EJ12 Girl Hero heading for TV!

EJ-TV-newsIn super exciting news, EJ12 Girl Hero has just been optioned for TV by the clever people at Ambience Entertainment.

Susannah’s popular spy-adventure series for young girls has now sold nearly three quarters of a million books in Australia and New Zealand alone, with a copy currently being sold every 15 minutes.

By optioning the series, Ambience Entertainment plans to create a riveting TV series that will fully engage the growing fan base with the stories, characters and adventures played out in the much-loved books.

Monica O’Brien, Executive Producer, Ambience Entertainment said of the announcement, “We’re so excited to be working with Susannah on the development of this awesome children’s series. EJ12 is a solid Australian brand that will soon become an international success.”

Yeay for this new exciting adventure for EJ12! Stay tuned for more info.

Boy vs Beast New Generation
New Generation Boy Vs Beast Out Now

Boy vs Beast New GenerationThe new generation of this popular series for beginner and reluctant reading boys is now in stores and has a brand new website to go with it.

Featuring new look covers – but packed with the same action, adventures, beasts and battles as the original series – Books 1 to 8  were a hit with fans when released in September last year.

The Boy Vs Beast series takes reading to boys on their own terms. Using carefully planned pages and stories and engaging graphics, even the youngest reading boys can develop their reading skills while losing themselves in a story packed with action.

Books 9 to 12 in the series will hit stores from 1 March, but in the meantime you can check out the new look website at where you’ll find games, battle cards, and more.

EJ Spy School
Welcome new series EJ Spy School!

EJ Spy SchoolYounger fans of the hugely popular EJ12 Girl Hero stories can now enjoy it for themselves with the launch of the new EJ Spy School series.

The perfect first chapter book series for young girls and beginner readers, EJ Spy School helps them to build reading confidence and enjoyment through its careful choice of age appropriate words, concepts, sentence lengths and chapter lengths.

The series introduces the much-loved character Emma Jacks as EJ10 as she first joins the secret agency SHINE spy school and starts to train as a SHINE agent. A great companion website features age-appropriate activities, games and story extracts as well and can be found at



Book 16 in my EJ12 Girl Hero series is released this month. In a special flashback mission, TIME TO SHINE takes readers back to when eight year-old Emma Jacks was first recruited to the SHINE Agency. SHINE recognises and nurtures its young agents’ potential, giving them both the skills and spirit to do amazing things – it gives them their time to shine.

Untitled1Which is I always wanted the series to do as well, in its own little way. I wanted it to show young girls, like my daughter, Emma, who was nine when I began the series, that they could do pretty much anything – and particularly things they might have thought only the boys could do. They could jump out of planes, indeed, fly the planes, drive the train, crack the codes, save the world, follow their hearts and their dreams.

And it’s so happy-making when they email saying that the series has inspired them, help them overcome their fear of the dark, of singing at a school concert or, best of all, standing up to a mean girl, probably one of the most heroic thing you can do when you are nine years old.

Which has got me thinking that we need to make more of the many excellent ‘girl hero’ female role models for our girls so I’m going to start a regular post on the blog, telling the girls about the girl heroes of history and today – and to encourage them to find more.

Who should feature? Amelia Earhart, Malala Yousafzai, Mother Teresa, Evonne Cawley, Helen Keller, Marie Curie are some that spring to mind – who else?


Untitled2 copy Who doesn’t like Dr Seuss? Who doesn’t owe at least a little bit of their childhood to his wonderful books? Parents love reading them, kids love reading them and the world is always a better, more interesting place after reading one.  While The Cat in the Hat, like the Cat himself, takes a lot of the limelight, there is a whole treasure chest of lesser-known but no less-loved Dr Seuss favourites.

One of mine is I Wish That I Had Duck Feet, a story about accepting, enjoying, yourself exactly as you are. Who wouldn’t occasionally wish they had something a little more exotic than ordinary human stuff? Perhaps antlers for hanging caps on, duck feet for splashing in water, an animal tail so long you could jump rope with it or even a whale spout on your head? The things you could do!

I wish I had a whale spout.

A whale spout on my head!

When days get hot

It would be good

To spout my spout in school.

And then Miss Banks

738346would say “Thanks! Thanks!

You keep our school so cool.

