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The Tiny Star

The Tiny Star

The Tiny Star

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Tiny Star

Mem Fox

Freya Blackwood

Puffin, 2019

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

9780670078127

Once upon a time, although this happens all the time, a tiny star fell to earth . . . and turned into a baby!  The people who found it loved it immediately…

And as the tiny star grew and flourished others loved it too, and as it grew up to be caring and kind and loving and wise, it was adored in return.  The older it grew the more it was loved even though it was gradually getting smaller and smaller, and even when it was so small it disappeared, the love was immense and palpable. Hearts were broken.  Until one day it appeared again, and at last the hearts began to mend.

Anyone who has ever had the privilege to hear Mem Fox read aloud will hear her voice reading this to you, wrapping itself around you like a snuggly quilt and making you see yourself as that tiny star, or at least hoping that this is your life story too.   Tender, gentle, charming it explores the journey of a life begun and ended in love and accompanied, surprisingly for the first time by Freya Blackwood‘s stunning artistry, it is just perfect for helping little people understand that while we all have a physical beginning and end, we live on in the memories and hearts of those whom we touch along the way. 

As a young teacher I was lucky enough to hear Mem speak a number of times, especially about the importance of the bedtime story and how it “draws the curtains on the day” – a phrase I have repeated often.  The Tiny Star is the perfect book to draw the curtains on a life, to help a young child understand the loss of a loved grandparent or great-grandparent and to look each night to the stars to spot the new one shining down on them.  I wish I’d had it five years ago to help Miss Then-8 and Miss Then-3 to cope with the passing of their beloved Great Gran.

This is one for families to share, to seek comfort and to remember the love and the laughs in a warm story that just embraces you.

For those of you who haven’t heard Mem read aloud, listen here – it will stay with you for a very long time. For those of you who want to know more, fellow TL Sue Warren has a Q&A with Mem here.

The Immortal Jellyfish

The Immortal Jellyfish

The Immortal Jellyfish

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Immortal Jellyfish

Sang Miao

Flying Eye Books, 2019 

40pp., hbk., RRP $A24.99

9781911171799

Grandpa is explaining about the immortal jellyfish to his grandson, a creature that begins its life again when it is about to die.  When the boy asks his grandfather if humans are immortal, he is told that there are other ways humans can live on but sadly the old man dies before he can explain.  While the boy is devastated, one night his grandpa appears in a dream and takes him on a journey to the Life Transfer City where those that have died can choose a new identity.  But before he discovers his grandfather’s choice he is taken back to the real world on the back of a beautiful white bird…. Will he ever recognise his grandfather again?

At first glance, this seems a rather morbid book with its dark palette, but it really is a most beautiful way to help young children deal with the passing of a loved one as sadly, so many have to. Helping them understand that those who die live on in our memories and thoughts, the things we see, do and smell or taste, even when they are no longer physically here is a way that we can help with the grieving process, particularly if there is no religious belief of an afterlife. It offers a way for the bereaved child to think about those memories and what their loved one might choose to be, as well as being able to share those thoughts rather than not talk at all, which is so often the case. Grown-ups often want to protect little ones by not talking, but often that’s just what the child needs to do. 

Sensitive and heart-warming, but not sickly-sentimental, this is something special for one of the most difficult parts of growing up. 

The Runaways

The Runaways

The Runaways

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Runaways

Ulf Stark

Kitty Crowther

Gecko Press, 2019

144pp., pbk., RRP $A18.99

9781776572342

Grandpa is stuck in hospital with a broken leg and a heart that is coming to the end of its working life.  Used to being an engineer on the great ships of the seas,  being confined to a bed is making him cranky and cantankerous and he swears at everyone, continually pushes the alarm buzzes because he is bored and complains about the food.  “Not even the water tastes any good.” Only young Gottfried, his grandson, finds pleasure in visiting him and understands the reason for his moods.

And so he hatches a plan to get Grandad out of there, on one last adventure…

This is a heart-warming family story that captures the frustration of the elderly who know their end is coming and want to be anywhere but in a hospital as well as the ideality of youth whose imaginations are not constrained by the realities of what is safest – they think of ‘what if” and deal with ‘what now ‘ and ‘what next’ if and when it arises. Gottfried’s plan to give his grandfather one last simple pleasure has to be complex and he does worry about whether sometimes it’s OK to lie and the consequences, but his love for Grandpa is stronger than any obstacles.

