November News Round-Up: The Magic Bookshop & Wandering Star

WS Cover

It seems difficult to believe that we are now in November, and I have spent the day looking through proofs for a book that is going to be published in May, 2019!  My next book is another picture book, one which I am sure is going to appeal to many horse-loving children. The book is called Wandering Star, and it’s a bit different, because it is the first picture book text I have written in verse form. It’s also the first complete book I have had illustrated by Stephen Michael King, an illustrator whose work I have admired for many years. Stephen and I have worked together before, as he illustrated my poem, “A Boat of Stars”, included in the anthology of the same name which I edited with Margaret Connolly. Stephen’s illustration was used on the cover of A Boat of Stars when the anthology was published by ABC Books earlier this year; and many years ago, he also did a complete set of beautiful covers for one of the Australian editions of the Lily Quench series. You’ll be hearing more about Wandering Star over the months to come, but for now I am happy to share Stephen’s exquisite cover. The book will be published by Scholastic; its publication date is 1st May, 2019.

The Magic Bookshop, my latest collaboration with Cheryl Orsini, is now in the shops. If you have read either The Tales of Mrs Mancini, or our books about The Fairy Dancers, you will recognise the format: it’s a 48 page, fully colour illustrated collection of three connected stories. The format is particularly good for children who are transitioning out of picture books and into chapter books, because the stories are a little bit longer, but still have colour illustrations on each page. Cheryl and I have had a lot of success with this format in the past, and we really enjoyed working on this one, which is about a boy called Ben (named for my godson), whose grandfather owns a very mysterious bookshop. It’s a place where practically anything can (and does) happen, as you can see from the picture below. The metaphor of the bookshop as a portal into other realities is very resonant one, and has almost unlimited potential for a writer. With this in mind, a superb set of teachers’ notes (complete with magic tricks!) has been prepared by HarperCollins. It is available for download here.

INT TheMagicBookshop FinalPages LR pdf  page 18 of 25 INT TheMagicBookshop FinalPages LR pdf  page 23 of 25

One of the things I have always appreciated about Cheryl's work is her use of colour. Each book has its own specific colour palette, and as you can see from the pictures included here, The Magic Bookshop is particularly rich and beautiful with lots of reds, yellows and dark blues. The illustration to the left comes out of a conversation we had very early in the process, when I was still writing the stories, and asked Cheryl if there was anything she particularly wanted me to include. She said she wanted to do some illustrations with lots of white rabbits. The result was a scene in the third story, “Magician” where Ben finds himself having to deal with a population explosion of bunnies in a theatre that appears behind one of the bookcases. (Needless to say, he manages to find loving homes for all the strays.)

  The Magic Bookshop is available now from your own magical, local independent bookseller, or click here to order a copy from Booktopia.

A Boat of Stars Pre-Publication Update and ALIA Library Lover’s Day Poster and Poem

A quick note to remind everyone that A Boat of Stars will be available in shops from Monday 19th February. Don’t forget to order or buy your copy! Meanwhile, here is a taste of some of the magnificent artwork from the book. 

Fruit Salad

This illustration by Sara Acton is for a poem by Lesley Gibbes called “Fruit Salad”. Margaret and I made this the first poem in the collection because we felt that a fruit salad was an excellent metaphor for what we were trying to achieve in the book—a variety of things that blend well together and taste delicious.

The next illustration I would like to share is by Matt Shanks. The poem is called “Shivery", and as it’s one of mine, I have left the poem attached. I wrote this poem very quickly one Sunday morning when I was lying in bed. It was inspired by memories of childhood swims, when it was so difficult to get into the freezing water the first time (pools were always cold in those days, there was no heating), but once you were in, you just didn’t want to get out. My fingers certainly turned into little pink prunes on many occasions. Matt Shanks tells me that he has named the little boy in his illustration Charlie. I love how the circular motion in this illustration perfectly mimics the structure of the poem.


Finally, before I leave this topic, here is an illustration by the talented Kerry Argent for a poem by Alexa Moses called "Pyjama Day”. I think that crocodiles in pyjamas rather speak for themselves.

Pyjama Day

A week or so back, I posted a piece about ALIA’s annual Library Lovers’ Day, and mentioned that I had written a poem for a poster. Here is my poem and the poster. (You can download a better copy of the poster, as well others featuring Australian writers, from ALIA’s website.)

Natalie's ALIA Poster 2018

A Boat of Stars, Sydney Launch

Please join the crew of A Boat of Stars for a Stellar Launch of the new poetry anthology, edited by Margaret Connolly and Natalie Jane Prior at The Children’s Bookshop, 6 Hannah Street, Beecroft, Sydney, on Thursday 1st March, 2018 at 4.30pm. Bookshop owner, Paul Macdonald, writes of the anthology:

I love poetry and an Australian poetry anthology for children is long overdue! This is a delightful collection of words and rhymes and rhythms for primary aged children edited by Margaret Connolly and Natalie Jane Prior....a great read aloud for bedtime. Many great writers and illustrators have contributed including Margaret Wild, Julie Vivas, Stephen Michael King, Sophie Masson and the list goes on. Brilliant for teachers and parents. 


