Slinging spells with Kellen

Cover image for SpellslingerSebastien de Castell has written a fantastic series of books – six of them in all – that kept me entertained throughout the previous summer. Available in print, ebook and audio formats, I listened to the first four (exceptional performances) and read the final two in print so that I could get a feel for the actual presentation of the story in a traditional format and enjoy the added illustrations in situ. The finale includes a stunning map of Eldrasia – hopefully included in all titles when they come up for a reprint.

What’s the series about?

Cover image for ShadowblackThe Spellslinger books are pretty much a coming of age story set in the fantasy world of Eldrasia and focusing on magic, or the lack of it, with most of the accepted norms turned on their head – expect lots of contradictions from start to finish. In the land of the Jan’Tep, powerful mages have the ability to draw on the seven magics and pass a series of four trials to become a mage. However, Kellen, despite being the son of one of the most formidable mages in the clan, has no magical ability whatsoever. As an alternative he develops skills in playing magic tricks, with just a hint of magic and mostly clever manipulations, illusions and misdirections and this is the inspiration for the series title – he becomes a spell slinger – like a gun slinger – but with cards, speed and a good aim, rather than a gun and bullets. By the last book he has become an adept in his own unique field of magic.

CharmcasterKellen also tends to make poor choices – to make bad situations worse – and he is the despair of his young (and extremely talented and magical) sister Shalla. Kellen becomes an outcast because of his lack of magical ability, and as the series progresses, his affliction – the Shadowblack. These black markings that weave around his face make him a fugitive and a threat to his people and therefore on every mage’s hit list for assassination.

Cover image for SoulbinderEach book sees Kellen in a new realm with different people, customs and problems and in each he and his travelling buddies, who he accumulates in deadly and dreadful circumstances, are faced with danger, treachery and a dire situation to resolve. As such, each book stands alone in regard to a complete adventure, but each is also a slice of a far grander scheme. Characters and events interweave until a final direction and purpose becomes clear and the individual stories are superbly intertwined in the culminating adventure. The saga unfolds over three years and Kellan grows up from a gangling just 16 year old to a 19 year old trickster read to face the world and forge his own destiny. As Kellen matures, so does the content with some romantic and not so romantic encounters and some quite brutal encounters. However, these are not overly explicit or frequent and in keeping with an eye-ball eating main character.

Spellslinger 5: QueenslayerThe titles each present a complete adventure within an overall saga as Kellan grows up from a 16 year old failing in magic to a 19 year old trickster forging his own destiny. As such, the content does mature in keeping with Kellen, so there are some romantic, and not so romantic moments and definitely some grim and brutal encounters – but these are never excessively explicit and in keeping with a book where one of the key players plucks eye balls from its victims!

Make friends with some amazing characters

Spellslinger 6: CrownbreakerThe main supporting cast, Reichis and Ferius,  – perhaps sidekicks is a more accurate description – guide Kellen in surviving and making sound, or not so sound, decisions. Each of these become an integral part of Kellen’s personal journey in terms of growing up and “becoming the man he is meant to be”. They also provide opportunities for philosophical, political and religious debate delivered with bucket loads of humour – some slapstick and some more subtle.

Rescued from banding (to restrict all magic) by his father,  Ferius Parfax, an Argosi wanderer, becomes Kellen’s unofficial mentor and through trial, and usually painful error, teaches Kellen the way of the Argosi with deep philosophical, and oft amusing,  commentary spattered throughout. She challenges him to act in accordance with his conscience, and to look at the hypocrisy of his society. “Here endeth the lesson”  as his mentor would say – frequently! Ferius plays hard, fights hard and drinks harder and it is through her guidance that Kellen masters card playing but also card slinging, which inspires his self-taught ability of spellslinging using explosive powders to propel his card weapons. The Argosi travel to places where they think people or events that have the potential to change the world occur, usually alone, so as  solo traveller and gambler, Ferius’s ongoing presence is an indication that Kellen has an important role to play in the future of Eldrasia.

Reichis is a squirrel cat – imagine a vicious feline squirrel with skin between its front and back legs (like a flying possum) [click here if you can’t imagine!] . He has a foul temper, acid tongue (he can communicate with Kellen and the very occasional other) and a penchant for eye balls – preferably fresh – but has been known to dig up corpses for eye ball sustenance. Reichis is a no nonsense, straight down the line companion with much wisdom, unfortunately this is often negated by his violent and unforgiving nature.