(I still remember, as a child, being read the story and when Dad came to  reading those lines ‘Thanks! Thanks! You keep our school so cool’, my brother and sister and I would all join in, shouting the line.)

But our hero discovers all of his wished-for additions have some draw-back and often ones that attract the unwanted attention of the local bully Big Bill Brown.  So, after a typically Seussian climax that I won’t give away, our hero decides that he will be himself.

And that is why

I think that I

just wish to be like ME.

What’s not to love? Discover or re-discover it today. What’s your favourite Dr Seuss?


Untitled1How do you help your newly-reading child choose a book that they both want to read and that they are able to read? Possibly the best tip on this I have ever been taught is the five-finger rule.

When you are in the library or bookshop, head off to the younger reader section and ask your child to pick a book they like the look of. Kids, like all of us, choose books by their covers; the little billboards publishers make to tell you what sort of read awaits you. Whoever said you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover had no idea about the time publishers put into the design of book covers! Watch which sort of books he goes for. Of course, feel free to look yourself and suggest ones you think might appeal. You might find one you read and loved as a child.

When your child thinks they have a book they like the look of, you need to check it’s the right reading level. Enter the five-finger rule. Here’s how it works.

Ask your child to read the first page to himself or, ideally, to you.

If he gets stuck on a word, ask him to put one finger up.

Every time he gets stuck (if they get stuck), he puts another finger up.

That’s it. It’s that simple

If he has five fingers up on one page, it means that that book is too challenging for him at the moment. By needing to stopping and starting over that number of words on the one page, the momentum of reading the story is lost. He is not really reading for sense or story anymore but rather identifying the individual words. Its too hard, it’s no fun, the book is not right for now. Not every, just not yet.

Note the book for later and try again with another book that he selects and now, that you have seen both which book he liked the look of and which was a little tricky, you are better to help suggest options.

I love this tip for so many reasons. It’s easy, you can do it anywhere, it empowers the child to check for himself – and heads off the frustration and disappointment of taking a book home that then proves too hard.

Give it a try with your new reader – and I’d love to hear how it goes and of any more tips that help us get our kids reading.


shutterstock_3125011Not all kids love reading, some are actively against it (I have one of each) but we all need to read to be able to do other stuff (like learn, fill out forms) as well as disappear into the wonderful world of a story. While there are girls out there who would also rather not read, it is a much bigger problem for our boys and we need to be inventive, even sneaky about how to entice them into reading.

For most of my publishing (and mothering) career, I’ve been looking at ways to engage boys in books and one of my biggest lessons has been to just start them reading anything. Comics, the backs of cereal boxes, footy cards – they’re all putting one word next to another. Just as the journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step, so too might the road to War and Peace start with a less ‘booky’, or what I’m calling ‘black ops’ book.  What makes a ‘black ops’ book? Lots of cool pictures, quick grabs rather than long paragraphs and, ideally funny, weird, technical or gross stuff, ideally a combination of all. Above all, it’s a book they don’ t think is a ‘real’ book.

Here are some to start a list – help me add to it!

  • Guinness World Records – filled with stats, facts and more gross-outs than is probably a good idea, this gets boys reading without them know it, motivated by the understandable need to know just how heavy the world’s largest meatball is (530.71 Kg), the fastest time to sort 30 jelly babies with chopsticks (40 seconds) and the most slam dunks by aparrot in one minute (22). And there’s a new one every year!

  • The Encyclopedia of Immaturity – Subtitled ‘How to Never Grow Up’ and including such invaluable topics such as ‘How to Stick a Pencil in Your Ear’ and the companion piece, ‘How to take it back out of your nose’, this book is laugh-out loud funny and informative.  How to skip stones, how to fake sneeze, how to look like you are carrying your head in your hands and another 295 equally essential and illustrated topics will get kids turning the pages.

  • The Lego Book – The only time I don’t like LEGO is when I am stepping on a brick. The rest of the time I love their cleverness – and the cleverness it inspire in kids. Who doesn’t have photo of their child standing, beaming with pride, with their LEGO creation? And if your boy would rather be building than reading, here’s the ultimate compromise. Jam-packed with photos of amazing models, facts and trivia, this book has everything anyone ever wanted to know about LEGO and then some.
  • And if you want the ultimate boys’ favourites mash-up book, there’s LEGO Star Wars Visual Dictionary!






