I feel like there has been some really outstanding Aussie middlegrade coming out this year, and one of the titles I have on my TBR that looks fantastic is Samone Amba’s debut novel The Good Times of Pelican Rise: Save the Joeys. This one looks like perfect school holiday reading for kids heading into or just coming out of grade 5 or 6…
Grade sixers Sunday Moon and her besties Ockie, Kirra and Lottie are MAROONED in after-school care at Club Koala with the karaoke-loving grade twos and nit-infested preppies for company. It’s not exactly the way these legends thought they’d be ending their time at Pelican Rise Primary!
But after the worst summer of bushfires ever, Sunday is determined to use her last year at Club Koala to make a difference: OUT with the headstand competitions and IN with knitting pouches for injured wildlife !
And when Mr Guclu tells the grade sixers to build a legacy project for their final year of primary, Sunday and her friends decide to keep the good times rolling with a website that will spread the word about their pouch project.
With the help of her friends, a radio station, a whole bunch of wool from the op shop, a LOT of animal memes and their legacy project, The Good Times, Sunday is going to save as many joeys as she can.
Samone also has a gorgeous picture atlas out called This is Australia which I think would make a great gift too – it is a beautiful hardcover book with has board book pages and 70 flaps you can lift to learn all kinds of facts about Australia. My 7 year old can’t get enough of these kinds of reference books, so this one was a must have for us!
Samone was lovely enough to agree to be part of my Christmas Q&A series – check out our chat below!
Hi Samone! Thanks so much for joining me on my blog to chat about Christmas today!
Thanks, Bron! I’m excited to be thinking about Christmas after the year we’ve all had – I have to admit, I have been preparing for months. I was so concerned about presents not arriving online, I started buying back in September and have somehow got on a total roll with it. I think all the Christmases have come at once … next year will be more subdued! Now that I have twin teenagers who are very suddenly into music and fashion, present giving has gone up a gear … I think I’m buying for me! Well, there are a few presents for me, I will admit …
Your debut middlegrade novel The Good Times of Pelican Rise: Save the Joeys was release this year. Can you please tell us a little bit about the book, and what inspired you to write it?
‘Save the Joeys’ was inspired by all the grassroots efforts to help wildlife and communities post the 2019-2020 summer of bushfires. Like so many of us, I was very inspired (and humbled) by all the phenomenal young people standing up for the climate with Fridays for Future/School Strike for Climate. I created Pelican Rise as an imaginary new suburb, like so many satellite suburbs that edge metropolitan areas – with all the benefits of a new community building its identity. I guess I wanted to explore how you don’t need to live anywhere famous (like a big capital city) to make a difference – and sometimes the best differences you can make are in your own backyard!
When I was growing up in the 1980s, I really loved ‘real life’-style books that were funny – think Judy Blume and Robin Klein – and I feel that The Good Times of Pelican Rise series meets that brief of what I really loved reading. I was quite a shy, anxious kid and a total bookworm, and really loved immersing myself in the inner world of kids like me, and also experiencing how different people lived! I was also a total goodie-goodie, but didn’t really want to be … I always admired the ratbags at primary school. Ha! I really related to Erika Yurken in ‘Hating Alison Ashley’ – she was so flawed, funny and ultimately well meaning. I also loved Peter Hatcher in Judy Blume’s ‘Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing’ – I grew up with my mum in a flat in Mildura, Peter’s New York apartment living with a doorman was so exotic! Friends in primary school used to find my flat intriguing – but I was always really embarrassed about not having a backyard like everyone else (only because it was so unusual where I was growing up). Among the four main characters – Sunday, Lottie, Kirra and Ockie – I wanted to show all sorts of families, life experiences and living arrangements – it’s the best thing ever being a kid and identifying someone a bit like you in a book, especially if you’re worried about differences setting you apart– for me, living with my mum who was a nurse that worked night duty and had to sleep during the day, staying at my aunty’s most nights and growing up in a flat. Of course, I know that now there’s no such thing as the norm and all our differences big and small are what make us … us!
You also have a gorgeous picture atlas out, called This is Australia (beautifully illustrated by Kasey Rainbow) which I think would be such a perfect gift this Christmas! Can you please tell us a bit about this one, and how it came about?
I have worked as a book editor for many years and in many ways, Australiana and fact books been my specialty. I LOVE facts! I’m a fact fiend, in fact! Ha. In late 2020, I was commissioned to write This is Australia by my old friend and former colleague Niki Horin at Five Mile. When Kasey Rainbow came on board that was such an exciting moment! I did all the artwork briefs (think drawings of stick figures) and seeing Kasey’s interpretations was wonderful. She is such a talented illustrator. I love how she drew national foods: dim sims, democracy snag in bread and the Halal snack pack! I am proud of that book – it’s a beauty! It’s the PERFECT Christmas gift. Get into it, peeps!