Award winning author Sebastien De Castell talks Soulbinder #4 in the  Spellslinger series,
and a bit about himself and his writing career.

To read, or to listen?

I loved the audio versions. Joe Jameson is a superb performer and successfully presented a full cast with different voices, expressions and accents. Humour, tension and meaningful moments ooze from the script with Jameson’s talents – dry and witty, tense and dangerous, deep and meaningful – he does them all amazingly well. Have a listen to the start of Book 1: Spellsinger and hear Kellen before his life goes seriously pear shaped. Visit Audible to listen to a sample of each title.

The audio versions are highly engaging and de Castell provides some of the print version illustrations on his website – some on the main pages and more if you sign up for updates and bonus content. The art work is excellent and important but not critical to understanding the story lines. If you can access both print and audio together it will add to the reading experience. The individual sections within each book are illustrated with a playing card – with a top and bottom – depicting positive and negative possibilities and connecting with the card sharp skills of Kellen.

It’s a wrap

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Illuminae Series – Performance Masterpiece

What a team! The writing partnership between Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff is flawless in the Illuminae Files – a science fiction series aimed at YAs but certainly engaging a much wider audience.

I have listened to all three books in the series and browsed the print editions. Both formats provide memorable, original and totally engaging versions with unique qualities making them separate yet complimentary entities.

This snapshot of Illuminae #1 provides some glimpses of the stunningly original presentation of the print version of the first book and summary of the plot. It is worth accessing these print versions to enrich the listening experience as you engage and read the various transcripts — not always an easy task as you can see. Penguin Random House provide further insights on the design of Gemina.

Hailey in Bookland. (2015, December 30). Illuminae by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff: Spoiler free review [blog post]. Retrieved from

Now a look at the audio performances in the Illuminae Files.


Listening Library draws on a full cast, harnessing multiple narrators to represent the main and major secondary characters with clear distinctions between each person, the reading of different written formats including manuscripts, court transcripts and emails, along with the memorable, mechanical, yet increasingly humanised voice of AIDEN – the Artificial Intelligence Defense Analytics Network.

The productions go well beyond ‘retelling the story’ as each volume is supported and enriched with orchestral support  along with mind blowing sound effects to capture the personalities, events, tensions and climactic moments across the series. Imagine the soundtracks of 2001: A Space Odyssey, Battle Star Galactica and Star Wars for background, and at times front-line, audio immersion. I am sure I ducked a flying bullet or dodged a spaceship in some of the battle scenes! Adding further to the musical accompaniments, there are the sound effects – sirens and alarms, blasters, explosions, collisions and gunfire, gasping breaths in a failing envirosuit and the haunting and terrifying cries of the the afflicted soles rampaging through the ship.

The Illuminea files present a record of violent and deadly events with strong language (edited but recognisable) from the ‘edited transcripts’ that provide the storylines. There are a number of gruesome scenes and sexually inferred encounters. However; strength of character, responsibility, survival, ethical choices and a driving desire to see justice done dominate throughout. The audio versions offer a unique and immersive listening experience that is quite different from reading and engaging with the multifaceted print texts – both are worth a read!

If this has caught your interest, Amie has also teamed up with Meagan Spooner in crafting the Starbound trilogy. Watch an overview of the series and look out for the audio versions of these gripping stories as well. With three narrators to represent the different lead characters, accompanied by appropriate sound effects to capture the action, environment and otherworldly anomalies, you will be taken on a voyage of discovery and adventure.

Between Chapters. (2017, March 24). Starbound trilogy: Spoiler free series review [Blog post]. Retrieved from

aurora rising

And recently released, Aurora Rising, #1 in The Aurora Cycle is also available in audio – another one for my ‘to listen’ pile!

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Raising Readers – Megan Daley

raising readersRaising Readers: How to Nurture a Child’s Love of Books has been written by Australian teacher librarian Megan Daley. Daley brings years of professional and personal experience to this engaging and highly readable book. She successfully addresses multiple audiences – parents, teachers and teacher librarians – through a mix of anecdotal stories, professional experience, informed research and guest narrators. These include well-known Australians and experts who speak with authority on a range of topics and add breadth and variety to the coverage.

