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Molly & Mae

Molly & Mae

Molly & Mae

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Molly & Mae

Danny Parker

Freya Blackwood

Hardie Grant Egmont, 2016

32pp. hbk., RRP $A24.99

9781742975276

 

A railway station in rural Anywhere, Australia and Molly and Mae are looking forward to their journey to the city.  On the platform there is fun to be had like hide and seek to play as they and the other passengers wait for the train to arrive and their friendship is full of laughter and giggles as the excitement builds.  Even being stuck in the bubblegum doesn’t dampen their delight.  And even as the waiting goes on and on, there is fun to be had as they enjoy each other’s company.  When at last the train comes the fun continues as they colour in, dress up their dolls, experience the dining car, and even do crazy stuff like hanging upside down from the seats!  

But slowly as the trip seems interminable cracks start to appear as boredom sets in.  Molly thinks Mae is silly and tells her so and Mae doesn’t like it and before long the girls are not speaking to each other, turning away and spending their time peering through the window at the wet, smeary countryside.  The whole world looks murky, echoing their feelings.  Will they resolve their spat or is this the end of something special?

This is a story about so much more than a long train journey as it mirrors real-life friendships – the excitement of new shared interests, the pleasure in just being together and doing everyday stuff and the anticipation of adventures to come.  But there are also times when it is boring, when difficulties happen and there is a choice of building bridges and continuing on the main track or branching off onto another one.

This is a true marriage of text and graphics.  Blackwood’s soft palette and somewhat retro feel and clever headings of platform, timetable, journey, signal failure, destination that replicate both the stages of the journey and the development of the friendship express Parker’s concept and text perfectly and the reader is drawn deeper and deeper into the story from the early morning endpaper  through the title page to the explosion of the big city station and as night falls over the city.  Blackwood has explained her thought processes and choices here showing just how much goes into such a project.

If teachers were ever looking for a book to explain metaphor, this is it!

Would not be surprised to see this among the CBCA shortlisted titles in 2017.

 

 

Star Wars: The Original Trilogy: A Graphic Novel

Star Wars

Star Wars

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Star Wars: The Original Trilogy: A Graphic Novel

Hardie Grant Egmont, 2016

208pp., hbk., RRP $A24.99

9781760128180

A long time ago in a galaxy far far away – well it was actually 1977 and the world was very different then – George Lucas released the first of his Star Wars movies and such was its impact that almost 40 years on those who saw it then are still fans and every day it gathers a new cohort, young and not-so-young.  Such was the success of the original, plans for more were made and in 1980 it was followed by The Empire Strikes Back and in 1983, The Return of the Jedi.

Since then there have been prequels and sequels and a massive merchandising franchise that it holds the Guinness World Records title for the “most successful film merchandising franchise. With the 40th anniversary clearly in sight this is only going to grow and so the release of a graphic novel -the preferred book format of so many- is sure to build a whole new legion of fans.  

Containing the three original films, now dubbed Episodes IV, V and VI this release will appeal to those who are already devotees (so many of my family and friends have asked for the review copies) as well as gather new ones.  For those in school libraries it will add another dimension to your Star Wars collections of both fiction and fact which never seem to stay on the shelf and always have a long reserve list, in my experience. Now the core of the phenomenon is accessible to even the most reluctant reader or new English speaker in print format and that alone, makes it a must-have.

And a certain Christmas stocking is sorted for me!

Barney and the Secret of the Whales

Barney and the Secret of the Whales

Barney and the Secret of the Whales

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Barney and the Secret of the Whales

Jackie French

Mark Wilson

HarperCollins, 2016

144pp., pbk., RRP $A12.99

9780732299446

 

It is Sydney in 1791 and Barney and Elsie have settled into their lives with the Reverend and Mrs Johnson as the fledgling colony tries to establish itself.  The Third Fleet has arrived and Captain Melvill is a guest at dinner.  Little does Barney know that this will change his life for Melvill is in command of the Britannia, a whaling ship and intent on sailing into southern waters to plunder its riches now their human cargo has been safely delivered.

With a promise of earning enough money to buy stock for land he hopes to be awarded in time, particularly after the Johnsons have made it clear they will return to England, Barney is enticed to join Melville’s crew for the journey south.  But the dream is shattered almost the minute he steps on deck and he is dismayed to discover that this is not a one-off experience – he is indentured for three years!  Assigned to being up the mast as the lookout, Barney soon spots whales and he and the reader are plunged into the gruesome details of the hunt, the capture and the destruction of a magnificent creature.  Because he is the one who gave the alert of its presence, Barney holds himself responsible for its death and wonders if he can really do this for another three years.  