Written by a renowned Swedish author and set in Stockholm, this is, nevertheless, a universal story, one that many of us with ageing parents and grandparents will relate to. The unusual illustrations done with coloured pencil bring colour into what is otherwise a drab life for Grandpa but Gottfried’s love for him shines through, making it an uplifting story about how both deal with end-of-life issues. Something special.

 

The Gift

The Gift

The Gift

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Gift

Michael Speechley

Puffin Books, 2019

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

9780143788980

Across the road from Rosie’s house is an old dilapidated house with an unloved garden that most people thought was deserted.  But Rosie knew someone lived there, even though she had never actually seen anyone.  Once, she’d seen a shadow in the old attic window and occasionally a hand would  reach through the door and grab the groceries that were delivered and she convinced herself there was an old woman living there, one who might be mean and cranky but could also be just lonely. Like Rosie was lonely sometimes when she missed her mum and the things they did together.  

Rosie decided she would give the old woman a gift – but what? She thought long and hard and her mum’s words echoed in her ears – If you look long and hard enough, you’ll see the beauty in everything. That gave her an idea and she went across the street and finally crept up the wonky steps and placed her gift at the front door.

But why would she leave her neighbour a great big prickly weed. roots and all, and tied with a ribbon? And how will her neighbour receive such a gift?

This is the second book from Michael Speechley, – his first, The All New Must Have Orange 430 was an Honours Books in the 2019 CBCA Picture Book of the Year – and it is as intriguing as his first, with its different and poignant storyline.  Sadly, too many of our students have lost a loved one but this story shows how reaching out with a simple act of kindness to someone else can help us manage, if not heal, our own grief . Illustrated using a colour palette that reflects Rosie’s mood and feelings as the story progresses, and with an ending that doesn’t need words to suggest what is happening,   this is something special that might well join its predecessor in the awards lists for 2020.

 

Saying Goodbye to Barkley

Saying Goodbye to Barkley

Saying Goodbye to Barkley

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Saying Goodbye to Barkley

Devon Sillett

Nicky Johnston

EK Books, 2019

32pp., hbk. RRP $A24.99

9781925335965

Olivia and Barkley are best friends who do everything together, especially catching the bad guys,  With her trusty cape and his sensitive nose, they were two pieces of the same puzzle, but then Barkley got sick and instead of helping Olivia, he just lay in his basket all day. Olivia tried to understand and to go on without him but it just wasn’t the same and when he died she was totally bereft.  Like everyone who suffers any sort of loss of a loved one, the bottom fell out of her world and she was too sad to do anything.  Sleeping didn’t even help because if she dreamed of him, he was gone when she woke up.  And life would never be right again, because every superhero needs a sidekick.

But then, slowly, even though she was still grieving she was able to think about the fun they had together and when she woke up one morning, she had a plan…

Every one of us loses someone who is dear and sadly, that is as true for children as it is for adults.  Devon Sillett, author of both Scaredy Book: It’s not always easy to be brave! and The Leaky Story is gradually building a body of work that shows she is in touch with the thoughts and emotions of our youngest readers and is able to help them recognise, articulate and share those feelings with others.  This is a gentle, tender story of the loss of a loved pet but one which has a happy ending that shows that while the loved one can’t be replaced, there is still life to live and love to give, even if it’s different from what you imagined.

Nicky Johnston’s illustrations are as soft and gentle as the words and add to the poignancy of the whole story and from the front cover to the final endpaper the love that Olivia has to give is on display. In fact the endpapers cleverly preface the story – Barkley hiding under the covers at the front, and Spud pulling them off and the astute adult sharing this story might even prepare the child for its content and theme by wondering aloud why there are two different dogs. Teachers’ notes to assist in exploring and explaining the story are available.

This is an essential addition to both home and school library as it is a sensitive approach to a situation that so many of our little people will face but will not understand without some adult guidance.  