Her intent is clearly stated in the title and the book’s structure and organisation takes the reader through strategies and approaches from birth through to the teenage years in an exuberant and lively manner. To get a feel for Megan’s style, dip into an extract from Chapter 2: Reading and school – When it all comes together.

Sections are clearly structured and the detailed subheadings also support dipping into areas of particular interest. Specific topics in the first part of the book include the early years, reading and school, the school library, spaces to encourage reading and building reading stamina. Later chapters explore ways to make reading fun, an embedded part of daily life (at home and at school), with a great coverage of different formats and genres. There are also many tips along the way that embellish the discussion with practical examples and strategies to engage with the text and explore its features. The section on reading the visuals encapsulates many of the advantages of keeping picture books in the reading diet throughout primary and secondary years and also provides succinct coverage of visual techniques that illustrators employ that many teachers will find particularly useful to address English outcomes. Megan’s passion for children’s literature shines throughout the book, and there is a fantastic and highly practical “How-to” guide at the end. Check out the book party themes and book week costumes for some instant inspiration then head to Megan’s website, the Children’s Book Daily and explore the blog categories and get some visual party ideas.

This is a highly readable and engaging book to guide, inspire and support parents, teachers and teacher librarians to engage children and teenagers with literature. Megan Daley draws on personal experience as a mother, teacher, teacher librarian and awards judge to provide a fascinating narrative comprising of personal experience, professional expertise and research in the field. The added inserts from experts in the various fields she covers add alternative perspectives and suggestions to support home and school reading engagements. Chapters deal with different age groups at home and in school, the significant role of the school library, reading spaces, stamina, competitions and social engagements between young readers, balancing the reading diet, multimodal and digital reading and the power of visual stories. It would be easy to compartmentalise this as a book for early years and primary aged students but it is much more than this. Sage advice transfers into the realm of the teenage reader. Sections are supported with interesting and varied book lists of Daley’s favourites rather than just the better known titles and the latter sections provide lists of practical advice on all things bookish. Highly recommended for every parent’s bookshelf and all school and public libraries. Grab a copy today and enjoy the read and the insights.

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The Silhouette and the Sacrifice – Boone Shepard’s encore!

A truly satisfying conclusion to Boone Shephards’ misadventures left me feeling sated and satisfied. Thanks Gabriel Bergmoser for this masterful tale that ties the many threads of the first two books into a complex tapestry in The Silhouette and the Sacrifice. I have been captivated by the droll humour of the lead characters, the unexpected, unpredictable and dastardly twists within, without and beyond what one could possibly expect and the robust ending of these adventures. And if you are in any doubt that this is the end just read the blurb:
My name is Boone Shephard. This is the end of my story.”

Predominantly set in 1967, with time travel to old haunts included, Boone and Promethia are on a 48 hour deadline to stop a killer – someone who is killing journalists. Is Boone to be the next? What dastardly secret is driving this killer? Be surprised as Boone and Promethia revisit previous settings in different times, meet past friends, grapple with old enemies and face a new and far more dangerous threat – to themselves, London, . . . the world. As can only be expected, our heroes leap from one life threatening event to the next on a roller coaster of madcap, daredevil deeds to right wrongs, learn from past tragedies and save mankind. What more could you ask for between the covers of a book.

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Boone Shepard’s American Adventure

PictureSome time ago I had the pleasure of being introduced to Boone Shepard in  his first slapdash and madcap adventure as he travelled across time, and sung the book’s praises on this blog. I missed the release of the second saga: Boone Shepard’s  American Adventure and have just had the pleasure of reading it this summer. Gabriel Bergmoser presents a masterful adventure that transports Boone, and the far too clever and feisty Promethia Peters, out of the English proverbial pan (with a death sentence on  his head), into an 1884 wild west fire where the duo are roped into rescuing the residents of a small Texan town.

Watch the trailer for an insight into this great read, and a taste of Bergmoser’s tongue in cheek, humorous and intriguing writing style.

What I love about Bergmoser’s writing is that it is good fun, entertaining, complex but also carefully executed and memorable. The many threads of past adventures are deftly woven into a new tapestry with new and old villains and some famous characters thrown into the mix. Oscar Wilde in his fluff pink dressing gown and “the King’  who steps in to save the day. . . ” Well, it seems to me they made a deal with the devil in disguise to get you into the heartbreak hotel, but they didn’t count the King to kick on his blue suede shoes and stop you from being caught in a trap” (p. 100) Can you guess who?