Can you be a princess and a good feminist? Does the big dress and tiara get in the way of getting things real, non-self-preening things done? I think so. Lots of little girls love dressing up as a princess or fairy and you wouldn’t them to stop – but perhaps just gently remind that princesses do stuff too. Indeed one of my favourite pictures of my daughter when she was around 3 years old was of her dressed up as a fairy princess with full tiara and tutu – plus gumboots as she rode purposefully in her toy car.

Modern princesses do stuff and know their own minds – and certainly don’t need rescuing by a prince. In fact, they just might be the ones doing the rescuing. I think that’s the message. And here are three of my favourite picture books that help re-style our and our daughters’ princess perceptions.

  • The Paper Bag Princess – Robert N Munsch and Michael Martchenko
    First published in 1981 and hard to find here but this is a classic re-imagining of how a princess should behave – and how a prince definitely shouldn’t!
  • The Princess and the Packet of Frozen Peas – Scholastic Australia
    The clever words of Tony Wilson and quirky illustrations of Sue de Gennaro have created a wonderful re-telling of the fairytale, The Princess and the Pea. What’s is a real princess? This story will show you.
  • Princess Smartypants -Babette Cole -Puffin
    A classic picture book from the wonderful Babette Cole. Princess Smartypants is a modern girl shunning potential princely suitors and following her heart. She doesn’t want to get married: ‘She enjoyed being a Ms’ but lots of chaps wanted her to be their Mrs. A fun, full-throttle feminist (and I mean that only ever in a good way) princess story. I don’t think she’s a smartypants though, just a princess who knows her mind.

The paper bag princess

The Princess and the Packet of Frozen Peas

Princess Smartypants


books-homesI was thrilled to be asked to be a Books in Homes role model.

Books in Homes Australia ‘provides books-of-choice to families and children living in remote and low-socioeconomic circumstances, ensuring crucial early literacy engagement and the development of reading skills needed for lifelong success.

Their ‘vision is to re-awaken a sense of wonder in children and excitement in parents, by creating an Australia where every child and family has access to books of choice at home.’ And what does that look like? Since 2001 it has distributed more than 1.200,000 new books to more than 110,000 needy children from 300 schools and communities around Australia.

The books are often distributed at Book Giving Assemblies, often attended by story-tellers, illustrators and authors as Role Models and I am excited to be going to a school in a few weeks to be part of their Assembly.

I think many of us take the gift of books and our ability to read them for granted. Books in Homes Australia reminds us that is indeed a gift but not one everyone receives – but they should.

You can find out more on their website and make a donation on the GiveNow website.


Books For Ou rGirl HeroesThere’s a lot of discussion about gender stereotypes in kids’ books at the moment and I think it’s true to say that younger fiction, particularly series fiction, does tend to divide along pink and blue lines. Here, on the whole, boys rush around battling baddies and beasts and generally saving the world while the girls gently stroke puppies and tame unicorns and naughty goblins or sing their way to adolescent celebrity. The boys are preventing the imminent destruction of the world while the girls are dealing with heady issues of lost teeth and mushrooms.

Many publishers, myself included, have contributed to this imbalance, stressing the importance of getting kids reading, to get them loving reading and everything it offers. We need to make books that kids will want to pick up rather than ones they grudgingly drag from their school bag because they have to. We need to have covers that will appeal to them rather than their middle-aged parents but perhaps we need some balance.

As with life, so with reading and one should have a little of everything – a few puppies, the odd prince or princess, a lunchtime friend crisis – and maybe a little adventure and world-saving. And I’m talking about both boys and girls.

There should be books that reflect all their moods and dreams and indeed help form the shape and limits – or lack of limits – of those dreams. Of course I want my daughter to be caring, nurturing and I certainly wouldn’t want her to leave a unicorn stranded but I also want her to be able to kick some butt if she needs to. I don’t want my daughter to want to be brand-touting reality TV celebrity, I don’t even want to her know that it is an option.

I like princesses and unicorns -–they help keep childhood close for a little longer – and Disney princesses are actually all strong women-in-the-making but they have limits. Perhaps tarred by their own tiaras, they are locked in the princess paradigm where rebellion can only go so far. They need alternative role models.

