The Boomerang Books Blog – You’re Five! Series review by Dimity Powell

The You’re Series by Shelly Unwin and Katherine Battersby

Oh, those first five years of a child’s life, how they sweep by, each day a miracle, each birthday a momentous, memorable milestone. Throughout each new year of baby’s life, so many small but wondrous discoveries take place. Many of them are divinely captured in Unwin’s debut picture book collection, The You’re Series.

Five buttery looking and feeling board books describe in gorgeous rhyming verse all the wonder, curiosity and excitement experienced by youngsters (and their besotted parents) throughout their early childhood years. Each tummy tickle, new step, fresh experience (like puddle splashing!),  bike ride, new friendship and so on paint a happy picture from which to draw on your own ‘first time’ memories.Far more than just number inspired, counting books (although the gentle nod to numeracy skills is fabulous), You’re books are true keepsakes.  One and Two are genuine board books; thick sturdy pages will defeat the most dedicated page rippers. By Three, solid board gives way to robust paper pages, which along with the more refined text, acknowledges the developing child and their increased ability to comprehend and appreciate the importance of their age. By age Five, the concepts are more sophisticated and pre-school pre-emptive; we are introduced to the five vowels and five days of the school week for instance.

Battersby’s illustrations, an addictive combination of drawings and collage, are superbly character driven and oozing with cute appeal. I love the whole package, all five of them! The You’re Series was released as a complete five book collection so would make the perfect gift pack for expectant parents or indeed singularly at any point of pre-school age celebration. And the best bit? Each gorgeous compilation ends with a tender reminder to enjoy the age that you are now, ‘take it nice and slow’ as we’ll never be that age again.

Allen & Unwin May 2017


Kids Book Review : 12 Curly Questions with author Shelly Unwin


1. Tell us something hardly anyone knows about you. 

I used to be a chronic sleepwalker. I once packed up my entire bedroom, including the pictures on the walls and the curtains. Fortunately I grew out of it!

2. What is your nickname? 

 I have a few! My school friends and sports friends call me Froggy because my maiden name was Froggatt. My brother calls me Spud, because he’s strange. And my husband calls me Twinkle.

3. What is your greatest fear?

Never having another great picture book idea again.

4. Describe your writing style in 10 words. 

Fun, engaging, sneakily informative, with lots of rhyme and rhythm.

5. Tell us five positive words that describe you as a writer. 
 Exciting, educating, emotive, engaging, and effervescent (the last one is one my agent used to describe me – I’ve stolen it).

6. What book character would you be, and why?

Miss Petitfour. She’s this wonderful woman who flies around with the wind caught in her tablecloth and her 16 cats hanging from her coat tails. She heads off on beautiful little adventures and always comes back to a delicious cream tea. It’s a simple but whimsical life.

7. If you could time travel, what year would you go to and why? 
1982. I would love to be five again and have just started school. I’d be playing with the water wheel in the water play area or having three-legged races in the playground. I think five is such a magical age; the whole world is starting to open up and every day is an adventure.

8. What would your 10-year-old self say to you now? 
Why aren’t you a professional horse rider? I thought that was our plan?

9. Who is your greatest influence? 

Wow this is really hard to narrow down. I take influence from so many different aspects of life. Some of my closest friends are such wonderful parents. My husband is so smart and dedicated. And then there is the world of books. I love the sheer talent and capacity of Jacqueline Harvey, the picture book humour of Nick Bland, the brilliant rhythm and rhyme of Julia Donaldson. I could go on!

10. What/who made you start writing? 

It was an epiphany. A sudden realisation of what it was that I wanted to do. Nothing has ever felt quite so right. At that moment, I happened to be reading Incy Wincy Spider, by Keith Chapman and Jack Tickle.

11. What is your favourite word and why?

Bedtime! I love this word twice. Once when I get to say it to the kids and once when it’s mine and I get to crawl under my doona at the end of a long day.

12. If you could only read one book for the rest of your life, what would it be? 
 Bill Bryson’s The Thunderbolt Kid. If I had to read one book forever it would need to be one that made me laugh.

Shelly Unwin grew up in a tiny English village where she was surrounded by animals, the occasional pixie fairy and her best friend Cracker, a feisty palomino pony. She was the middle child of three, but also had 11 foster siblings (not all at the same time). Shelly studied teaching and biology at university in Birmingham and moved to Australia in 2002, where she has since married an Aussie with two beautiful kids and added another two to the brood. She plays with words all week long and loves that she can call it ‘work’. For more information, see shellyunwin.com.


Spotlight On: Shelly Unwin | NSW Writers’ Centre


Spotlight On: Shelly Unwin

Shelly Unwin, an up-and-coming children’s book author, is our feature writer for this month’s Spotlight On. Shelly grew up in England surrounded by animals and a feisty palomino pony. She was the middle child of three and had eleven foster siblings (though not all at the same time!). At university, she studied teaching and biology, and she moved to Australia in 2002.