The second in the Secret Histories series and sequel to Birrung, the Secret Friend, this is another engrossing and engaging read from master historical storyteller, Jackie French.  In the notes at the back she makes it clear that distasteful as they may be to the modern reader, whaling and sealing were the two industries which sustained our nation in those early years and enabled it to diversify so that other products like wool could take over.  

Written for readers the same age as Barney, it traces Barney’s story through his own voice and his discovery of himself – a landlubber rather than a seaman – with a clarity that many of his age would not have today. At its most basic level  there is scope for comparing the life of a child of Barney’s era and circumstance to one of a 12 year old in Australia in the 21st century and even to track the events that have occurred to bring about the changes.    What do today’s children think those of the 23rd century might think about their lives?

French has not glossed over the details of the fate of the whale but viewed through Barney’s perspective which is sympathetic to the whale’s ordeal, it is perhaps a more gentle account than the reality and may well raise issues about how humans treat animals and why they do or did.  There is an excellent opportunity to compare and contrast the perception and treatment of whales in the 18th and 19th centuries and their consequences  to the current situation where they are revered. 

As usual, Jackie French has crafted a tale that is a perfect standalone read as well as being an opportunity to dig deeper, behind and beyond the words.  Teaching notes are available.

Gwendolyn

Gwendolyn

Gwendolyn

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Gwendolyn

Juliette MacIver

Terri Rose Baynton

ABC Books, 2016

32pp., hbk., RRP $A24.99

9780733335174

In a jungle full of jaguars, monkeys and parrots the last thing you expect to find is a penguin.  But there she is – Gwendolyn, the only penguin in the entire jungle, and she loves it all – the humidity, the glorious. colourful flowers and all the jungle creatures. .  She is such a novelty that she is friends with all the creatures and her positive personality always shines through.  When Jaguar complains that it is too hot, she tells him of the ice and snow in Antarctica; when Monkey complains that the bananas are too squishy she tells him there are no trees in Antarctica let alone banana trees; and when Parrot complains that he cannot find a wife despite his magnificent colours she tells him of the black and white colour scheme of Antarctica.  

Even though all this wise advice makes her friends feel good, it starts to make Gwendolyn yearn for her natural home, a place she has never been to.  And so off she goes on a long, arduous journey eventually arriving exhausted but happy to be there and to meet other penguins and to find her own identity.  There is much fun to be had sliding and diving but…

This is a clever story that explores the concepts of being different, being positive and making the most of things written in a context that will appeal to young readers – although their adult helpers might have to be quick off the mark when the child inevitably asks, “How did she get to be in the jungle? ”  Her constant encouragement to have her friends look on the bright side  could become a refrain for the children when things get a bit tough for them as they ask themselves, “What would Gwendolyn do?” and having sought a solution, move on.  Building the foundations of resilience.

Baynton’s illustrations are clear and detailed and there is much to discover in them as the book is shared while her portrayal of Gwendolyn is endearing.  Young children might like to follow these instructions  to draw Gwendolyn and then use collage or other techniques to place her in either her jungle home or her Antarctic one.  

Wormwood Mire

Wormwood Mire

Wormwood Mire

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wormwood Mire: A Stella Montgomery Intrigue

Judith Rossell

ABC Books, 2016

288pp., hbk., RRP $A22.99

9780733333019

 

Stella Montgomery is in disgrace.  After being missing for two nights and returning covered in mud and dressed as a boy after the adventures described in Withering-By-Sea her aunts Deliverance, Temperance and Condolence have packed her off to join her cousins Strideforth and Hortense and their governess at the family home of Wormwood Mire.  Now she is alone on a long, lonely train journey rattling along towards an unknown, ancient stately home once owned by Wilberforce Montgomery, the epitome of the eccentric Englishman of the late Victorian era who travelled the world collecting all sorts of plant and animal specimens and filling his home and its grounds with them, dead and alive.

