Jackie French News March – April 2015

Our wonderful author, Australia’s Children’s Laureate, and now Senior Australian of the Year 2015 , 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 receive these updates as a monthly newsletter on her website www.jackiefrench.com.


  • Introduction
  • Wombat News
  • New Books
  • Schedule for 2015
  • Garden News
  • Recipes:
    – Baked Fish with Avocado and Coriander Salsa
    – Spiced Fish
    – Garlic and Thyme Fish
    – Fish and Potatatoes
    – Fish and Tomatoes with Olives
    – Homemade Oven Chips
    – Parsley Salad
    – Salad Dressings
    – The Five-minute Wonder – Fried Bananas
    – The Great Australian Crumble


Eight Principessas and one Laundrette are off to the International Book Fair and Laureate Summit in Bologna. The Principessas, all major dignitaries of Australian children’s literature, have taken Calvin Trillin’s advice that when travelling it helps to refer to your spouse – or by extension other travelling companions – as the Principessa.

I’m the Laundrette, being given that title by a young interviewer a few weeks ago. I rather like it. There is symbolism there somewhere, but haven’t quite nailed it yet.
Bags packed. They’ll be repacked another three or four times, but they look pretty much ready to go. Many small packages in the freezer, labelled ‘tomato chicken curry’, ‘potato and carrot soup with chives’, ‘lemon chicken’, ‘hot beef cheeks’ and a dozen more, for Bryan’s lunches and dinners, including some extra large portions if he cares for more company than that of the wombats. The wombats have been farewelled, just in case they don’t appear before I leave.
Columns up to date. I hope. Passport and other papers photographed. Notes prepared. Courage lifted from my boots, as this is mildly terrifying. Next week is the International Laureate Summit in Bologna. And it matters.

It is easy to think of kids’ books as fun, entertainment, adventure, laughter. They are all that but more as well. Every children’s book needs to be so good that each child who reads it is compelled to read more, another page, another book. Reading matters, because if you lack that skill in the modern world you are cut off from jobs and even social life, as well as from the entire written heritage of humanity.

Books matter, because each one a child reads creates new neurons, and – we hope – teaches empathy and creativity. If we are going to mine the asteroids, save the planet, create whatever invention will next change the world, we need to harness and stimulate creative genius. Books do that, too.

Books can teach us that courage and determination and hard work can change the world; that when times are bad we can retreat into a book’s pages and emerge comforted. Books can be our friends and can also show us how to find friends and how to be a friend.
The worst crime a kids’ book can perpetrate is to be boring, empty and depressing, because it is young people that we speak to. They deserve more.

The world’s Children’s Laureates meet for the Summit every two years. This year I hope we can discuss and perhaps agree on The Rights of the Child Reader.


  • Every child has a right to learn to read, with the methods they need to do so.
  • Every child has a right to access they books they need, for pleasure, for learning empathy and to grow their brains.
  • Every child has the right to read books in their home language, about their own culture.
  • Every child has the right to say, ‘This book is boring. May I have another?’
  • Every child has the right to be given books that are free of racism and hatred.
  • Every child has the right to access the extraordinary heritage of the written knowledge of humanity.
  • Every adult has the right to know the children of this planet are being given the tools of literacy and the power of books to change the world and ensure our future.

Wombat News

Not much. They’re eating, they’re fat and fluffy, which means a cold and possibly dryish winter – dry winters tend to be colder. No mating yet, so spring will either be late or it will be dry too. But mostly the wombats are just munching then going back to bed, so fat they are uninterested in carrots, celery roots or even in chewing up the boots we accidentally leave outside.

New Books

To Love a Sunburnt Country
Unquestionably my best book, and the hardest to write, about Australia between 1941 and 1946, when to love your country meant to fight for it. But there are many ways to love a country and to fight for it. It is also about Nancy of the Overflow, who believes she can do anything, even at sixteen – except stop the entire Japanese Army. It is also about Michael, who loves her; Fred, conman and reluctant hero; and the land itself, which is perhaps the main character in every book I write, as well as in my life.

The Beach They Called Gallipoli (created with Bruce Whatley)
There have been many books written about the Gallipoli campaign. This book is about the beach, over a hundred years, the white sand the day before the big ships came, the devastation of both men and land that, gradually, healed.

My father-in-law, Pa Jack, fought at Gallipoli. The shadow of that war still hangs over the man I married. Pa Jack remained bitter all his life at Australia’s abandonment of the men who had given so much for their country. It has taken us a hundred years, Pa Jack. But at last, we have remembered.

Birrung: The Secret Friend (created with Mark Wilson)
The first in a trilogy. Barney Bean, a free child in a colony of convicts, has a secret: his friendship with a girl, a girl who is black and who has been adopted by the extraordinary Johnsons. Why have the Johnsons – and Richard Johnson’s incredible contributions to Australia – been not just ignored, but deliberately maligned? Who was the girl also called Booroong or Abaroo? Why did she stay so long in a colony of desperation and thieves? And how can secrets of the past help us understand today?