Shelly’s debut series of picture books, You’re One!, You’re Two!, You’re Three!, You’re Four!, and You’re Five! is due for release on the 1st of June. Shelly has two more picture books coming out in 2018, marking the cusp of an exciting career. Shelly is actively involved with several schools as the ‘author in residence’ for their writing programs and has spoken at various writers’ events in Sydney. Shelly lives on Sydney’s North Shore with her husband and their two young children. Our intern Ren Arcamone spoke to Shelly about the unique challenges of writing for children and the unexpected upsides of joining a writers’ group.


What inspired you to begin writing childrens literature?

It was an epiphany during my routine bedtime reading session with my three-year-old daughter Katie. The book in my hand was ‘Incy Wincy Spider’ by Keith Chapman and Jack Tickle (a great name for someone illustrating spiders, don’t you think?). A month earlier a friend had asked me what I was passionate about and suddenly I knew with complete conviction that I was passionate about picture books and that I wanted to create my own stories.

Youve recently finished writing a series of five childrens rhyming books, Youre One!, Youre Two!, Youre Three!, Youre Four!, and Youre Five!, all due for release this June. The concept is simple yet warm and memorable. What do you think makes a good idea for a childrens book, and how do you dream it up? 

Gosh, that’s hard. I had written so many different books before I had the idea for this series. And they all seemed like good ideas. But when the idea for Youre Five! (the first one I wrote in the series) struck me, I just knew it was ‘the one’. I had hot sweats and felt giddy with excitement. I couldn’t believe that it wasn’t already out in the market. It is a story that celebrates being five and the number five, and it speaks directly to the five-year-old child, making them feel special. There is no mention of childhood milestones, so every five year old that reads the book can feel successful and wonderful just by being five.

My daughter was five at the time. But it didn’t feel like I ‘thought’ of the idea. The idea just arrived, and the text just flooded its way onto the page. I worked backwards down to Youre One! with the text becoming more simplified and the context more immediate to the child’s world, e.g. ‘One tummy to tickle, one head to shake.’

Other books I’ve written have involved a different process. My son was obsessed with space, and I’d been thinking I’d like to write a great space book for about 6 weeks before the idea of how to write Blast Off! revealed itself.

My other picture book being published by Allen & Unwin next year is Theres a Baddie Running Through This Book, which was again inspired by my son, who was fascinated by one page in a library book that showed a burglar being chased by a police car. My creative process feels as though I’m writing the words but I don’t have control over the process; it just happens. Of course, there are multiple, multiple edits before the story ever leaves the house.

I think a good idea for a children’s book is one that resonates with the child’s interests, that pulls them into the story, making them feel involved and empowering them to feel great.

Your writers’ group here at the Centre played an interesting role in helping you find a publisher. Could you tell us that story?

I joined my critique group fairly early in the piece, after seeing an article by the group convenor Penny Morrison in Newsbite. The first and most important thing I learnt as part of this group was how to take constructive criticism and make it work for me, and how to edit, edit and re-edit before submitting. I also learnt about all of the networking opportunities, festivals and publisher critiques that were available to me. Most significantly, my group invited publishers to come along and critique our work in front of the whole group. I learnt so much through this process, but I also had the opportunity to present Blast Off!to Random House, which eventually landed me the publishing contract. Being a part of this critique group has also provided me with a group of like-minded friends who have provided support and guidance every step of the bumpy way.


How did you come to meet Katherine Battersby, the illustrator for your upcoming books? Whats the creative process of working with an illustrator like? 

I haven’t ever had the pleasure of meeting Katherine. She is Australian, but based in Canada. It was Allen & Unwin that made the introduction and my first communication with her was via her first storyboard, which simply blew me away. She is such a talent and I have loved everything that she has presented for this project. I am not sure it is usually as easy as it has been with Katherine. She has always been so on point and added so much to the project through her wonderful creativity. We just let her to do what she does so well and revelled in the results.


Your non-fiction picture book Blast Off! is due to be published by Penguin Random House in 2018. Tell us a bit about it. 

As I mentioned above, it was my son Harrison’s fascination with space that inspired this story. I had found that non-fiction books on space seemed too overloaded with facts to hold his interest, but that he was really keen to learn about the planets.  I wanted to write something that would engage him in a story, make him giggle and give him the opportunity to learn some facts along the way. Hopefully with Blast Off! I have achieved this balance.


Do you have a regular writing routine? If so, what does it involve? 

I used to. For years I would drop the kids at school/ daycare, grab a coffee and then chain myself to the desk for the limited time they were away. This year my youngest started kindergarten, and the luxury of five child-free days seems to have wreaked havoc with my discipline. I am also distracted with launch preparations for my series at the moment, as well as working with a couple of schools on big writing projects. One thing that often seems to happen is this: I get myself all lined up to work on my latest young adult novel, and then, like magic, a picture book idea strikes me and diverts my attention. It is a wonderful thing, yet frustrating at the same time. One day I will finish and submit one of my YA stories!


Do you have any advice for emerging childrens book writers? 