The first step to being able to do anything is to believe you can and to see other people doing it. If you never read of a girl saving the world but constantly read of James, Zac and Alex doing it, you could be excused for thinking that global rescue was one for the boys. But yet it seems that there is something scary about girls taking control and kicking butt.  Too often their assertiveness is portrayed over as bossy or cross and just a little difficult.  Two books I love also have a hint of this: Princess Smartypants might just be Princess Speaks her own Mind; and Olivia the Pig in her excellent opinionated fashion,  might be seen as less as difficult and more strong if she was Oliver.

That’s one of the reasons I wanted to write EJ12 Girl Hero. I wanted an adventure series for girls about girls saving the world and I love the way girls are responding to it. As a young fan ED12 wrote, ‘EJ12 puts the girl in hero. I love her!

And now I want to start a sharing list and a conversation about the great books that are out there showing girls in all their multi-faceted glory. Some from me, some from my daughter, Emma, 13, and I hope, some from others who will add their picks. So let’s make a start and let’s start with the naughty ones because you shouldn’t be good all the time. I don’t like my girls to be perfect – or even polite all the time. Here are some of my favourite misbehavers

  • Pippi Longstocking – The original Swedish book image is for my Swedish husband and it was inspired to put this original can-do girl in the hands of Lauren Child to re-imagine Pippi for a new generation.
  • The Naughtiest Girl in the School – Elizabeth Allen was a personal favourite – she was very naughty and such a ‘hot-head’ but with a heart of gold – and, golly, she did shake the school up. It was almost sad when she became a monitor…
  • Lola and Charlie – I love Lola! I love her defiant determination not to sleep, not to eat vegetables, not to do anything she doesn’t want to. And I love her brother’s cunning in persuading his suspicious sister to do otherwise.

Pippi LongstockingPippi LongstockingPippi Longstocking

The Naughtiest Girl In The SchoolThe Naughtiest Girl In The SchoolThe Naughtiest Girl In The School

Charlie and LolaCharlie and LolaCharlie and Lola

Junior Bookseller+Publisher, 7/9/2009
You Go Girl!

Former Hardie Grant Egmont publisher Susannah McFarlane is back with a new company and two exciting new series.
Junior Bookseller+Publisher, 7/9/2009

Keen watchers of the children’s book world may have noticed a ‘gap’ in the industry in recent times. Susannah McFarlane, founding co-owner and publisher of Hardie Grant Egmont (HGE), has been keeping a low profile since selling her share of that business in mid-2008.

But while she’s been away McFarlane has spotted some gaps of her own, and her return to publishing this year, under the banner of her new business LemonFizz Media will see her attempting to fill those gaps with two exciting new series.

‘Why don’t girls get to save the world? This is the question behind the first of McFarlane’s new series, an adventure series aimed at ‘newly confident readers’ aged eight to ten which features a code-cracking girl hero who must juggle school and friendship challenges with her double life as a secret agent—and challenges such as saving the world!

McFarlane, who ushered the HGE ‘Go Girl!’ series into being, said the new series ‘EJ12: Girl Hero’ was a response to a dearth of adventure books for girls. While there are plenty of fairy books, plenty of horse books and plenty of boy-based adventure books, McFarlane, who has a young daughter, could not find anything in the girl adventure genre – and saw an opportunity.

‘She loves maths and that’s how she gets into the Shine Agency,’ says McFarlane of her girl hero, codenamed EJ12. The spy agency is trying to recruit spy code-crackers and they don’t seem to mind what age they are.’ In the first title Jump Start, which launches in February next year, EJ12, AKA Emma, is having trouble with gymnastics moves at school. Luckily her secret life as a spy and the gymnastics required for the job end up helping her out in her everyday life. McFarlane, who wrote Jump Start and the follow-up Hot and Cold (which also launches in February), said the stories were intended to empower girls in their own daily lives by offering a girl hero they could identify with. In a nice touch, the books in the series feature only women characters, in a similar vein to the movie The Women. This characteristic of the books is not an in-your-face one, says McFarlane – it just turns out that the characters Emma interacts with happen to be female.

Partnering with Scholastic

McFarlane is ‘co-publishing’ the series as part of a partnership with Scholastic. McFarlane describes her role under the deal as ‘packager plus’. Her agreement with the publisher means she is ‘responsible for the branding and marketing’, while Scholastic will print the books and drive retail and educational marketing.