Do you like to read seasonal books, and do you have a favourite Christmas story or book?
Oooh! Not really, Bron! But, inspired by these questions, I’ve started listening to Jeanette Winterson’s ‘12 Stories and 12 Feasts for 12 Days’ on audiobook. I’m more of a Christmas movie person – and my ultimate Christmas movie is Gremlins! I love Gremlins! And, when it comes to Christmas songs, Dean Martin’s ‘Let it Snow’ and ‘A Marshmallow World’. I want to get into reading Christmas stories, though. What do you recommend?
(I have to jump in here to say I love Samone’s taste in Christmas music – A Marshmallow World is one of my faves too! As far as Christmas stories I have SO MANY recommendations – a current favourite to recommend is Sandy Barker’s The Christmas Swap. I have more Christmassy reviews here =))
Is there a particular book you’d love to find under your Christmas tree this year?
I’ve been deep in re-drafting book 2 in The Good Times of Pelican Rise series so haven’t been able to read as much as I’d like as my head is very full of words. However, I am keen to read Lisa Wilkinson’s memoir ‘It Wasn’t Meant to Be Like This’. I really admire Lisa and have loved her since I was an 11-year-old reading my first Dolly magazine (way, way back when Lisa was the editor). Also on the list: Kaz Cooke’s ‘You’re Doing it Wrong’, Clementine Ford’s ‘How We Love’, Emily Bitto’s ‘Wild Abandon’ and Sally Hepworth’s ‘The Younger Wife’ – mostly because I love the cover. I’ve got a bit of reading to catch up on …
Do you have a favourite book you’ve read this year then you’ll be recommending (or giving as a Christmas present!) to everyone you know?
This year I absolutely loved reading ‘Phosphorescence’ by Julia Baird. It’s such a beautiful, life-affirming book – we all experience phenomenal ups and downs … the older I get, the more I realise that’s life! I love how Julia reminds us to look for the good and miraculous when the world has gone to crap … and it always gets better. Julia is such an amazing journalist and writer – I’ve been listening to her epic book about Queen Victoria on and off for almost a year (it’s a very long listen!) I also thoroughly enjoyed ‘The Kindness Revolution’ by Hugh Mackay. Oh, and Dave Grohl’s ‘The Storyteller’. I have it in book form, but you MUST listen to it! I LOVE DAVE. There’s a reference to him in book 2 of The Good Times of Pelican Rise. Ok, it’s a dog named Dave Growl.
Can you share a favourite Christmas tradition or memory?
Every Christmas morning, my kids and I have a tradition of eating trifle for breakfast and then a light brunch of nachos! I tried to suggest we have waffles for breakfast this Christmas, but it was a firm NO from the kids. They were aghast that I was trying to break tradition. Ha! We have our fancier meal on Christmas Eve … this year I have locked in roast lamb and pavlova. They have a big traditional dinner with their dad on Christmas night, so I like to keep it light and fun so no-one is bursting at the seams. Plus, nachos and trifle happen to be my favourite food!
Oh, and this relates back to Dave Grohl. When my son was tiny, he loved Foo Fighters and watching their music videos, which for the most part are very funny and entertaining. Somewhere along the line, when he was being a naughty three-year-old, I said that I’d have to call Dave Grohl to talk to him (that was when me saying ‘I’m calling Santa’ didn’t work). My son took it very seriously and would say ‘No! No! I’ll be good! Don’t call Dave Grohl!’ Now, as a thirteen-year-old, clearly remembers me on the phone to Dave Grohl. It makes absolutely no sense, but somehow calling Dave Grohl to outsource my parenting became a part of our Christmas folklore!
Finally, are you working on something new and can you tell us anything about it?
I’m working on book 2 of The Good Time of Pelican Rise and I’m absolutely loving being back in Pelican Rise. Then, I’ll be straight onto book 3! Next year I’m studying teaching full time, so had better get these books sorted.
Thanks so much for your time!
Thanks, Bron! Merry Christmas! x
Big thanks to Samone for taking the time to chat Christmas with me today! You can keep up with all the latest from Samone on her Instagram account.
About the author:
After many years working as an editor in children’s publishing, Samone Amba is thrilled to debut her middle-grade fiction series, The Good Times of Pelican Rise.
The idea for this series came to Samone while she was shelving books in the middle-grade section of Beaumaris Library. Her creative license wants to add that a book fell on her head, like Henny Penny’s acorn or Isaac Newton’s apple, but that is simply untrue.
Samone is now a pre-service early learning and primary school teacher and will one day be teaching middle grade as well as writing it!
Save The Joeys was kindly gifted to us by Affirm Press. This is Australia I purchased myself (I can’t resist a gorgeous reference book!).