Newcastle Author Jess Black and her new Little Paws book series

Newcastle Herald

12th May, 2017

Jim Kellar

When publisher Penguin Random House came knocking on Carrington children’s book author Jess Black’s front door, she found it easy to listen to their pitch.

Black, an experienced writer, said yes to Penguin’s offer to write a series of four children’s books based on the concept of raising puppies to become trained guide dogs.

“I felt this was the first series that mirrored our family life the most,” Black says. “We’ve had puppies. We are just coming out of the naughty puppy stage. And a lot of it is based on our dog.”

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Black and her husband Fergus have two children, Maggie, 8, and Elkie, 5, and one dog, Pippi, a rescued kelpie.

“Pippi chewed up a surfboard, she ate us out of house and home. Having dogs, I could relate,” Black says.

The four books in the Little Paws series backed by Guide Dogs Australia were released in April. Intertwined in stories told from a child’s viewpoint of raising a dog, is the message of what is required to raise a guide dog and why they are needed. The books are Welcome Home, Harley, about a yellow Labrador puppy; Ringo’s Road Trip, Meg’s Big Mystery and Goldie Makes the Grade.

Black did her research for the series by attending dog training sessions, spending time at the Guide Dog headquarters at Glossodia near Sydney, and attending a puppy graduation. She also spoke to guide dog owners, volunteers and clients who live with guide dogs.

 The resulting books “feel natural” Black says, “because the kids drive the stories, kids raise the puppies. In Ringo, the kids and dog choose the road trip. In real life, adults are more likely to have more say. There was a lot of our family dynamic in the books.”

All royalties from sales of the Little Paws series go to the Guide Dogs organisation.

Black has several other projects in the works during 2017, including the release of books five and six in her Keeper of the Crystal children’s book series through New Frontier, and the release of picture book The Bold Australian Girl through Scholastic.

“I working on some of my own stuff at the moment,” she says. “I am looking at a different series idea, and keeping the picture books coming.”

Black previously worked for Scholastic Books. She is involved in an increasing number of workshops and appearances, including work with The Creative Wordshop in Newcastle, which offers creative writing programs through schools and for adults.

She may one day write a book for an adult audience, just not yet.

“My brain doesn’t have the space for it,” she says. “Maybe when the kids are older and don’t want me around so much. I wouldn’t say never, but not right now.

“I really like crime, I like reading it and watching it. But it would be hard to carry around in your head. The world of kids books is nice to carry around in your head.

“I like mystery, too. I started working on a mystery series for kids, but I’m not sure where that is going.”

The writer is optimistic about our future storytellers. They still write with pen and pencil; they still love super heroes. And the creative juices still run strong. 

“Kids want to create, if you give them the opportunity,” she says. “The easy option is ‘screen time’. If you take away the screens and they play in the park, they will come up with ideas. It is about giving them the opportunity to create.”

Children's author Jess Black launches new series about Guide Dogs

Renee Valentine
17 Apr 2017, 5 p.m.

Jess Black was an animal-obsessed child.

So, it seems only fitting that animals play a role in a lot of her children’s books.

The Newcastle 44-year-old mother is excited to unveil her new set of books, which centre around Guide Dogs and carries subtle messages for children, at Ground Up Espresso, Carrington at 3pm on April 22.

Black described Little Paws as a fun, heart-warming series about the puppies that train to become Guide Dogs and the families who help raise them.

“I got to learn about an area I knew very little about; people with limited or no visibility, how do they get around on a daily basis … how having a dog can take life from being quite stressful to actually being enjoyable,” Black said.

“I just think there’s a message in there for kids in particular, how you can make a difference by being a puppy raiser.

“But also by learning a little bit about things, like you’re not meant to pat a guide dog if you see one with a working harness on, and perhaps thinking a little bit more about people who don’t have life as easy as you have it. All of those messages are in the book.”

The books chronicle the adventure of kids who look after Guide Dogs in training.

“You can apply to be a puppy raiser for guide dogs; you have the dog for a year from 12 weeks until around 14 months and basically just need to give the puppy lots of love and care plus basic socialisation training as well,” Black said,

“So I guess the stories are a little bit different because there’s a little bit of information about what it means to be a puppy raiser.

“A different family in each story has a different puppy and rather than having the parents calling the shots I’ve got the kids calling the shots; they’re the ones who are in charge of looking after the puppy.”

Black has written over 30 junior fiction books and two picture books, Moon Dance and The Bold Australian Girl (July 2017 release).

She is the author of the Keeper of the Crystals series and the co-author of the hugely successful Bindi Wildlife Adventure series, RSPCA Animal Tales series and The Kaboom Kid series with David Warner.

“It’s new to write about Guide Dogs but I have quite a track record with this age group and animal stories,” Black said. 

“I was the kid who had four mice, one guinea pig, two rabbits, a cat, a dog and wanted more. I’ve always loved animals.