‘If you’re small you’ve got to admit you’re small,’ says McFarlane of her decision to co-publish. ‘I needed a market partner and I am thrilled with Scholastic.’

The agreement is for an initial three series of a minimum of 12 books. Two more EJ12 books will launch in April next year and another two in June. The second series McFarlane will be launching – in March 2010 – is aimed at boys and is similarly a response to what McFarlane sees as a gap in the market.

The publisher behind the successful ‘Zac Power’ series tells Junior that through her visits to schools and work with kids she has realized that, while the boy spy series has captured the imagination of many reluctant boy readers, ‘there are still kids not reading even Zac Power’ and that insight produced the Zac Power Test Drives series. Looking at what other options are out there for boys, McFarlane saw that there was ‘still an opportunity in fantasy’. Series such as ‘Beast Quest’ are great, she says, but there’s still nothing in that realm catering to the boy reader who is really struggling—boys for whom a picture book might be the right fit in terms of reading level but for whom such books seem too childish.

McFarlane’s solution is her new series Boy v Beast, a series she is creating in partnership with leading educational publisher Louise Park. Boy v Beast will build on boys’ ‘visual literacy’ by incorporating gaming style images and concepts with relatively simple text for books that, while only including 35 words to a page, tell a far more complex tale than most picture books provide. ‘But don’t tell the boys any of that,’ says McFarlane. ‘They are just going to think they are great books.’

And such boys are fussy, she says. Recounting her visits to schools, McFarlane tells Junior that in the world of ‘beasts’ boys are expert. She’s conducted wide consultation on the subject of what makes a creature a monster and what makes one an alien (the presence of external bones or fur figure strongly in determining such things). ‘They’ll tell you if you got it wrong!’ she says.

McFarlane is keeping mum on the third series she’ll be producing with Scholastic, but she is willing to tell us about a separate project she’s working on with the publisher, as an author. ‘It’s a multi-title picture book series that should launch in August 2010.’

So, author, publisher, packager, marketer … it’s looking like a full year for McFarlane. But there’s one thing she’s ruling out. Despite the ‘media’ in her new business name, McFarlane will be sticking to books. The name reflects the fact that McFarlane’s series concepts can be built on in many ways and on many platforms in future – but these developments will be though partnerships she insists. ‘I’m not about to be a television producer—at least not yet!’ she says.

Mcfarlane Launches Lemonfizz Media

Bookseller+Publisher, 15/07/2009

Susannah McFarlane, former co-owner and publisher of Hardie Grant Egmont, has announced the launch of her new company LemonFizz Media (LFM).

The business, which McFarlane said would ‘not be a traditional publisher’ will focus on ‘a small number of publishing projects that we are passionate about’.

McFarlane told WBN LFM would be ‘co-publishing’ its first three series as part of a partnership with Scholastic Australia and described her role under the deal as ‘packager plus’.

The agreement with Scholastic means LFM is ‘responsible for the brand and consumer marketing’, while Scholastic will print the books and drive retail and educational marketing. ‘I needed a market partner and I am thrilled with Scholastic,’ she said.

Andrew Berkhut, head of publishing at Scholastic said he was ‘very excited to be working with Susannah, one of the world’s leading children’s book publishers’.

‘Susannah’s arrival is not only great news for Scholastic, but also ensures her special new children’s series in 2010 will provide Australian children with more opportunities to explore and develop a lifelong love of reading,’ he said. ‘We expect Susannah’s wealth of creativity and marketing experience will complement our extensive distribution capabilities.’

The first two LFM series will be launched in early 2010. The first, ‘EJ12: Girl Hero’, is an adventure series for girls aged seven to 10 that features a young girl with a double life as a secret agent as the main character. The second series ‘Boy vs Beast’ is aimed at ‘the very young and reluctant reading boy’. Created in partnership with educational consultant and publisher Louise Park, the latter series will be a ‘Pop and Fizz’ production, said McFarlane, reflecting the LFM name and Park’s Paddlepop Press business.

McFarlane’s new venture follows her departure from Hardie Grant Egmont last year. She said it was ‘good to be back in kids publishing and I look forward to renewing old relationships and making new ones.’