Boone and Promethia show both strengths and weaknesses as they battle against evil, try and all too frequently fail, to do good and demonstrate that it is OK to be human and make mistakes – presented so eloquently within the lighter more humorous prose. “Making mistakes doesn’t define us Jessie. Making mistakes is the most normal thing in the world. What defines us is how we choose to deal with those mistakes” (p. 97).

With an abundance of serious contemporary young adult fiction and dark themes in the dystopian arena flooding the market, it is wonderful to sit back and have a romp with two wise cracking and engaging characters. Grab a copy and sit back and enjoy the ride. Picture

P.S. I have the final adventure on the top of my “to read” pile – keep an eye out for a post on the third adventure: Boone Shepard: The Silhouette and the Sacrifice.

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2019: International Year of Indigenous Languages

untitled.jpgUNESCO and partners will focus on the importance of indigenous languages through 2019 and provide a range of resources and support on a dedicated website. There are language teaching resources under the share button – discover the Spikit app for starters.

Resources worth investigating

  • Discover more of the significance of this focus from a Maori perspective.


language hotspots

Getting started with an Australian focus on Indigenous languages


  • When We Go Walkabout by Rhoda Lalara, illustrated by Alfred Lalara. Set on Groote Island, the reader is invited to look for animals in different habitats throughout the course of one day exploring the varied local landscapes. There is also a recording of Rhoda Lalara reading the story in Anindilyakwa, the local language; also accessible via a QR code in the book.
  • tjaranyroughtailTjarany Roughtail by Gracie Greene, Joe Tramacchi and Lucille Gill. First published in 1992, this book offers a collection of Tjukurrpa (Dreaming) stories of the Kukatja people of the Kimberley region of Western Australia, Tjarany Roughtail is a bilingual illustrated narrative in which the pictures speak as powerfully as the words.
  • Corroboree by Angus Wallam and Suzanne Kelly, published in 2004, tells the story of a young Aboriginal boy called Wirrin, and his family, as they prepare for a corroboreecorroboree, which extended family and friends would attend. The text presents the language of the Nyungar people of Western Australia and English with a glossary of both included.
  • The Noongar Language Centre (Boodjar Language Cultural Aboriginal Corporation) has a number of resources (some still under development) and publishes picture books in Noongar dialects.

I am sure this is just the tip of the iceberg. If you come across other quality resources that could add to this post please share via the Contact form under the About Me tab. It would be great to add more literature examples.

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Refugee by Alan Gratz

Refugee is a wonderful example of historical children’s fiction that explores the plight of refugees over time; drawing parallels between circumstance, persecution, emotional and physical hardships through the stories of three refugee children and their families. Drawing on three distinct periods of time and catastrophic events in different locations in the world Gratz explores the harrowing experiences of each family through the eyes of the young teenage narrators as they flee their homelands in the hope of finding safety and freedom elsewhere.

Germany in the 1930’s: Josef, a Jewish boy and his family, faces persecution fleeing the Nazis as they board a ship bound for Cuba on the other side of the world. But docking in Havana is not simple and their journey becomes more complicated and their family more distressed. When they reach land they are not wanted.

Cuba in 1994: Isabel, lives under Castro’s rule and economic crisis. There are riots and unrest plaguing her country, and her father is a wanted dissident. She and her family set out on a raft, hoping to find safety and freedom in America but the trip is fraught with difficulties and loss. When they reach land they are not wanted.

Syria in 2015: Mahmoud city of Aleppo is torn apart through civil war and he and his family begin a long trek toward Europe where they are unwanted and mostly ‘unseen’. When they reach land they are not wanted.

The book trailer introduces the three main characters and their circumstances.

Unfolding in tandem, each protagonists tells their personal of persecution, escape, journeying and reaching a destination. Despite the 85 year time span the similarities in circumstances and the driving forces of each teenager to reach not only a place of safety but also a place of acceptance present a poignant message on everyone’s need to be feel safe. The three stories are seamlessly interwoven with threads connecting events, locations and characters unravelling as the book progresses.

With so many refugee stories being published as a response to current global unrest, Alan Gratz has presented an alternative, historically accurate and heartfelt account of three asylum seekers. A wonderful read for all young adults and adults alike.