“They are really fun to write about or to include in stories, and there’s something for them for this age in particular generally speaking, most of the kids, six to seven and up are pretty animal crazy.

“It’s fun and so far with the animal stories I’ve written there’s always been a bit of a message as well, like looking after them, taking care of them properly.”

Black will be reading parts of the Little Paws series on April 22.

Doodles and Drafts

Jess Black Paws for Thought

Jess Black, author of the new Little Paws series joins us at the draft table today to share her inspiration behind these heartwarming story lines. Puppies, chewed shoes and big responsibilities are all part of training a guide dog puppy. The Little Paws series has them all plus buckets of cute puppy appeal to boot. Here’s what Jess has to say:

"Writing the Little Paws series was a very positive experience for me. The story lines are fun, there’s plenty of puppy mischief, it’s a family friendly story line but most importantly the kids in the stories are in charge and at the forefront of the story."

"Of course, what’s at the heart of the stories is bringing a gorgeous little puppy into your home and committing to raising it on behalf of guide Dogs. This meant that the series involved my spending lots of time with puppies in training with Guide Dogs Australia, understanding what it takes to be a Guide Dog and the impact that having a dog has on the life of a client. This added depth and meaning to writing the stories."

"For me the inspiration for the four story lines came from my own experience with raising puppies. It’s a natural stage that all puppies go through where they dig, chew, learn their toilet training, learn to obey simple commands and such simple things as where to sleep at night. Our current dog Pippi really took this to a whole new level. She’s a rescue dog who we adopted at seven months of age. She chewed her way through our house – furniture, shoes, toys, rugs, surfboards…you name it. She is very much the inspiration for Welcome Home Harley!"

"The greatest joy I received from writing the series was being put in a position where I could meet clients who live with Guide Dogs and work with them every day. My respect and admiration for clients who are blind or vision impaired and how they navigate daily challenges is immense. Having a dog makes a huge difference to their ability to live a life with confidence and independence, helping make normally stressful situations that much more manageable."

"I think the series has an inbuilt tension and relatively high stakes. These cute puppies have big paws to fill. And if they can manage it then they can change lives. I love the idea that young kids who read this series will enjoy the stories but also take away a new awareness of how Guide Dogs Australia can make a real difference to people’s lives."

All four Little Paws titles are available now, here. Keep an eye out for our review coming soon.

NSW Premier's Reading Challenge includes Keeper of the Crystals!

I am thrilled to share that my Keeper of the Crystals Series and Animal Tales books are on the NSW Premier's Reading Challenge booklist for 2017 for year 3-4.

The Premier’s Reading Challenge aims to encourage a love of reading for enjoyment and enrichment in students, and enable them to experience quality literature. It is not a competition but a challenge to each student - to read, to read more and to read more widely.

The Challenge involves nearly 300,000 students and more than 2,400 government, non-government and home schools. The NSW Premier’s Reading Challenge booklists open doors to a rich collection of children’s literature representing a range of books including fiction, non-fiction, picture books, poetry and drama, and include a wide variety of Australian authors.

The 2017 Challenge opened on Monday March 6 and closes for students on Friday August 25.

Get reading kids!

 

Lunch With the Stars 2016

On Tuesday, 13th September the CBCA (NSW) Newcastle Sub-branch hosted its second 

 

'Lunch with the Stars' 

 

Fifteen local children's authors, poets and illustrators entertained 112 local children 

from 14 primary schools from across the Hunter Region.

 

The day was full of passion, inspiration and a deep love of book and the written word. It was an honour to be among so many enthusiastic students who value books and reading.

 

Book Week 2016

I had a very big three weeks over the period of Book Week this year. Many of my schools were in Sydney this year which was really exciting.

Many of the schools I visited made an extra special effort with student reviews of my books, artwork, and even my name in lights!

I visited one Independent Grammar, one Islamic College, two Anglican primaries, three Public primaries, and five Catholic primary schools; conducted 42 author talks and 4 writing workshops.

Every school greeted me with warm staff and gorgeous little people eager to share stories and talk books and writing with me. Thank you.

I was thrilled to see a couple of gorgeous kids dressed up as Eve from Keeper of the Crystals.

Eve and Fiery Phoenix

Eve and Fiery Phoenix

Eve and the Last Dragon

Eve and the Last Dragon

12 Quirky Questions with Kids Book Review

10 Quirky Questions with author Jess Black


1. What's your hidden talent?
I can run. Like Forrest Gump. I can run away from anything at any time. Sprints, marathon, slow jog, you name it. It’s why I worry about wearing heels yet love to when I can. I might need to run.

2. Who is your favourite literary villain and why?
Lord Voldemort (AKA He Who Cannot Be Named). Seeking eternal life and ultimate power at any cost even if it means destroying children, and having a name that cannot be spoken. That’s genius.