2015 Schedule

Normally here I’d put a list of where I’ll be when, but with a new role, as well as the Laureateship this year, which also comes with event expectations, most of this year is already booked and sometimes double booked.

There are a few events that are confirmed, but many others where we are still juggling dates and working out which event is the most essential. And each day there are at least half a dozen more requests to speak at functions across the country, all of which I’d love to do, but can’t.

Which means that, practically, there are very few days free for other events in 2015.

Hopefully by next month there’ll be an itinerary for the rest of the year, both on this website and the Laureate website.

But as a very basic guide for confirmed events so far (though there are many other events that haven’t been added yet):


20 April: Primary History Teacher’s Conference, Sydney.

21 April: Talks at the Sydney Jewish Museum

30 April – 1 May: Teachers’ Conference, Sydney

7 May: Talk to National Indexers Conference, Canberra.

11 May: National Hairy Nosed Day (wear Whiskers for Wildlife).

20 May: NSW State Library, Letters to Anzacs: writers read the letters they have composed in reply to those from the battlefields in World War I.

24-25 May: Australian History and Geography Teachers’ Conference, Melbourne.

26-28 May: Regional Laureate talks, Mt Gambier, SA.

20 June: Childcare Workers Conference, Perth.

22-28 June: Perth, Albany, Busselton, Esperance, Regional Laureate talks.

25 June- 1 July: Perth, Kalgoorlie, Coolgardie, Laureate events.

10-12 July: Launch of Ophelia, Queen of Denmark.

13 July: History Teachers’ Conference, Sydney.

5-9 August Byron Bay Writers Festival and School Days.

15-16 August: Dymocks Conference, Gold Coast.

11-12 September: ASA conference, Sydney.

18-19 September: SPELD conference, Brisbane

13-16 October: Laureate Everyone Can Read tour, MONA Tasmania.

16 November: State Awards presentation.

Still to come: Tour of YESS schools and Little Yuin Preschool, South Coast, NSW.

You can also download videos of talks about various books or workshop ideas from the excellent HarperCollins’ Teachers’ Hub. Go to www.harpercollins.com.au and click on Teacher’s Hub (there are also excellent teacher’s notes for most of my books) or contact Jacqui Barton, Education Manager, HarperCollins at the email address above.

You can also check the Laureate website, www.childrenslaureate.org.au, for schedule updates. If I’m in your area, then I’ll try to fit in any other invitations.

Garden News:

The melons are swelling, the silver beet growing, the raspberries a delight and I am heading out the door.
Will write about the garden next month.



These work with just about any fish, which is useful, as the ones we get are either dropped off by fishing friends or sold to us at the local farmers’ market by a lovely woman who has trays of whatever her family has caught this week.

Baked Fish with Avocado and Coriander Salsa
Take any fish – fillets or whole fish.
Spray or wipe olive oil on both sides of the fish or the fillets.
Place baking paper on an oven tray.
Put the oven on to high.
After 10 minutes put in the fish.
Bake till a bit flakes away. This takes about 5 minutes for thick fish fillets; 15 minutes for salmon steaks.
I cook the fish on the lowest rack of the oven while the chips cook on the top one, but this takes a bit of practice so make the chips by themselves first.
Serve with lemon juice or tartare sauce and salad or salsa.

Avocado and Coriander Salsa
Slice 4 tomatoes, then chop each slice into bits.
Slice 1 onion then chop into bits.
Chop 1 bunch fresh coriander.
You can add salad dressing if you like, or 1 tablespoon fish sauce mixed with 3 tablespoons olive oil and 1 tablespoon lemon juice.

Spiced Fish
Cook as above, but wipe fish with a thin film of curry paste: Thai spices, Sri Lankan spices, Kashmiri spices … all very different results, all good.

Garlic and Thyme Fish
Chop 1 clove of peeled garlic for every fillet of fish. Add to 1 tablespoon olive oil, 1 tablespoon lemon juice and 1 tablespoon fresh thyme.
Place fish on baking paper; pour over the mix; wrap fish and bake as above.

Fish and Potatoes
Peel and thinly slice 4 potatoes.
Spread 1 tablespoon oil in a baking dish.
Add slices of potato.
Pour on 1 cup of cream or 1 cup of chicken stock or 1 cup vegetable stock (made by boiling half a head of celery, leaves and all, in 4 cups of water with 2 chopped tomatoes and 1 chopped onion, peel and all, for half an hour; strain the liquid).
Place potato in the oven, bake for half an hour at 200ºC or till just turning brown.
Put fish on top. Cover with baking paper. Bake 10 minutes more or until the fish flakes away with a fork.

