30 March 2011

Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award

The 2011 Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award recipient is:

From the jury:
Behind a wealth of minutely detailed pictures, where civilization is criticized and history depicted through symbolism, there is a palpable warmth. People are always present, and Shaun Tan portrays both our searching and our alienation. He combines brilliant, magical narrative skill with deep humanism.

Hooray for Shaun. So much hooray!

29 March 2011


Sometimes in the aftermath of earthquakes and tsunamis and floods and countries or nuclear reactors teetering on the brink of meltdown, we all need a good pick-me-up. And often it's hard to identify exactly what pick-me-up might work.

The glorious weather in Melbourne at the moment might be enough - especially after the summer-that-never-was. Or maybe a slice of the Cake-Maker Virtuoso's spectacular Rhubarb upside-down cake might do it. Or a nice crunchy new season apple. Or a one-point win for your football team in the opening round of the season. Or a good book (I wonder if there are any of those around here?). Or of course, that old fall back, a cup of tea, a Bex and a good lie down.

But if none of these are working for you, here are some items that might just do the trick.

In Melbourne - what ho! A Children's Book Festival this weekend at The Wheeler Centre featuring loads of our favourite authors and illustrators. What an excellent idea that is. Hurrah!

In Sydney - Team Unicorn and Team Zombie are shaping up for a good old-fashion feud. Justine Larbalestier and Scott Westerfeld (Team Zombie) are set to showcase their debating prowess against the finely honed skills of Margo Lanagan and Garth Nix (Team Unicorn). So roll up, roll up to see if the score can be settled once and for all. Kick-off is at 6pm on Thursday, at Kinokuniya Bookstore.

On the interwebs - over at Meanjin Mandy Brett's wonderful essay Stet by Me: Thoughts on Editing Fiction. We are highly tempted to steal it and add it to our occasional series, What Do Editors Do All Day. Instead, we will simply say, thank you, Mandy. You made our day with this thoughtful, inspiring, eloquent and insightful essay about what it is we do all day, and why we do it.

And if for some unfathomable reason these items don't float your boat, perhaps what you need is a goodly dose of Maru.

28 March 2011

Double the Trouble

Intriguing, yes?
Mysterious, yes?
Want to know more, yes?*
As ever, we are here to help...

It is a truth universally acknowledged that good things are always better in twos.

Noah knew it.
Frank Sinatra knew it.
Wrigley's knew it.
Peters Ice-cream, the makers of the sorely missed Two-in-One, knew it.

And you will know it too, once you get your hands on Troubletwisters , because it contains:
- Two main characters (TWINS!)
- Two strange cats
That's double your New York Times best-selling action.
Twice the amount of critical acclaim.
And two times the talent.
Because the authors in question are Garth Nix and Sean Williams.

You will know Garth from the Keys to the Kingdom series and the Old Kingdom series, but did you know he can employ special night vision to save electricity?**

You will know Sean from his many series, novels and collections which include The Fixers, The Broken Land, Astropolis and Star Wars: New Jedi Order: Force Heretic (with Shane Dix), but did you know that he is the inventor of a celebrated Brussels sprout curry?

Together they will be unstoppable!

As well as double your fun, Troubletwisters also boasts:
- a very cool and enigmatic grandmother with a Hillman Minx and special powers,
- a secret antique shop,
- and an Oracular Crocodile.
Before we wrote this post, we thought we might try to play it cool, try to be hip, attempt to sound a little bored even: 'So anyway, we're publishing this new series, no biggie, maybe have a look at it, or not, whatever.'

But we fell at the first hurdle because Troubletwisters is just TOO DAMN EXCITING - and it's only the first book!***

Stuff cool, forget hip - grab your twin, your doppelganger, your other half and RUN DON'T WALK to the bookshop in May.

* Sounding a wee bit like Yoda, we are?
** It's Earth Hour every night at Garth's house.
*** Breathe, breathe, breathe into paper bag. Calm down.