With just A Garden of Lilies, Improving Titles for Young Minds, a book of doom and gloom and depressing moralistic statements for company, nevertheless Stella is not daunted because surely nothing could be worse than the weeks of icy weather, cold porridge, endless boring lessons, and her aunts’ disdain and distaste that she has just endured. Even though she imagines Strideforth, Hortense and a strict governess to be just waiting for her to make a mistake, Stella has with her a stolen photo of a mother pushing a pram with two toddlers in it and the inscription “P, S & L’ on the back.  She is sure that P is for Patience, her mother, and S is for herself, and imagines L to be for an unknown sister named Letty.  So despite everything, she is somehow looking forward to this trip because she is hoping to discover who (or what) she is. Even though strange things begin to happen immediately when she ventures into the mysterious Spindleweed Sweetshop hoping to get something for her empty tummy while she waits to be taken to Wormwood Mire, she draws on Letty for strength and courage and ventures forth with determination.

Judith Rossell is a master of  building intrigue, mystery and suspense through her compelling descriptive writing that takes the reader right into the setting of an ancient, deserted English pile with multitudes of empty, dusty rooms, clanking pipes, secret tunnels and overgrown gardens where who knows what dwells.  Luckily for Stella Strideforth, Hortense and the governess Miss Araminter are friendly and as curious as she is but Jem and his reclusive grandparents with their warnings of dire, mysterious happenings in the past and their reaction to Stella make for another gripping episode that keeps the reader enthralled. Pet mollymawks and ermines, peacocks that split the night with their raucous shriek, a giant fish with razor teeth that seems to frighten creatures to stone and a tower-top study full of a secret collection of dangerous creatures and plants suck you in like a monster Venus flytrap and the outside world ceases to exist.

Like Withering-By-Sea, this one is printed in that dark green favoured by the Victorians and the monochromatic illustrations in the same tones all add to the atmosphere that suggests that more timid readers might like to read this in daylight.  

Withering-By-Sea won a host of awards –Winner, Indie Award, Children’s and YA, 2015; Winner, ABIA Book of the Year for Older Children, 2015; Winner, Davitt Award, Best Children’s Crime Novel, 2015; Honour Book, CBCA Book of the Year, Younger Readers, 2015; Shortlisted, Aurealis Awards, Children’s Book, 2014;; Shortlisted, Prime Minister’s Literary Awards, 2015 and I predict this one will be just as successful and popular.  

But if you will excuse me, I need to read just one more chapter!

BTW – HarperCollins are hosting a virtual excursion called Cautionary Tales with Judith Rossell on Tuesday October 18 11.30-12.15 AEDT  for students in Years 4-6.  

Usborne Illustrated Originals

The Railway Children

The Railway Children

Kidnapped

Kidnapped

The Odyssey

The Odyssey

Anne of Green Gables

Anne of Green Gables

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Railway Children

E. Nesbit

Ji-Hyuk KIm

Usborne Illustrated Originals, 2016

384pp., hbk., RRP $A24.99

9781474915984

 

Kidnapped

Robert Louis Stevenson

Fran Parreno

Usborne Illustrated Originals, 2016

448pp., hbk., RRP $A24.99

9781409581970

 

The Odyssey

Retold by Anna Melbourne

Sebastiaan Van Donnick

Usborne Illustrated Originals, 2016

255pp., hbk., RRP $A24.99

9781409598930

 

Anne of Green Gables

L. M. Montgomery

Usborne Illustrated Originals, 2016

504pp., hbk., RRP $A24.99

9781409598671

Every time someone produces a list of “Books Children MUST Read” or “The Top 100 Books EVER” or something similar, there are certain titles that are always included – titles like The Railway Children, Kidnapped, Anne of Green Gables and The Odyssey and a host of others that have been written over the past century or so and the quality of the story has earned them the tag of ‘classic’.  While it is hard to pin down exactly what it is that makes a story “a good read” let alone a classic, generally it is agreed that it is a story that has a plot that focuses on a universal truth that is understood by readers from various backgrounds, social levels and abilities and has stood the test of time and is considered representative of both life and literature of the time.

However, as our children are surrounded by graphics and demand these as an integral part of their reading, some of the text-dense releases of the past hold little appeal for them and so many miss out on being acquainted with stories that they might enjoy.  Usborne is addressing this with their new releases of the stories under their Usborne Illustrated Classics banner with complete and unabridged reprints of the originals but that are illustrated in full colour and packaged with attractive covers.  Endpapers help situate the story as their landscape is very different to that which is now familiar and  some have glossaries of unusual words or phrases and information about the author, the setting or the timeframe.  By searching for the title on Usborne’s Quicklinks site readers can find links to websites that tell them more about the story itself or its author.