47 Degrees

47 Degrees

47 Degrees

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

47 Degrees

Justin D’Ath

Puffin, 2019

256pp., pbk., RRP $A16.99

9780143789079

Saturday, February 7, 2009 and Victoria wakes to a weather forecast of 47 degrees in Melbourne with strengthening northerly winds, part of the pattern of the previous few days as a heatwave crawls across the state. In the tiny community of Flowerdale,  Zeelie’s dad is enacting the family’s bushfire survival plan to stay and defend their home even though her mum and young brother are in the Emergency Department of a Melbourne hospital because Lachy has fallen off Zeelie’s horse Rimu.

Zeelie’s not sure her dad has made the right decision but even though there is a lot of smoke in the air her dad is convinced that his precautions are just that – precautions, and wherever the fire is, they will be safe. But when Zeelie goes next door to find Atticus, the old dog they are minding for absent neighbours who has wandered home and discovers small fires already started by embers, her fear rises particularly for the welfare of her horse Rimu. And when the generator fails and there is no longer electricity for the water pumps, it is clearly time to leave… but what about Mum and Lachy and Rimu?

Based solidly on his own experiences during those Black Saturday bushfires, Justin D’Ath has woven a tale that could be the story of any one of our students or children who has experienced the very real horror of bushfires.  At a time when adults are frantically busy trying to keep everyone and everything safe, and reassuring their children with what they want them to hear, there is not time to put themselves in their child’s shoes and see the events through their eyes.  When her dad asks her to pack suitcases, Zeelie packs her mum’s wedding dress and evening gowns rather than the more practical things;  she is angry at her mum because she has taken the vehicle with the towbar because she didn’t have enough petrol in hers so Rimu will be left to his own devices … kids focus on the details while the adults are dealing with the big picture and providing an insight into the child’s thinking and fears is what D’Ath has done so skilfully. Because he experienced many of the events that Zeelie does, the story has a unique authenticity and the reader feels the heat, smells the smoke, visualises the flames and empathises with the fear as Zeelie and her dad try all sorts of routes to get to Melbourne, only to be turned back towards the danger because even greater danger lies ahead.  D’Ath deals with the less-than-happy parts sensitively, acknowledging rather than ignoring them, and helping readers deal with the fact that not all things have a sugar-coated happy ending.  

As the 10th anniversary of one of this country’s greatest natural disasters when  173 people died and over 2000 homes were destroyed approaches, this is not only account of the an event that had an impact well beyond those who were caught up in it but also an insight into the what-did-happens and the what-ifs of those who have experienced similar events, providing us with an inkling of the trauma that many of our students might have faced and are still dealing with, critical as the milestone memory will generate a lot of media that could bring a wave of flashbacks and other psychological issues.

However, it is also a story of hope for them because 10 years on Justin is still able to write stories for them despite losing everything himself, and while the immediate future might be bleak, unknown and scary there is clear air coming and because Australians step up in an extraordinary way at these times, they will be OK. 

 

Lenny’s Book of Everything

Lenny's Book of Everything

Lenny’s Book of Everything

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lenny’s Book of Everything

Karen Foxlee

Allen & Unwin, 2018

352pp., pbk., RRP $A19.99

9781760528706

On July 26, 1969, six days after man walked on the moon, Cindy Spink caught the Number 28 bus to the hospital where she gave birth to Davey, a brother for three-year-old Lenny.  Right from the start she had a ‘dark heart feeling -as big as the sky but kept in a thimble” that something wasn’t right and so it proved to be.  For, although he was a normal sized baby, Davey kept growing and growing until by the time he was ready to start school he was already 4″5″ (135cm) tall and had been denied entry to preschool because of his height. 

Lenny loves her brother very much but it’s tough being a sister to someone who is a bit different, no matter how lovable, and when your dad has walked out and your mum has to work two jobs just to keep a roof over your head so your eccentric Hungarian neighbour looks after you for much of the time, life can be confusing and conflicting . 

The bright spot every week is the arrival of the latest issue of the Burrell’s Build-It-at-Home Encyclopedia, which their mum won in a competition. Through the encyclopedia, Lenny and Davey experience the wonders of the world – beetles, birds, quasars, quartz – and dream about a life of freedom and adventure. Davey loves the articles about birds of prey while Lenny becomes fixated on beetles and dreams of being a coleopterist.  Together they dream of a life in a log cabin in Great Bear Lake, away from the away from the noisy city and the busy bus station across the road, their strange neighbours and the creepy Mr King. And when the instalments don’t arrive fast enough and the company keeps trying to tempt them to spend money to get issues faster and with the special volume covers, Mrs Spink takes the time to take on the publishers with the letters becoming a side story that shows her persistence and determination to do the best for her kids, regardless of the challenge. 