Susannah, Emma and Edvard
Fizz for Kids

Blanche Clark finds out how one mother helped transform the literary landscape for reluctant readers
Herald Sun, 17/7/2010

MOTHER of two and children’s publishing dynamo Susannah McFarlane remembers a sign that summed up the prevalent attitude to children in London, where she lived for seven years. It said, “‘Sorry, no dogs’, then underneath, ‘No children’, with no apology for discriminating against children,” she says. “And all the doors open the wrong the way for prams. It’s as if they are actively discouraging any reproduction.”

The new millennium had dawned and McFarlane was on a career high as managing director of the children’s publishing house Egmont. But for the sake of her children, Emma and Edvard, she returned to her hometown, Melbourne, where she joined forces with Hardie Grant to create its children’s division, Hardie Grant Egmont. The decision was made to add new Australian titles to Egmont’s treasure chest of favourites, such as Thomas the Tank Engine, Winnie the Pooh and Tin Tin.

“The Zac Power series was created because my son wouldn’t read, which is embarrassing when you’re a children’s publisher,” McFarlane says. “Emma, bless her, read from an early age and loves it. Edvard didn’t. He loved being read to, and loved the stories, but he didn’t actually like doing it himself.” Then aged seven, he needed a stepping-stone to the popular Anthony Horowitz books. “It’s a bit like jogging. If you don’t regularly jog, you can’t just run a marathon, and that’s what Horowitz represented to him. And he didn’t like fantasy, so there goes 95 per cent of the books for the age group.”

McFarlane helped formulate the plotlines for the Zac Power books and authors were commissioned to write the stories. “It was about having a fast-paced narrative, basically about getting boys who are reluctant readers to turn the page, finish the book and have that satisfaction, and then get them on to reading books that are more textured.”

The Go Girl series was developed to counter-balance the proliferation of books about princesses, fairies and magic. “There were heaps of sparkly books. I love a bit of sparkle, but girls of that age are really into life,” McFarlane says. “There was nothing that represented their world and all those things that are a big deal when you’re that age – like that awful moment at lunchtime when no one is playing with you and you think no one likes you and your life’s probably going to be over, but it’s completely fine when 10 minutes later you find someone.”

After a change of direction at Hardie Grant Egmont McFarlane left in 2008 and sold her 25 per cent of shares in the children’s publishing company. As part of the deal, she was restricted in her publishing activities for part of last year, but the ideas kept coming. “I thought, ‘Oh well, I’ll have a go at writing myself for fun’,” she says.

McFarlane was intrigued by how girls, even confident girls, put themselves down. “I was doing some voluntary literacy work at school, which I still do, and it’s amazing to watch the range of literacy levels in one class,” she says. “This is generalising a bit, but enough to make the point. Boys could stand up and, even if they were speaking complete rubbish, would be so confident, and some of the girls would be saying interesting stuff and would stand up, and say, ‘Sorry’ or ‘Mine’s not very good’.” She was also sick of girls being the sidekick. “Even Hermoine Grainger, who everyone loves, is still only a sidekick.”

McFarlane started her own business, Lemonfizz Media, and created a series of books starring code-cracking secret agent Emma Jacks, aka EJ12, a pastiche of her favourite TV show Get Smart and the Go Girl and Zac Power series. “The idea was there’d be this issue that she’d want to avoid and she’d get called away on this mission, which would echo the challenge she had in real life, and she’d be able to do the mission, no problem, and when she’d get back to her real life she’d realise she could kick the other problem.”

The books, which are published through Scholastic, are pitched at seven- to 10-year-old girls, with books five and six out last month and books seven and eight due in September. Discerning readers may have noticed that there are no boys in the EJ books. “I don’t think any girl I’ve spoken to has picked it up, but there are not any guys in EJ. The pilot who takes her to her mission and the professor are women. It’s there as a nice revisionism.” But she hasn’t neglected the boys’ market. She has produced, in partnership with educational consultant Louise Park, the Boy vs Beast series as a predecessor to the Zac Power series. “The books are fast-paced and loaded with high energy while maintaining a low word-count and simple sentence structure,” she says.

McFarlane says life is hectic and it’s a challenge to juggle work and her children’s needs. “I knew I was possibly working a bit hard when I sat down to watch MasterChef with the kids and they said, Are you going to watch it?’ and I said ‘yes’, and they said ‘You’re going to sit here and watch the whole thing?’”