Yes! Heaps! But most strongly I would recommend joining a critique group to get solid feedback on your work. Attend as many literary events that focus on your genre as you possibly can. Read, read, read. And if you’re serious, dedicate yourself to your writing like you would to running any other type of business. Take yourself seriously (although not too seriously), believe in yourself and take every opportunity to educate yourself further.


What are you reading at the moment? 

I am reading a young adult novel The Impossible Story of Olive in Love by Tonia Alexandra, who is one of my friends from the CBCA Northern Sub Branch. I’ve only just started but I’m intrigued already!


In your opinion, who/what is the most inspiring

Writer/Poet? Jacqueline Harvey. She is a superbly successful writing machine, but she is also one of the most generous writers I have ever met. She cares about emerging writers and is incredibly supportive and encouraging.

Book? The Book Thief.

Weather? Rain

Time of day? School hours!

Music? Silence, ahhhh!

Location? Kitchen table with my puppy at my feet.

You can find Shelly’s Facebook author page here, and you can follow her on Instagram here.


The ‘Big’ Book Launch

Thursday night was epic! As we held an adult book launch over wine and cheese to celebrate the release of You’re One! You’re Two! You’re Three! You’re Four! and You’re Five!

The evening started with Valerie Khoo talking about the dedication, education and commitment it takes to establish a career in writing picture books. We then talked about my path to publication and I read from You’re One! which is dedicated, To Sean, my one in a million! We had a video from Katherine Battersby, who spoke about the fun she had illustrating the series, the different materials she used for the collages and how she works digitally to create the artwork for the books.

Anna McFarlane, Children’s Publisher from Allen & Unwin gave a beautiful and very moving speech about how she felt when she first received the texts for this series. We played a fun game of Heads and Tails with the crowd to win a full set of books. And then toasted the launch of the series.

On the night we also ran a social media competition to win two framed, signed prints from the book which Katherine had kindly organised. Which was won by a very excited Alex who managed to garner 108 like is just over an hour! That is some serious social media power!

We still have two major launches to go – One at Abbotsleigh ELC this Tuesday and the funky ‘numbers disco’ at East Lindfield preschool on Thursday.

But here is the show real from Thursday night….


The evening was such a buzz as we celebrated three years in the making for this gorgeous series.

Huge thank you’s have to go to Valerie Khoo, National Director of the Australian Writers Centre who was the most spectacular MC and launched the series on the night.

To Anna McFarlane, Publisher, Allen & Unwin for her beautiful and moving speech.

To Alex Adsett, Director of AAPS for coming to celebrate all the way from Brisbane.

To my Critique group, Picture This, for all of their help and support on the night and over the last three years.

To our fabulous illustrator Katherine Battersby, who couldn’t attend the evening as she now lives in Canada, but who sent a wonderful video.

To all the people who helped with set up, organisation and lending equipment – Nicola, Alyce, Adele, Felicity & Ross and Andrew Stevenson.

To the team at The Lindfield Learning Hub for hosting such a wonderful night.

To my dad for coming over from the UK to help out during this very hectic time.

To all the friends and family who came along to support the evening,

and of course,

To my gorgeous husband Sean, for the years of believing in me and supporting me in this exciting venture – You’re The Best!



Launch Time

It’s been a distant promise for so long, and all of a sudden launch time is upon us.

I have organised a multitude of launches, including this one for everyone who would like to join the fun welcoming these books to the world at The Children’s Bookshop in Beecroft. I’d love to see you at this launch if you can make it. Please make sure you come and say hi!


CBCA Night of Notables

Last week I was so thrilled when I attended the  CBCA Night of Notables at Dymocks, George Street, Sydney, to discover that my awesome Writing Group buddy Penny Morrison had made it into the Notables. Her wonderful picture book ‘Captain Sneer The Buccaneer‘ was in the ‘Early Childhood’ category and shone out as the table was uncovered at the launch.

CBCA NSW Branch Judge, Nette Hilton talked us through the judging process and explained how a book’s setting, characterisation, plot, theme, conventions of writing, writing style, and mood, all working together, were used as criteria for selecting the Notables.

Congratulations Penny!! And all the other fabulous authors who were selected as Notables.

penny CBCA Notables

On the night we also heard from the super talented Jacqueline Harvey who talked about the challenges of getting children to read when there are so many other entertainment options available to them. She spoke of the importance of making reading an enjoyable and fun experience for them. She believes a love for reading often begins with parents who value reading and who build visits to the library, and reading aloud to kids into their busy lives.

Jacqui believes teachers also have a large role to play, and can sometimes be the first person to have an impact on their reading. “Reading needs to be front and centre and at the heart of school. School libraries have to be welcoming places where books can be touched and explored and enjoyed,” she says.  She also places a huge amount of value on school author visits, where children have the opportunity to talk to authors and talk with passion about books.

It was wonderful to hear her speak with such a passion and drive and you can see what a valuable asset she is as an ambassador of Room To Read.