But as Davey’s health deteriorates, Lenny realises that some wonders can’t be named, but they can be diagnosed and when Davey’s gigantism is traced to tumours in his pituitary gland, in a time when cancer and its treatment were still referred to as “the C word”, the reader knows that there is probably not going to be a happy outcome. 

This is both a heart-warming and heart-wrenching book for older, independent readers, one they can relate to because Lenny’s life is so ordinary and like theirs, yet one that will engender compassion as she struggles to come to terms with what is happening to Davey, not wanting to burden her mother who is “made almost entirely of worries and magic” and who does not realise just how desperately she is missing her dad until she thinks she has found his family. For those who have siblings with significant health issues it may even be cathartic as they realise that the feelings of resentment, even shame, that they sometimes have are natural, common and understandable and they are not evil or undeserving for having them. 

Lenny’s Book of Everything doesn’t just refer to the encyclopedia that opens up the world for her and Davey; it refers to all her thoughts and emotions, reactions and responses of a childhood spent with a sick sibling in a sole-parent family in a poorer neighbourhood of a moon-rock drab town with very little money for everyday things let alone treats. It is raw in places but eminently understandable.  

Written when the author herself was going through a time of momentous grief . it is beautifully written, a compelling read and one that adults will also appreciate. It is a story of joy and heartbreak, humour and honesty, but mostly it’s just about the immense, immeasurable love among families.

 

 

 

 

The Forever Kid

The Forever Kid

The Forever Kid

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Forever Kid

Elizabeth Mary Cummings

Cheri Hughes

Big Sky, 2018 

32pp., pbk., RRP $A14.99

9781925675382

Today is Johnny’s birthday. And as in many families, the birthday kid gets to choose the food, the games and the way they want to celebrate.  And Johnny’s family is no different.  Cloud stories are definitely on the list of must-do – lying on your back and looking for pictures in the clouds and making up stories about what you see. 

But this birthday is different to the others that have gone before. For this year, Johnny is no longer there.  He’s the Forever Kid – one who was part of the family but who has passed away leaving just memories.  And on the is special day, each family member remembers Johnny in their own special way as they celebrate and feel closer to him.  But they all gather together to look for and make cloud stories. 

Much as it saddens us as adults to think that the children we know are touched by death and grief, nevertheless it is a fact of life for many.  Illness and accidents take their toll and often the adults are so busy dealing with adult-things that the toll of the child is overlooked.  Kids are seen as resilient, as ‘not really understanding’, as bounce-back-and-move-on beings.  But anyone who has been with a child who has had to face such a harsh reality will know that the pain runs deep and the bewilderment is confusing so to have such a gentle book that focuses on the child left behind, their feelings, even their guilt, is a salutary reminder that as adults, we need to take care of their emotions too.  

Four years ago, Miss Then 8 lost her precious great-grandmother, my mother, and as we grieved and made funeral arrangements and all that grown-up stuff, it would have been easy to overlook her distress.  I asked her if she would like to say something at the memorial service and she said yes.  My heart broke when this little one, who was such a chip off her great-gran’s block, stood up and just said, “I love you Great Gran.” That’s when the tears began to flow, and we knew that she knew what she had lost but she would never forget her even though she was so young. So this year, when her other grandmother died and the wake was to be at a local restaurant, it was no surprise that Miss Now 12 did not want to go because that’s where she had had so many good times with her Great Gran and “didn’t want them spoiled by sadness”.  Just as Johnny is the Forever Kid, so we have a Forever Great Gran.

This gentle book, with its soft, sympathetic illustrations, is a reminder to us all that we need to acknowledge our children’s feelings and their grief, and allow them the opportunity to remember and celebrate and know that it is perfectly okay to do so. Take the time to lie on the grass with your child, make up cloud stories and let them remember and reminisce.  It will help you both. 

