown so big they’re blocking the path to the house, and maybe I’ll tie up some of the branches in what might turn out to be a small circle of apple trees pruned to make an apple tree cottage, if I do enough training and the sky does a bit more raining.

Mostly I’m enjoying the last of the tree dahlias, the camellias that have finally turned into decent trees twenty or so years after planting, flagrant pink nerines that have multiplied into a goodly show in the front garden and the bougainvillea over the shed that hasn’t noticed it’s mid-winter.

And of course there’s wombats, happily munching as soon as we rake away the leaves exposing some soft green grass for them.

The CBCA Lunch Recipes

There have been so many enquiries about the food at the CBCA lunch that it’s easiest to give the recipes here. Some of them, the gluten-free coconut sugar and hazelnut macaroons, will be in next month’s newsletter, as will the mocha mud cake, lemon syrup cake, white chocolate Anzacs and chicken and vegetable soup and caramel fudge, as well as how to make the small marzipan wombats.


Sweet Potato Scones 

You’ll need:

  • 2 cups SR flour
  • 1 cup mashed baked sweet potato, skin removed
  • ½ cup cream


Preheat Oven to 200ºC

Mix ingredients together. It should be moist and sticky. If not, add more cream.

Line a baking tray with baking paper.

Arrange splodges of mix about twice the size of a walnut about 2 cm apart.

Bake till browned on top.

Slide a knife between the ones in the middle to check that they are cooked.

Serve at once (or they can be reheated up to a day later) with jam and whipped cream.
Peach and Grapefruit jam

You’ll need:

  • 2 kg peaches, peeled and stoned
  • 1 litre water
  • 2 kg white sugar
  • 500 gm grapefruit, peeled and seeded and the membranes removed


Simmer fruit in the water till soft.

Take off the heat and add the sugar and stir mixture till it dissolves.

Put back on the stove and simmer, stirring all the time, till a little sets on a cool saucer.

Bottle and seal.


Lamb Kebabs with Spiced Yoghurt

You’ll need:

  • 4 cups lamb mince – free-range lamb put through a fine mincer
  • 12 cloves garlic, plus and extra 4 cloves cr
  • 2 red onions, peeled
  • 3 bunches chives
  • 1 tbsp fresh oregano leaves
  • 1 small red chilli
  • ½ cup burghul, soaked in hot water overnight then well drained
  • 2 eggs
  • Olive oil
  • Lebanese cucumbers
  • Cherry tomatoes


For the Spiced Yoghurt:

  • Greek Yoghurt
  • 4 cloves garlic, crushed, extra
  • 1 bunch of chives


Whizz the 12 cloves of garlic, 3 bunches of chives, onion, chilli, oregano in the blender till smooth.

Mix in with the mince, eggs and burghul. Use your hands to make it into long sausages, a bit fatter in the middle.

Put about 3 cm olive oil in a fry pan.

Heat till the air above it is just beginning to shimmer.

Fry the sausages on four sides till brown.

Put aside in a sealed container till cool or needed.

Thread onto skewers just before serving with chunks of cucumber and cherry tomatoes.

Mix the yoghurt with the last bunch of chives, chopped, and the extra garlic.

Pile the skewers on a large platter.

Pour over the yoghurt mix.

Serve within 30 minutes.


Pumpkin Soup

  • 8 cups Queensland blue pumpkin
  • 4 potatoes peeled
  • 8 cups vegetable stock (made from simmering onions, garlic, tomatoes and celery together for half an hour, then straining – no need to peel them, just chop, skin and all)
  • 250 gm butter
  • 4 carrots, peeled
  • 4 onions, peeled


Boil it all together till soft.


Cool and store in a sealed container in the fridge for up to three days. Reheat as needed

For more information from Jackie, please go to her website: www.jackiefrench.com

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