Contributors in attendance at the launch will include Sara Acton, Tamsin Ainslie, Margaret Connolly, Angela May George, Lesley Gibbes, Carlie Gibson, Emily Grant, Stephen Michael King, Stephen McInerney, Sophie Masson, Kate Mayes, Alexa Moses, Christopher Neilsen, Elizabeth Nussey, Pauline O’Carolan, Cheryl Orsini, Natalie Jane Prior, Matt Shanks, Lisa Stewart, Julie Vivas and Margaret Wild.

Be quick to book! RSVP, ph 94818811

ALIA Library Lover’s Day, 2018

Lucy's Book Cover

This time last year, Cheryl Orsini and I were just about to publish Lucy’s Book, a picture book which I dubbed “my love letter to libraries and the written word”. It was wonderful to see how Lucy’s Book struck a chord with library lovers around the country, and this year, I am really chuffed (as a former librarian myself) to have been asked to write a “love letter to libraries” as part of The Australia Library and Information Association’s  annual Love Your Library Day.

Watch out for my “love letter” on posters, very soon! 

Library Lovers’ Day will be launched at the Parliamentary Friends of Australian Books and Writers event at Parliament House on 13 February 2018, and there are many resources available here from ALIA. Also, don’t forget that Lucy’s Book is an absolutely perfect picture book title to support any actives based on love for libraries!

Love Letters to Libraries promotional image

Lothian Christmas Video for 2017 + Blog Post for Sophie Masson

Only a few more sleeps until Christmas! To get you into the mood, here I am (assisted by my beautiful dachshund, Theodore) helping other Lothian children’s authors recite the night before Christmas. (You can see me, followed by Lucy’s Book illustrator Cheryl Orsini about three quarters of the way into the video.)

Also this week, Sophie Masson has published a guest piece I wrote for her blog. Sophie and I have known each other for many years, and she is one of the contributors to the new anthology, A Boat of Stars, which is coming out in February. (In fact, way back in 1995, Sophie introduced me to Margaret Connolly, the book’s co-editor, who is our mutual literary agent, so she is in one sense responsible for the book even existing!)

Sophie’s come up with the interesting idea of asking various authors of her acquaintance to write about books they have discovered or rediscovered this year. Mine is The Lodger, a crime novel by Marie Belloc Lowndes (sister of of Hilaire Belloc), originally published in 1913. This is a fantastic psychological thriller about a working class couple who unexpectedly find themselves giving board and lodging to a serial killer. It deserves to be better known: you can find out more here (my post is number 1 in the series, so you may have to scroll down the page).

New Books for 2018

As 2017 rushes towards Christmas, here is an update about some of the books I’ll be publishing in 2018.

The Tales of Mrs Mancini (paperback)

First off the press in late January: the beautiful paperback edition of The Tales of Mrs Mancini! Here is a picture of the advance copy I received this week, together with the original hardback, which of course is still available if you prefer (buy it here). The illustrations which Cheryl Orsini did for this collection of tales about a cake-shop owing cat with a heart for cream buns and friendship remain among my all time favourites.

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A Boat of Stars: New Poems to Inspire and Enchant

The next book to be published, just a few weeks later in February, is something really out of the ordinary. For over two years now, I have been working with Margaret Connolly on A Boat of Stars, a wonderful illustrated anthology of brand new poems, featuring the work of some of Australia’s best-loved writers and illustrators. Its extraordinary cover is by Stephen Michael King:


Here is a little bit about the book from the publishers, ABC Books:

A beautiful anthology of new Australian poetry for preschool and primary-aged children, from some of our country's finest writers and illustrators. Open worlds of imagination and explore the magic of everyday life with this enchanting new collection of poetry from some of Australia's most-loved writers and illustrators. Perfect for the classroom and the home, A Boat of Stars will bring a love of language, rhythm and rhyme to every child.

I’ll be writing much more about A Boat of Stars in future blog posts, and introducing you to some of the wonderful contributors with whom I have been working. Meanwhile, here is a little message from one of our illustrators, the talented Matt Shanks:

I am truly lucky to have had the opportunity to be a part of this incredible collection. And trust me, I've seen the digital proofs of this book, it's amazing! I can't wait to share this with you all.

You can pre-order A Boat of Stars here.

The Magic Bookshop

My final book for 2018 publication is a new collaboration with Cheryl Orsini. The Magic Bookshop is a new collection of three stories, fully illustrated in colour and similar in format to The Tales of Mrs Mancini and The Fairy Dancers titles. The Magic Bookshop will be published mid-year by ABC Books. More to follow in the new year.

Watch Natalie and Cheryl Read Lucy’s Book

Earlier this year, Cheryl Orsini and I visited the offices of Hachette Australia, where we recorded this video. We hope you enjoy seeing us read Lucy’s Book!