A Different Boy

A Different Boy

A Different Boy

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Different Boy

Paul Jennings

Geoff Kelly

A & U Children’s, 2018

112pp., pbk., RRP $A14.99

9781760523503

Anton is lost, lonely, hungry and bewildered as he is led into Wolfdog Hall, a home for boys without parents. He is handed his tag – O. Muller – and told the O is for “Orphan” although he will most likely end up as a C – ‘custody’ or ‘criminal’, the tag for those who try to abscond.  As gloomy and as dismal as his future, which was to have been on the great ocean liner he can see sailing to  “a warm, sunburnt country -a land of sweeping plains and rugged mountains which ran down to golden beaches surrounded by a jewel sea,” Anton soon finds himself between a rock and a hard place.  He is either going to be strapped by a brutal teacher for drawing a rude picture of him or be beaten up by the boy who did draw it for dobbing on him.  But then he recalls his dead’s fathers words – ‘If you’ve got a bad deal, get out of it and move on.” – and so he walks out of the orphanage altogether.

His steps lead him to that ocean liner but how is he to get aboard with no boarding pass, no family, no money and no luggage?  Is he doomed to be returned to the orphanage and fulfil the officer’s prophecy?

Confronted on the first page by just two paragraphs of text surrounded by razor wire, it is obvious that this is not going to be one of Paul Jennings’ more light-hearted stories. And indeed, it isn’t.  Despite its initial appearance as a stepping stone for newly-independent readers, this one has a lot of twists and turns that need a more mature mind to get the most from it.  Although Australia is clearly identified as the “New Land”, Anton’s origins are not defined beyond being a country that has recently been devastated by war, which may resonate with some readers, and the events on board the ship are complex, especially the final resolution.  

As an adult reader, this is Jennings at his best but don’t be misled thinking that this is one for younger readers.  That said, it is unique, different and utterly absorbing for those who are ready for it.

Help Around the House

Help Around the House

Help Around the House

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Help Around the House

Morris Gleitzman

Puffin, 2018

198pp., pbk., RRP $A16.99

9780143793236

Eleven-year-old Ludo is on his way to live in Canberra because his father has just been elected as the new Independent federal representative for Culliton, but beginning with being seated in business class he is overwhelmed by the luxury and ostentation that come as part of a federal Member’s salary and entitlements.

A boy who lives (almost) strictly according to Scout Law and his deceased mother’s mandate of helping others, Ludo vows to turn things around and get the politicians to understand and act on how much their generous remuneration would help others who are not so fortunate, particularly the homeless.  But it is not as easy as it seems and while his father is off on a fundraising trip, Ludo, with his new Scout friend Henry, soon finds himself embroiled in the seedier, selfish side of Canberra’s political life, hampered by Mike, his father’s aide who can see no further than votes, the next election and power, but helped by Mrs B, the housekeeper who knows more than a regular housekeeper might. Ludo is determined to ensure that fairness and justice prevail, even though that finds him out late at night, bending some of the rules instilled in him by his mother with whom he has regular ‘conversations’ and who Gleitzman says is modelled on his own mother who died while he was writing the book.  She is certainly a strong guiding presence for Ludo in a place where moral principles seem to have departed, and while the ideals learned from her may get shaken at times, nevertheless, Ludo’s core beliefs about who he is and what he should do are unshaken.

This is the latest release from the current Australian Children’s Laureate (his next is the finale to the Once series) and like all his books since his first, The Other Facts of Life written in 1987, this is a cracker.  Over 30 years of writing for children. children whose  own children will be getting ready to share his work with their children, and Gleitzman still has the rare gift of combining credible, likeable characters in almost-plausible situations with a message softened with humour.  Ludo who sees life through the idealistic eyes of a typical 11-year-old who has been brought up in kindness and selflessness and who has absorbed the tenets of Scout Law into his psyche learns some tough lessons about the reality of life, particularly how personal perceptions shape responses, while his father also has to reassess his future as the truth about political life becomes apparent.  Given the recent events in federal parliament, this is particularly relevant as questions are asked about who among our young people would want to become a politician.

Having spent 30 years living in Canberra, this book has a personal connection and even though some of the places are fictitious,  many of the events in the story are not and Gleitzman’s exposure of the behind-the-scenes machinations and motivations was unsurprising to this somewhat-jaded senior citizen.  But to the young reader, perhaps meeting Gleitzman for the first time,  it may be disappointing that adults are so self-centred but the ending is uplifting and will reaffirm their belief in the basic goodness and good intentions of most adults.  A page-turner!