22 March 2011

Awardy goodness

The Aurealis Awards shortlist was announced today.
And my what a pretty shortlist it is.*

Kids' fiction (primarily through words)

Kids' fiction (primarily through pictures)
Precious Little by Julie Hunt, Sue Moss and Gaye Chapman

Best illustrated book/graphic novel
Hamlet by Nicki Greenberg

Five Wounds by Jonathan Walker and Dan Hallett

Best YA short story
'A Thousand Flowers' by Margo Lanagan
from Zombies vs Unicorns Justine Larbalestier and Holly Black (eds)

Best YA novel
Guardian of the Dead by Karen Healey

Guardian of the Dead is a Young Adult Fiction Finalist in the New Zealand Post Children's Book Awards - only the most prestigious awards in all of New Zealand!

Guardian of the Dead is also a finalist for the Australian Shadow Awards presented by the Australian Horror Writers Association

Huge congratulations, to Karen - and to Lian, Julia, Sue, Gaye, Nicki, Jonathan, Dan and Margo!

Woo hoo!!

*Editors bat their eyelashes becomingly in the direction of the shortlist*

17 March 2011

Candles in the dark

Last Friday, when we downed tools and congregated for our end-of-week wine, we didn't expect to end up clutching our glasses, huddled round a computer, glued to live footage of tsunamis devastating northern Japan.

Lili Wilkinson has a simple, eloquent post that articulates well what we have been feeling in the week since then.

Sometimes, in the face of terrible events about which you can do nothing, it's hard to keep going with the everyday things. It's easy to come to work and ask, who cares about this comma? Why is this cover important? What do books matter when so many people's worlds have fallen apart?

But then we rally, and we remember that every day life is for living full and well, and that books can offer great comfort in difficult times.

We're thinking not of the warm, easy, old-slippers kind of comfort books - although we love them too - but rather the books that deal with hard things and offer hope. Hope of survival. Hope of rebirth. Hope of ... well, just a little flickering hope. The books that remind us that dark times end, that the human spirit is strong, and that there can even be beauty in great sadness.

Here is a list of a few books that we think are candles in the dark.

Good Night, Mr Tom by Michelle Magorian
As a child I tried to ban anything sad from the house. Books. Movies. Music. Dad wasn't even allowed to sing Oh My Darling Clementine. The fact that it's supposed to be a funny song made no difference. Poor old Clementine being lost and gone forever = TOO SAD.

Good Night, Mr Tom - the story of how small and broken evacuee William, and gruff and broken old Mr Tom transform each other with friendship - was one of the first books that taught me the importance of allowing yourself to be sad. The book has many layers of sadness and many layers of happiness. And just when you think it's all going to end well, the rug is pulled out from under you. And you cry and cry and cry. And then when you can't cry any more, you're given a quiet, softly burning hope. A memory. An acceptance.

The Singing Tree by Kate Seredy
The first of these books - The Good Master - paints an idyllic picture of life on a big ranch in rural Hungary. But in The Singing Tree, World War I rips that idyl to shreds. The Good Master himself, Marton, and his brother, Sandor, are called to fight. Anti-semitism threatens to poison village life. The farmhouse shelters German evacuees and Russian prisoners, and Jansci and Kate bravely shoulder new responsibilities.

But the saddest, most illuminating part is when your mother explains to you that Marton and Sandor - who you have been hoping and hoping with everything you have come home safe and sound - would have been 'enemies' of Australia. And you can never again see war in black and white, but only in greys and muddy browns and blood reds. But also you are comforted that sides don't matter, that 'everywhere eyes of men, women, and children were turning to the same light of hope.'

Very close to the bone for anyone who lives in or loves Melbourne - the shock of reading about the State Library being bombed is profound! But Glenda's writing is luminous, her characters dance on the page - literally and metaphorically - and there is love and friendship and compassion and community even in the wreckage of all else.

The Heaven Shop by Deborah Ellis
'There is a lion in our village and it is carrying away our children.' The lion in Binti's village is AIDS. And it's not just the children that are dying. The situation is bleak almost beyond reckoning, but the book is warm and funny and matter-of-fact, and Rosanna Vecchio's beautiful cover illustration captures the quality of this light.