3. You're hosting a literary dinner party, which five authors would you invite? (alive or dead)
William Boyd as he is one of my favourite authors so I’d want him there to pick his brain and stare admiringly at him.  Rachel Spratt as I love her books and she’s very funny. Julia Donaldson as I love her picture books. JK Rowling, again as I am a huge fan. Christopher Hitchens, I’m a huge fan and he’d shake things up.

4. Which literary invention do you wish was real?
Time travel.

5. What are five words that describe your writing process?
Black hole that’s ultimately rewarding.

6. Which are the five words you would like to be remembered by as a writer?
Entertaining, compelling, accessible, passionate, awkward (cos it’s true)

7. Picture your favourite writing space. What are five objects you would find there?
Rabbits, a good lamp, pictures on the walls of all the things/people I love and who inspire me, quirky pottery personal pieces on my desk, a nice pen.

8. Grab the nearest book, open it to page 22 and look for the second word in the first sentence. Now, write a line that starts with that word. (Please include the name of the book!)
Home and Away – Kaboom Kid # 6

Lunchtime is always fraught. Where to sit? Who to sit with? And will my choice of lunch be mocked or rewarded today? Lunchtime is hell on earth. There’s Brady Frost giving me the evil eye. Avert glance.

9. If you could ask one author one question, what would the question be and who would you ask?
I would ask Enid Blyton ‘How did you have the strength of character to be so strong as a female author and how did you balance the demands of your creative work and family life?’

10. Which would you rather do: 'Never write another story or never read another book'?
That’s a terrible question. They both go hand in hand. I would have to say that I cannot give up reading so I choose the latter. Preferably living in luxury with endless books on tap.


Jess Black is an Australian children's author. She has published more than 25 junior fiction novels, including titles in the Bindi Wildlife Adventures series, the RSPCA Animal Tales series and The Kaboom Kid series with David Warner. She is also the author of the Keeper of the Crystals series. Jess' latest book is Home & Away, the sixth book in The Kaboom Kid series published by Simon & Schuster. Visit Jess' website and Facebook page for the latest information about her books and author events.

Kids Book Review - review of Eve and the Runaway Unicorn and Eve and The Fiery Phoenix!

I was lucky enough to attend the launch for Book 1 in Jess Black's new adventure series, Keeper of the Crystals. So it was with an added sense of expectation that I sat down to read the first two titles. Written for children aged 7 and up, the stories focus on Eve and Oscar, two kids who are thrown together as playmates by virtue of being pretty much the only children in the town where Eve's grandmother lives.

In Book 1, Eve and the Runaway Unicorn, we get to know Eve and Oscar. They're your average kids: if you tell them absolutely, definitely not to do something, there's a strong chance they'll do it anyway!

So, even though Gran's attic is completely off-limits, somehow Eve and Oscar find themselves up there exploring. And when Eve finds a small crystal figurine of a unicorn, that's when the adventures start. The crystal magically transports them to the land of Panthor, where unicorns are now enslaved, the land has turned to desert and the people have been forced to become nomads — all at the hands of a cruel and evil king.

But Eve seems to have a connection with the unicorns, a power that might help to undo the king's actions and restore Panthor to the lush and peaceful land it was before.

In Book 2, Eve and the Fiery Phoenix, Eve and Oscar are once again exploring where they shouldn't when Eve finds a small crystal figurine of a phoenix. This time they're transported to the jungle of Griffid where tigers rule and where, without the song of the phoenix, the sun won't rise and the inhabitants of Griffid will slowly freeze. Can Oscar and Eve find the captured phoenix and help it to sing once more?

These are books with a strong environmental theme. Although set in worlds far removed from our own, the message that we — animal and human — are all interconnected comes across clearly. One ill-considered act can cause long-lasting consequences (fertile landscapes can become deserts; ecosystems can be destroyed), but if we pull together we can work to reverse the damage.

The books aren't preachy, though. The underlying lessons are lightly handled, well wrapped up in magic and adventure. And while little girls will love the resourceful Eve, there's enough action and danger to keep boys hooked as well.

Book 3 in the series, Eve and the Mermaid's Tears, will be published in October 2015.

Title: Eve and the Runaway Unicorn and Eve and the Fiery Phoenix
Author: Jess Black
Illustrator: Celeste Hulme
Publisher: New Frontier Publishing, $14.99 RRP
Publication Date: June 2015 and August 2015
Format: Paperback
ISBN: 9780957988415 and 9781925059441
For ages: 7+
Type: Junior Fiction

Happy publication day to Eve and the Fiery Phoenix!

When Eve and Oscar are exploring an old curio shop, Eve finds a small crystal figurine of a phoenix. Before she realises what it is, she touches it and finds herself hurtling down a fast-flowing river towards a steep waterfall. It’s happening again!

Oscar and Eve plunge into the dense jungle of Griffid, where tigers rule and every step seems treacherous. But the sky is dark and the jungle is dying, threatening all those who live in it. Can Eve and Oscar bring back the light that will save Griffid and all its precious inhabitants?