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The Dam – David Almond & Levi Pinfold

The Dam by David Almond

A masterpiece by David Almond and Levi Pinfold

The Dam is stunning – in conceptual design, story line and illustrative techniques. Based on a true story, the reader joins a father and daughter on a final journey to the now deserted homes in the valley that is about to be flooded. Each house is filled with the haunting music of the girl’s fiddle, the father’s voice, and a sense of wonder as the spirits of townsfolk bid goodbye. This is a last farewell to a drowning village but also a story of hope, renewal and rebirth as the lake becomes a place for families to visit and spend time together. A very powerful look at progress – the immediate impact and long term gains – that supports historical and sustainability discussions with older primary and secondary students.

David Almond provides the historical context in the back of the book, and on his website.

Levi Pinfold’s website includes some images from the book – amazing!

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Literature + Story Mapping = Geography!

I  thoroughly enjoyed putting together a recent presentation for Eduwebinar titled Story Mapping – Using Geographical Concepts to Respond to Literature. I discovered so many fantastic books with journeys and adventures to intrigue readers of all ages. I have compiled a list of these – those shared during the presentation – plus a number that I couldn’t address on the night due to time constraints. You can find the list linked on the Presentation page of this site for the recent webinar dated 28 November 2018. Note that the file is a word document so that users can continue to add to it. Feel free to use the contact form to send me new (as in newly published) suggestions.

As is always the way – after the event I have found more. One gem is a fiction series The Magic Tree House Kids (interesting Wikipedia article) where siblings, Jack (age 8) and Annie (7), discover that a tree house in the woods near their home that can transport them to different places and historical periods. The children are sent all around the globe to achieve specific goals, usually to rescue an important historical document. Later additions involved time travel with Merlin the wizard. All require factual knowledge to solve the missions. There is a supporting Magic Tree House Kids website with a club and game section with numerous games linked to the titles in the series. There are many titles (50+) published over the past 25 years and these were repackaged in 2017 to celebrate the series’ 25th anniversary.


Screen shot from one of the Magic Tree House missions.

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Book Bento Boxes

I have just created my first book bento box – and it was great fun to do. An alternative way to express a response to literature that will excite students with its combination of personal expression, visual arts, technology, creativity and hands on compilation of the bento box contents.

Having just finished Mallee Boys by Charlie Archbold, I really wanted to express some ideas about this wonderfully deeply rooted Australian novel set in the Australian wheat belt. It would have made a great winner of the 2018 CBCA Book if the Year Award – more than an honour book in my opinion.

Anyway, back to book bento boxes. Bento is a Japanese term of single serve take away meal that is served in a box – traditionally lacquered wood – with separate sections for different portions. Applying this structure to a literature response strategy results in book bento boxes. Here are some great examples to get you inspired. You will see that the box structure can be somewhat flexible in this strategy and most do not have compartments for different portions.

After reading some useful instructions developed by two English teachers and with a fantastic book to focus on – I was hell bent on having a go. Unfortunately, the interactive buttons have not transferred into WordPress. Click on the link in the caption to read the commentary on the contents.

Bales, J. (2018, September 24). Mallee boys bento box

This is a highly adaptable reader response strategy that goes well beyond the English classroom. With a guiding question on a story that connects to History, Geography, Health or other area students could demonstrate understanding of significant events or objects that shape their interpretation of subject matter. It also provides a great starting point for a teacher librarian before reading a book. Preparing a book bento box in advance with significant objects to get students to predict relevance and then at the conclusion of the reading to evaluate their initial thoughts, and perhaps suggest alternative objects to include. The latter would provide a wonderful insight into how students perceive the books that we read aloud and identify what is most significant in their eyes.

I created my bento box on the spur of the moment – oops – no box to hand! I collected “free to use” images online and from my personal image collection and compiled them in a Word document to look like they were sitting in a box. Some basic image manipulation skills were required to adjust layout, group images, apply transparency etc, to make a cohesive whole to be saved and uploaded into Thinglink a program that allows you to add text, hyperlinks and buttons to places on your image.

The principle of creating a collection and saving as an image is quite straightforward. Adding written annotations works seamlessly with Thinglink but could be tackled with different software. Prezi could work well, with a pathway and supporting text to each element. For younger students, a simple slide presentation and animated text boxes attached to each image could also work. There are not doubt other apps out there that would work too. If you read this and have suggestions please feel free to add a comment. I would love some further suggestions to experiment with.

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