Fish and Tomatoes with Olives
Place 2–4 pieces of fish or one whole fish, not too thick (i.e. no giant whole Atlantic salmon) in a baking dish.
Pour on 1 large can chopped tomatoes.
Mix in 3 tablespoons of chopped basil, or 1 tablespoon fresh thyme or tarragon.
Mix in about 20 chopped olives, black or green.
Add 2 tablespoons of olive oil to make this richer, but you can leave it out if you are watching calories.
You can also scatter on 2 tablespoons grated parmesan cheese – buy the real stuff because the ready-grated stuff tastes and feels like plastic (it possibly is plastic – an edible one, of course).
Place in oven. Bake 20 minutes at 200ºC.
Eat hot or cold, with salad or asparagus.

Home-made Oven Chips
If you do this right they are wonderful. But don’t overcrowd them or they will be soft.
Peel spuds.
Cut into slices one way, then cut those slices into chips.
Spread 1 tablespoon oil onto a baking tray or spray with olive oil.
Turn the oven onto its highest setting.
Place the spuds on the tray. Roll them over in the oil or spray them well with olive oil.
Bake till golden brown in the oven. This will take 10–25 minutes depending on how hot your oven can get and what sort of spuds they are. Check after 10 minutes and then every 5 minutes.

If you cook two trays at once, wait till the top tray is brown then change places with the bottom tray, as things don’t brown as well on the bottom of the oven. Use an oven mitt or folded tea towel, and beware – hot chips and fat are easily spilt.
Sprinkle with salt before serving. I use ‘rock salt’ – it is a chunky salt that tastes even more salty. I often blend the salt with spices, but you can buy spiced salts too. Native spice salt is one of the best, and so is Siam salt.
Optional: sprinkle on ground chilli before you cook, or 1 teaspoon rosemary or thyme leaves, or place 6 cloves of garlic, unpeeled, around the chip tray to add a good garlic flavour.

Parsley Salad

Over the past six years or so of drought our veg garden has been reduced to the great survivors – plants that may wilt and look a bit dusty in the heat of the day (don’t we all?) but perk up at night without even a swim in the creek and a nice cold cup of crushed lemon in their hands.
Tomatoes, beans, spuds, chilli – they all put out more roots up their stems if you mulch them right up to their leaves, and the more roots they have the more moisture they can forage. Add some nice plants that have evolved in deserts of barren baking islands – zucchini, watermelon, pumpkin, apple cucumber – and you’ve got a pretty good menu for dinner.

As for greens – red-stemmed Italian chicory, unkillable Warrigal spinach (an Australian native that needs cooking in two changes of water as it’s high in oxalic acid), red-stemmed silver beet … but most of all, lots and LOTS of Italian parsley.
Curled parsley might look nice as a garnish for a pair of lamb chops, but it’s all prickly in the mouth unless you chop it French-chef finely. But you only need to grab a bunch of Italian parsley in one hand, scissors in the other and gently snip it into a bowl, and you’ve got the basis for a totally superb salad. And then … well, there are dozens of variations. I’d add something for texture, something for colour, and a damn good dressing. Ring the changes according to what’s on hand and what you feel like.


  • 3 tbsp olive or macadamia oil
  • 1 tbsp lemon juice, or white wine or raspberry vinegar
  • ½ tsp salt (optional) or ½ tsp grainy mustard
  • ½ tbsp chopped oregano OR 1 tbsp chopped blue cheese
  • 1 garlic clove, peeled and chopped

For texture

  • slices or chunks of creamy avocado
  • whole macadamias, or walnuts, or sliced almonds
  • chunks of cucumber
  • very finely chopped fresh dates (surprisingly delicious in a salad, especially with cucumber)
  • lightly cooked asparagus, beans (especially long thin snake beans), broccoli or broccolini

For colour

  • sliced capsicum
  • finely chopped chilli if you like it hot
  • big chunks of baked salmon or tuna (stunning)
  • hard-boiled eggs – especially tiny bantam eggs
  • slices or (better still) chunks of tomato or whole red Tom Thumb tomatoes or tiny yellow pear-shaped ones, halved
  • a little very, very finely grated raw beetroot
  • a few, very few, craisins
  • chunks of white fetta cheese, or whole tiny bocconcini, or blue vein cheese, or crumbled ricotta
  • hunks of cooked chicken breast or cold lamb
  • chunks of baked or boiled new potatoes, or kipfler potatoes or one of the new red or blue-fleshed spuds, or yellow-fleshed Tasmanian pink eyes
  • cooked chick peas or red kidney beans or mixed cooked beans

It takes about 10 minutes to mix together (don’t forget to add lots of snipped Italian parsley). Serve in one very large bowl and let everybody help themselves. You shouldn’t need anything else, and it’s so healthy you can pig out with giant helpings.
And if you think that growing your dinner takes too much time – time yourself when you’re next at the supermarket. Where would you rather be – picking parsley in the dusk with the scent of ripe tomatoes or waiting at the checkout with nothing but a stand of magazines and chocolate bars to look at?