While competent, independent readers will read the stories for themselves, these new editions are perfect for a teacher to serialise in the classroom or a parent reading to a child at bedtime. (Kidnapped first appeared as a serial in the magazine Young Folks, so it would a perfect starting point to introduce Stevenson’s works.) A wonderful way to introduce a new generation to titles from the past that they should read. 

 

The Cow Tripped over the Moon

The Cow Tripped over the Moon

The Cow Tripped over the Moon

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Cow Tripped over the Moon

Tony Wilson

Laura Wood

Scholastic Press, 2015

32pp., hbk., RRP $24.99

9781743623534

 

Hey diddle diddle

You all know the riddle

A cow jumps over the moon.

It happened, all right,

On a crisp, cloudless night

On the second-last Friday in June.

But it didn’t happen on the first attempt, or the second or even the third.

As the cow, the cat, the fiddle, the dog, the dish and the spoon sit on the barn roof and watch the moan soar gracefully overhead they decide to make the traditional rhyme come true.

But what they don’t say in the songs from that day

Is the cow didn’t jump it first time.

It seems a moon clearance takes great perseverance…

And that is the underlying theme of this superb story from Tony Wilson and perfectly illustrated by Laura Wood.

The cow’s first attempt was at 9.17 pm when with little preparation or assistance, the cow made her first leap and fell flat on her face! “She never did make it to space”.  She’d tripped over the little dog Rover! But she was not to be deterred.  Using all sorts of techniques including pole-vaulting and a trampoline, she tried and tried again with the help of her friends who were as determined as she was that she would succeed.  Even taking a wrong turn and feeling the burn of the sun just made her more determined. Until on her seventh attempt just as day was dawning and the moon was disappearing…

It is no wonder that this was an Honour Book in the Early Childhood category of the CBCA Children’s Book of the Year Awards.  As a standalone story about perseverance, resilience and friendship it is a masterpiece for offering children the hope and encouragement to keep trying and trying until they get all these new things they have to learn and achieve sorted – that growth mindset and determination to succeed that is becoming such a part of the focus on their emotional being these days.  By using a familiar rhyme that the age group will relate to rather than an anonymous character for whom there is no connection and its familiar rhythm Wilson has engaged them straight away and right from the get-go they are willing the cow to succeed.  They will even offer suggestions about how the friends can support the cow or what they would do to help, helping them to put themselves in the shoes of others and build empathy, respect and a feeling of responsibility to help – more of that consideration for others and positivity for their endeavours essential for mental wellbeing.

But the real story behind the story is its dedication to the author’s son Jack who suffers from cerebral palsy, the most common physical disability affecting childhood.

“Cerebral palsy (CP) is an umbrella term that refers to a group of disorders affecting a person’s ability to move. It is a permanent life-long condition, but generally does not worsen over time. It is due to damage to the developing brain either during pregnancy or shortly after birth. Cerebral palsy affects people in different ways and can affect body movement, muscle control, muscle coordination, muscle tone, reflex, posture and balance.”  Steptember, 2016

Every 15 hours an Australian child is born with cerebral palsy – that’s one in every 500 births.  Tony Wilson’s child Jack is one of those ones and on his blog he talks about Jack’s daily struggle to do something as seemingly simple and everyday as putting a piece of pasta in his mouth.  It’s about his goal of being able to walk 100 steps in a day over three sessions while nearly 70 000 people (including me, my son and my granddaughter) are endeavouring to do 10 000 steps a day to raise funds to help with treatment and equipment.

But it’s also about children like Ollie a little boy I met at the school I was teaching at last year; it’s about Jayden whom I taught years ago and who is now representing Australia at the Paralympics in Rio; and it’s about all the other 34 000 Australians living with the condition and the 17 000 000 worldwide. And with no known cure that’s a lot of people for whom living the normal life we take for granted is about as possible as the cow jumping over the moon.

There are many teaching resources to support The Cow Jumped Over the Moon available via an Internet search but if you want to learn more go to the Cerebral Palsy Alliance and if you want to help, donate to Steptember.  Our team is called The Waddlers but any donation to the cause is welcome.

Tony Wilson and Laura Wood – it’s an honour to review this book.  I hope it spreads the message about all the Jacks there are and builds awareness and raises funds.