September Update: New Fairy Dancers

The Fairy Dancers: Dancing Days is now available in shops around Australia. In fact, it has already been reviewed! The ever lovely Megan Daley reviewed the book as part of her regular “Bookworms” slot on ABC Radio Brisbane, and it was so nice to hear the book described on air as “completely beautiful and magical and special”. Megan’s full review of the book can be heard here; it starts at about 13:30.

Here is one of my favourite spreads from the first story “The Fairy Sleepover", to give you an idea of just how beautiful the book is, and how clever Cheryl’s illustrations are. The three Fairy Dancers have gone to have a sleepover at Miss Ashleigh’s house, but as you can see, all is not right with Emma, who is scared of the dark.


I’m also extremely fond of the last story in the collection, “The Fairy Christmas”. In this one, Miss Ashleigh takes the Fairy Dancers into town to do some Christmas shopping and visit Santa in his grotto. I had great fun incorporating some real life incidents into this story. (People often ask me where I get my ideas from: it is surprising how many of them come from everyday life.) The main storyline of “The Fairy Christmas” centres on Grace leaving her beautiful red-haired doll, Emily in the back of the taxi. Unfortunately, when she was about Grace’s age, the same thing happened to my daughter Elizabeth (who is now 18, and starting to write and illustrate herself). It was an extremely traumatic incident, which ended badly, as we never saw Elizabeth’s Emily again. I am happy to report that a little Fairy Dancers magic gives Grace’s tale a happy ending, as you can see from the pictures below.


Another real life incident I managed to sneak into this story was the “dog in the manger” episode, when Coco the cheeky dachshund decides to make a bed in the manger of a living nativity. This is something one of our own dachshunds, Theodore, did once at a church Christmas party. It was so hilarious, that I couldn’t resist putting the “dog in the manger” into my story. Here, comparing real life with art, is the photo of Theo edging out baby Jesus, and Cheryl’s illustration of the incident as it was rendered in the story:

Dog in the mangerDog in a manger

Before I leave the subject of The Fairy Dancers: Dancing Days, a reminder that there are new, free activity downloads for children here, and a beautiful free sewing pattern for a toadstool tuffet here. More will be added in the coming weeks, so please keep checking this blog for details.

The Fairy Dancers: Dancing Days is the second of the two books I am publishing this year (The first was Lucy’s Book, published by Lothian back in March). I’m now looking forwards to the next lot of titles, about which I will be sharing more very soon. However, just to give a hint: I have been very busy for most of this year with a new collaborative project involving many of Australia’s most creative and celebrated children’s writers and illustrators. Last week, I spent a very enjoyable professional development day at HarperCollins in Sydney, where this photo was taken of just a few of the people involved in the forthcoming book.

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Left to right, Chren Byng and Eve Tonelli (ABC HarperCollins), Sara Acton, Natalie Jane Prior, Margaret Connolly, Tamsin Ainslie, Cheryl Orsini, Pauline O’Carolan, Kate Mayes.

I’m so incredibly excited about this new book (especially having seen some of the stunning pages the design team is working on) that it is all I can do to keep the details to myself for now.  The book will be coming out in March next year from ABC Books. Keep following this blog and all will be revealed in due course.

Easiest Book Week Costume, Ever

A quick post which I hope will be of use to some of you. Coming up with last minute Children’s Book Week Costumes is always a potential trap for unwary parents (“But Mum, it’s tomorrow!”—“Why didn’t you tell me?”—“I am telling you!”). Chances are, there is already an incredibly easy Book Week costume for little girls in your wardrobe. Look at this picture:

Fairy Dancers Title Page

Mia, Emma and Grace, the three friends who feature in The Fairy Dancers and its soon to be published sequel, The Fairy Dancers: Dancing Days, attend their ballet lessons with Miss Ashleigh in standard pink leotards, skirts and ballet slippers. Sometimes, when performing, they wear fairy wings as in Cheryl Orsini’s illustration above, but most of the time, they don’t. Grab your daughter’s ballet wear out of the cupboard and turn her into a Fairy Dancer for Children’s Book Week.

A few simple ways you can personalise, or jazz up the basic costume:

* download and print out some Fairy Dancers pretend theatre tickets and hand them out to your friends

* download the Fairy Wand Activity, and make yourself a wand as an accessory

* add fairy wings, if you have them in your dress-up box

* carry a toy dachshund—Mia’s dachshund, Coco, features in many stories

* Grace’s bun is always falling down, so have a messy hair day

* take off one ballet slipper for the parade—Emma’s shoe falls apart in one story

Above all, have a fun time at Book Week!

Story Arts Festival, Ipswich

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If you have children and live in the Ipswich area, you might like to add the StoryArts Festival to your calendar. The Fairy Dancers will be featured in an after school session in the festival's family program on Thursday 7 September, from 4.00 – 4.30pm in the Ipswich Library.

I will be reading the stories, there will be craft, and a magical dance workshop with dance teacher, Miss Sam. Books will also be available for sale, so if you would like a signed copy of the new book, Fairy Dancers: Dancing Days, it would be a good opportunity to get one.

The event is free, but bookings are essential and can be made here.

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