Standard Salad Dressing

  • 3 tbsp virgin olive oil
  • 1 tbsp white wine vinegar
  • 1 garlic clove, crushed or chopped
  • ¼ tsp salt
  • ½ tsp French mustard

Shake together in a jar.

Savage Salad Dressing

  • 3 cups balsamic vinegar
  • ¼ cup virgin olive oil
  • 6 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 4 heaped tbsp French mustard

Shake together in a jar.

Fish Sauce Dressing

  • 1 tbsp fish sauce
  • juice of 1 lemon or 2 limes
  • 4 tbsp peanut oil or extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 bunch coriander leaves, chopped (optional)

Shake together in a jar.

Avocado Sauce

  • 1 small or ½ large avocado, mashed
  • 2/3 cup virgin olive oil
  • 1/3 cup white wine vinegar or lime juice (lime juice is best)
  • 2 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 1 tsp French mustard
  • ½ tsp salt
  • ½ tsp brown sugar
  • good grind black pepper
  • 2 tbsp finely chopped parsley or coriander (optional)

Throw it all in a glass jar. Put the lid on. Shake well, till the mustard dissolves. Keep in the fridge for up to a week. Shake it each time you want to use it.
Pour over shelled prawns, yabbies or cooked salmon.
Makes a great sauce for hot potato salad – boil new spuds; stir in a little sauce. Serve at once.
Not bad on pasta either, with a few prawns, yabbies or semi-dried tomatoes.


The Five-minute Wonder – Fried Bananas

  • 4 tsp butter or margarine
  • 4 bananas, thinly sliced
  • 4 rings of fresh pineapple, cored and chopped (optional)
  • 4 tbsp golden syrup
  • 4 tbsp rum

Melt the butter in a frying pan on a very low heat; add the fruit and fry on both sides for 3 minutes; add the golden syrup and the rum and keep cooking till thick – another 2 minutes or so.
Serve with thick cream, ice cream or yoghurt.

The Great Australian Crumble
The USA has pies, the English have tarts … but in Australia we gently crumble … which cries out for a poem starting: ‘Do not grumble at the crumble’, but I don’t have time right now to finish it …

The crumble

  • equal amounts of brown sugar and SR flour (e.g. 1 cup of each)
  • butter

Mix flour and sugar. With your fingers rub in 1 tbsp butter, and then add more slices of butter till it’s all crumbly … like soft breadcrumbs. Don’t worry if you add a bit too much or too little – a crumble is very forgiving.

The fruit

easy option: a can of fruit (especially pitted cherries), but with only about a third of the juice


  • stewed apple
  • stewed apple and almost any berry (don’t pre-cook the berries – just add to the stewed apple)
  • stewed quinces
  • stewed or baked rhubarb
  • lightly cooked cherries (I put two layers in the baking dish, bake for 10 minutes, then add the crumble topping)
  • apricots, cooked like the cherries above
  • sliced peaches, ditto

You don’t have to sweeten the fruit much, or at all, as the crumble will add the sweetness.
Scatter the crumble crumbs onto the fruit. Pop into a moderate oven. Cook about 10 minutes or until the top is JUST starting to turn gold … if you bake it too much your crumble will turn into a material suitable for the foundations of a 20-storey building.
Eat hot or cold or (probably best) tepid – pull it out of the oven as you serve your main course and it’ll be waiting for you, crumbling gently, when you’re ready for something sweet.

P.S. The world is divided into those who eat their crumble with ice cream, thick double cream, custard, single pouring cream, natural yoghurt or plain for breakfast. I’m an ice cream girl … there is something fascinating about eating hot crumble and cold ice cream with just a little melted about the edges. And these days you can even eat no-fat soy ice cream, which is almost virtuous …

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

One thought on “Jackie French News March – April 2015

  1. Paula says:

    Dear Jackie.
    Gotta tell you how I discovered you – you’ll have a ‘What The’ moment – prepare yourself…- I picked up Rocket your child into Reading for 50c at the local library. Ment to be – I think!!! I have spent the last 41/2 hours doing nothing but reading your words. From the book, the website, entering the competition, reading recipes, admiring your garden bla bla bla, I am a convert “All hale Jackie French” – can’t wait until I can see you in person at some motivational speech you do in Queensland – next year hopefully!! – as this year seems complete for you.
    Thanks Jackie!! – wish there were more like you! (and that I was more like you in knowing how to teach kids to read).
    Kindest Regards

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