Old Pig by Margaret Wild and Ron Brooks
Old Pig is dying. But carefully, gently, lovingly she prepares her granddaughter. The colours are soft and the mood is calm. Many of Ron Brooks's books pour the terrible beauty of sadness straight onto the page. I'm thinking of Fox, of John Brown, Rose and the Midnight Cat and of the Bunyip of Berkley's Creek, which ends with such glorious promise - another bunyip! All may be right with the world after all.

I Am David by Anne Holm
I read this book a squillion years ago, and the finer details of David's journey from the concentration camp are long lost in the warm fog of books read and loved, and kept close to my heart. What remains is the powerful emotion the title evokes. I am David. Yes. A candle. In the dark.

Hana's Suitcase by Karen Levine
This is the only true story on this list. When Fumiko Ishioka, the head of the Tokyo Holocaust Education Resource Centre, asks the Auschwitz Museum to send her a few objects to help her explain the holocaust to children what arrives is a brown suitcase with the name Hanna Brady on it in white paint. But who was Hanna (really spelled Hana)? And what happened to her? Fumiko's investigation takes her around the world, to Europe, to Canada, to great sadness, but also joy. This book is filled with beautiful photos that bring you very close to Hana, Fumiko and the Japanese children that visit Hana's suitcase.

Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Patterson
There is a passage in this beautiful book about friendship and grief that basically sums up what we're trying to say in this post. So we'll give the last word to Jesse:
'Now it occurred to him that Terabithia was like a castle where you came to be knighted. After you stayed for a while and grew strong you had to move on. For hadn't Leslie, even in Terabithia, tried to push back the walls of his mind and make him see beyond to the shining world - huge and terrible and beautiful and very fragile?'

15 March 2011

Noun-verb activities

Oh, a lovely long weekend of Autumn in Melbourne*, how did we love thee? Let us count the ways. And let us do it using list of noun-verb activities that occupied the Onions over the March Labour Day long weekend. Herewith a list of how we laboured - or not, as the case may be.

1. Sauce-making.
This involved roughly chopping ripe tomatoes, green apples, edible onions. Adding sugar, vinegar, secret herbs and spices. Simmering.* Bottling. Voila! - tasty tasty home-made tomato sauce.

2. Dress-making.
This involved the Tall Designer hitting his head on the lintel on his way into the house. It involved sewing and unpicking, ironing and putting in darts, easing in and pinning. It also involved the Cake-maker Virtuoso morphing into Seamstress Extraordinaire . She ran a tight ship, improvised admirably and did all the fiddly bits.

3. Dog-sitting.
This involved feeding six small meals of steamed chicken each day to a dog with a shaved belly and a seam of white, wirey stitches. He has told me with big brown-eyed gazes and wet-nosed nudges that he likes this eating plan - and could handle more!

4. DVD-watching.
Oh, hello Grand Designs. If you don't know what this involved, shame on you. It's clearly well past time you acquainted yourself with the fabulousnesses of frowny Kevin.

5. Sight-seeing 1.
Ahem. It seems that one of the Onions was not in fact in Melbourne enjoying the ausumn long weekend. She was, in fact, doing the sight-seeing in Italy. This involved taking a boat up the grand canal, chasing pigeons in St Mark's Square, buying a red leather bag from a tiny shop in San Polo, catching the train to Rome and standing, neck-craned, in muted awe of the dome of the Pantheon, before eating gelati in Piazza Navona.

6. Sight-seeing 2.
This involved taking an interstate visitor to Montsalvat and enjoying three glorious hours exploring the grounds in the sunshine.

7. Garden-maintaining.
This involved planting salad items and herb items. And weeding. Sigh.

8. Book-reading.
Well, of course there was book-reading.

9. Cake-making.
Hurrah! An activity from which we all benefitted!
This cake-making involved a recipe that came from Jan Smeterlin (a Polish pianist), via the Queen Mother (Elizabeth II's late mother), and then Maida Heatter (the real Cake-maker Virtuoso-Extraordinaire-Queen Mother).