 

Grandpa’s Big Adventure

Grandpa's Big Adventure

Grandpa’s Big Adventure

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Grandpa’s Big Adventure

Paul Newman

Tom Jellett

Penguin Viking, 2016

32pp., hbk., RRP $A19.99

9780670078172

“I’m afraid of the water . . . but Grandpa loves it, and he’s teaching me to swim”

And to help him overcome his fears, Grandpa tells him all about his biggest adventure -the time he swam around the world.  Covered in grease which drove Grandma crazy, holding a big plastic bag to keep things dry and taking sweets to eat and tea to drink, Grandpa swam all day long but rested at night because that’s when you bump into things.  Dealing with sharks, dining with the Prince of Wales and trying to beat the fish to the answers to the quiz shows on television, Grandpa had all sorts of tales to tell as they go up and down the pool, getting better and better without really knowing it. Distraction is a very effective way to overcome fear!

This is a wonderful story that is such a great example of the tall tales that grandpas are allowed to tell their grandchildren without being discredited.  Tom Jellett’s illustrations turn the text into a truly believable adventure and highlight the clever word play which adds humour and fun to this extraordinary feat.  

Little ones will enjoy it and will be asking their grandpas what they did when they were young.  It would be a tall tale indeed to beat this one – unless it was about going to the moon.

Clever Trevor’s Stupendous Inventions

Clever Trevor's Stupendous Inventions

Clever Trevor’s Stupendous Inventions

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Clever Trevor’s Stupendous Inventions

Andrew Weldon

Puffin, 2016

100pp., pbk., RRP $A9.99

9780143309154

Clever Trevor’s name is not really Trevor.  It’s Stuart.  But nothing rhymes with “Stuart” and because he is so clever – he invented and built the Rabbit Brain Booster out of his dad’s old computer and a car battery – his friends have renamed him Trevor.  

But for all his cleverness Trevor was still failing at school, especially this year with Mr Schmedric.  Nothing Trevor submitted for his assignments met Mr Schmedric’s expectations – but then Mr Schmedric was one of those teachers who thought there was only one way to do anything.  He won’t accept Trevor’s inventions as acceptable solutions for assignments and bullies him mercilessly. He is the epitome of a nightmare teacher – and thankfully one that no student will ever meet.  

So you can imagine Trevor’s shock when he discovers that Mr Schmedric is not only confiscating his projects but he was selling them… and making a lot of money, which he makes sure Trevor knows about.  So Trevor and his friends hatch a plot to get their own back, but Mr Schmedric is smarter than they give him credit for.  When he threatens to make Stuart repeat his class next year, they have to come up with a new plan…

This is another very funny book-length cartoon from the talented Andrew Weldon.  We first met Clever Trevor as a friend of Steven, The Kid with the Amazing Head,  and now he comes into his own.  It is an engaging tale which brings up all sorts of issues about the ethical use of information and ideas as well as the concept of power.  Can authority be misused?  Is it possible for the underdog to win? Can brains overcome brawn?

Younger readers, particularly the boys and those who are reluctant readers, will enjoy this story in its very accessible format and will be eagerly awaiting a new adventure from this talented creator. And in the meantime they can use the makerspace to create their own great invention!

The Kid with the Amazing Head

The Kid with the Amazing Head

The Kid with the Amazing Head

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Kid with the Amazing Head

Andrew Weldon

Puffin, 2016

100 pp.,pbk., RRP $A9.99

9780143309161

Steven wakes up one morning to find that he can make his head do anything he wants.  He can look like other people,  He can shove a piano up his nose. He could have a hundred eyes or look like other people.  He could even turn his ears into sails to make travel faster!  

But will he use this unique ability for good or for evil?  Will be and his friends Clever Trevor and  Small Paul catch bank robbers or be bank robbers?  

Mostly, Steven uses his power to amuse and amaze but one day the friends see a Missing Persons poster for Claire Blairey, daughter of Mary Blairey who was the inventor of the very popular Hairy Mary’s Scary Fairies and that give the three boys an idea…

Andrew Weldon is a cartoonists whose work has been in many well-known newspapers and is now carried over into this new book that is going to appeal to newly-independent readers who like stories about weird and wacky characters that are an integral mix of text and illustration.  If the concept alone isn’t funny enough there is a lot more humour embedded in the cartoons as the story unfolds and this encourages the reader to pay close attention to both.

I think this will be one of those books that takes off with the Year 1-4 boys and will be in hot demand (along with Clever Trevor’s Stupendous Inventions).

There is an interview with the creator about his cartooning career on ABC Rollercoaster which may be inspirational and aspirational for those who are constantly doodling.