The Queen Mothers Cake was meant to have the alluringly named Chocolate Cigarettes atop it, but the Cake-maker Virtuoso found at 7.30 this morning that she didn't have:
a) a marble work surface, or
b) time to temper the chocolate.***
So she improvised and dredged up a vague recollection of how chocolate leaves were made. This involved pulling leaves off the lime tree in the backyard, painting their spiny, ribby backs with melted chocolate, putting them in the fridge, and thinking this was sure to end badly and the cake's virtue would have to be that of plainness. Happily, it also involved peeling away a chilled leaf which left behind a very impressive chocolate-leaf imprint. The Cake-maker Virtuoso also reports that one end instantly melted onto her fingers.

Cake-make Virtuoso's lesson du jour: soak fingers in cold water before attempting this.

Speaking of the cake-maker Virtuoso aka Seamstress Extraordinaire - she has a blog! Oh happy day! So those of you keen to learn more about the actual making of all these cakes we consume - get thee over to Macarong where you will find the Cake-Maker Virtuoso being clever and funny and delightfully entertaining about all manner of adventures in the culinary arts.

* It has come to our attention that Autumn in Melbourne is being referred to as #ausumn by some clever peeps on the Twitter. And with beautiful crisp, still mornings that lead into lovely warm Autumn days, evenings with Brett Whiteley-blue skies and then on to cool nights, all the better for the good sleeping, #ausumn indeed. We most heartily concur.
** Be warned, the long simmering stage tends to fill all surrounding environments with a sauce-making scent that may result in extreme hunger - for you and your nearby neighbours.
*** We all know that reading through the instructions before starting a recipe is HIGHLY recommended, but who really does it every single time? Not us. And the Cake-maker Virtuoso has confessed that she is daringly neglecting to do this on a regular basis, and has found forte in her improvisation skills - improvisation skills which indeed proved transferable to the dress-making activities - see list item number 2.

08 March 2011

Spotted in the House

It's been a bumper month for exciting advances!

The Wilful Eye (Tales from the Tower Volume One)* Isobelle Carmody and Nan McNab (eds)

The photo really doesn't do justice to the beauty of these books. There are matt finishes, and special gold PMS colours, and there is a DOG WEARING GLASSES.

And all five of these books were written by women.

Today is International Women's Day, so we'd just like to take a moment to celebrate the many wonderful women in publishing - authors, publishers, editors, designers, publicists, marketing, sales, proofreaders, typesetters and printers, just for a start.

It is a daily pleasure to come to work in the House of Onion, chockful as it is with talented, brave, kind, visionary, committed, bright and funny women.

* And these three were designed by Zoe Sadokierski who is a woman in the habit of making us look good. Thank you, Zoe!

01 March 2011

And the Oscar goes to... UPDATED

We're sure we were not the only ones squealing with delight when Shaun Tan & Andrew Ruhemann won the Oscar for The Lost Thing yesterday. As Shaun said: Wow! This is quite surreal.
Oh, how we loved seeing Shaun up there on that Oscar's stage accepting the award for the little Lost Thing that could. It's possible we got a little teary. And maybe even a bit over-excited when we saw the back of Shaun's head in the background of the red carpet segment.

For those of you who haven't seen it, here's the trailer.

Meanwhile, far far from the glitz and glam of Hollywood, Shaun was the recipient of another award. On Saturday night in the tiny hamlet of Riddells Creek, the children's book community gathered to celebrate the Dromkeen Medal, which is presented by the Governors of the Courtney Oldmeadow Children's Literature Foundation for "significant contribution to the appreciation and development of children's literature in Australia".

Unfortunately, Riddells Creek is a world away from L.A., so Shaun was unable to attend, but he was there in spirit and was indeed proud to have Ann James accept the Dromkeen Medal on his behalf.

Thanks ABC Central Victoria for sharing with us Shaun's Dromkeen Medal acceptance speech.*

Huge congratulations, Shaun!**

Now all this winning of items has put us in the mood for a competition.

A Shaun Tan*** related competition.

Stay tuned later in the week...


Edited to add this photo of SHAUN standing next to JUSTIN TIMBERLAKE.
ST and JT = Best. Thing. Ever.

Photo via.

*It's a wonderful speech. It's possible we got a little teary again reading it.
**Now all we need are pics of Inari's dress, please.
***That's Academy Award Winner Shaun Tan