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In the Mouth of the Wolf

In the Mouth of the Wolf

In the Mouth of the Wolf

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In the Mouth of the Wolf

Michael Morpurgo

Barroux

Egmont, 2018

160pp., hbk, RRP $29.99

9781405285261

In the village of Le Pouget, in the Languedoc region of south west France, Francis Cammaerts is resting after the celebrations for his 90th birthday come to a close.  As dusk turns to dark and the church bell strikes midnight, he thinks of those who have been a part of his journey to this ripe old age – those who raised him, supported him and had so much to do with the man he became.  And from those reminiscences comes a story of determination, danger, courage and heroism that would have gone untold if not for Morpurgo’s pen and Barroux’s brush.

One of two sons born during the Great War, Francis grows up to be a teacher while his brother Pieter is a burgeoning actor,  But when World War II breaks out, the brothers take very different paths. Frances believes war is futile and barbaric, that people should not descend to the level of the fascists and that only education and pacifism are the “way forward for humanity”. Pieter, however, believes that pacifism will not stop Hitler, that the cruelty of fascism had to be confronted and so he becomes a Sergeant Navigator in the RAF.  While he eventually goes to join a bomber squadron in Cornwall, Francis goes to Lincolnshire to work on a farm having justified his beliefs to a tribunal.  

But when Pieter is killed returning from an air raid over France and a bomb dropped by a German plane kills the family on the next farm including including baby Bessie, Francis begins to rethink his decision, particularly as he now has a wife and the birth of his own child is imminent.  He talks to Harry, his mentor from his teaching days – a conversation that changes his life forever as it leads him into the silent world of the secret agent working with the Resistance in France…

As with Flamingo BoyMorpurgo shines a light on the real story of war and its impact on ordinary people by taking an unusual perspective and telling the story through that.  This is not a tale of derring-do embellished with action scenes and special effects -although it could be that in the hands of another – but a quiet tale of remembrance and reflection, of the impact of the legacy of others on a particular life, when that life itself has left its own legacy.  Morpurgo has said, ” This book may read like fiction. But it is not. That is because it does not need to be.” It is the story of his own uncles.

Generously illustrated using family photographs which are included at the back of the book as well as biographical details of those who had such a profound impact within the story, Morpurgo has produced a story that not only tells yet another untold story of the war but one which has shaped his life too.  

One for independent readers  wanting something different, compelling and utterly readable. 

Collecting Sunshine

Collecting Sunshine

Collecting Sunshine

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Collecting Sunshine

Rachel Flynn

Tamsin Ainslie

Puffin Books, 2018

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

9780143785187

Mabel and Robert are enjoying walking in the park, collecting things in their paper bag.  Leaves, stones, seedpods, berries, flowers and sticks – they all go into the bag.  But disaster strikes when it begins to rain and Robert decides to collect the raindrops.  The bag disintegrates and their collection falls on the ground!  Mabel is despondent but Robert soon cheers her up – he has another way to collect things.

The is a charming book for early childhood readers that turns an ordinary walk into an adventure and will inspire them to do the same. Before the rain, Mabel and Robert just collected things they could pick up and put in their bag, but without the bag they have to use their senses and really start to experience the beauty of the park so this could be the beginning of a sensory walk through the playground.  But first they can use their sense of sight to spot the budgie and the mouse hidden in each illustration, helping them to hone in on the detail in the illustrations – an essential early reading skill!

As cheery as its title.

An activity pack is available.  

 

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.

At the End of Holyrood Lane

At the End of Holyrood Lane

At the End of Holyrood Lane

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

At the End of Holyrood Lane

Dimity Powell

Nicky Johnston

EK Books, 2018

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

9781925335767

Flick lives at the end of Holyrood Lane in a little house beneath the beech woods, spending most of her days in the sunshine dancing with the butterflies and playing with her unicorn toy and long, rainbow ribbon.  But sometimes a storm hits – storms so violent and loud and scary that she has to hide because even her rainbow ribbon and her unicorn cannot give her comfort.  She is very good at hiding but the storms make her feel very small and they are so loud her ears hurt and her heart throbs.  

One day, the storm is so fearsome and lasts so long that there is nowhere for Flick to hide and so she flees.  But it follows her, almost swallowing her in its fury, until “sodden and shaken” she stops, gathers all her courage and asks for help.  She is gathered into the arms of someone with a large umbrella under which she shelters, and even though the storm continues to rumble and grumble for a while, finally it leaves.  Finally the sun comes out.  

Flick is still scared of storms and flinches if the rumbling starts, but while it might rain a bit the storms have gone for good.  

While a fear of thunderstorms is common for many children, and even telling them it’s just the clouds bashing together doesn’t soothe, in this case the thunderstorm is a clever metaphor for what is happening in the house under the beech trees.  Dimity Powell and Nicky Johnson, the couple behind the poignant story of The Fix-It Man, have teamed up again to bring us a book that uses the analogy of weather to explore the issue of domestic violence and its impact on the children in the family who are so often invisible as the storm’s fury strikes, often without warning. Sadly, this is an all-too common happening in the lives of those in our care but so rarely touched on in children’s literature, particularly picture books for the young.  While we often hear the phrase that school is a “safe haven” for many children, there is much that goes on beyond school hours that we are not privy to, and unless a situation directly impacts a child in the class such as being removed into foster care, we really do not know the extent of the problem or the damage it causes. 

Sharing At the End of Holyrood Lane as a class story may offer an opportunity to allow children to discuss those things they are scared of, their own personal “storms” and perhaps Flick’s courage in asking for help  might inspire another little one to disclose something that will bring them respite too.  Children need to know they are not alone and it’s OK to ask for help – that there is hope for the sun to shine again and there will be a chance to dance with the butterflies.  

With its soft, supportive illustrations that encapsulate and extend the sensitive, subtle text superbly, and endorsed by a number of agencies concerned about the children caught in the middle of domestic violence such as Act for Kids, RizeUp, Paradise Kids , and Think Equal, this is a conversation starter that may bring a lot of comfort,help and hope to the children in our care. 

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! 

A Boy Called BAT

A Boy Called BAT

A Boy Called BAT

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Boy Called BAT

Elana K. Arnold

Charles Santose

Walden Pond, 2018

208pp., pbk., RRP $A12.99

9780062445834

Bixby Alexander Tam, known to those who know him as BAT because of his initials, his love of animals and the way his arms and hands flap when he gets excited, prefers life to be logical, predictable, routine and without surprises. He’s not good with noise (so wears his sister Janie’s earmuffs often), doesn’t like the mushy texture of some foods, is sensitive to the feel of fabrics on his skin and finds it difficult to make eye contact and hold casual conversations. Clearly, to even a non-teacher who doesn’t know the signs of being on the autism spectrum, this is a little boy with  special needs. But Bat is not unhappy or frustrated – his mum, sister and teacher are sensitive to his needs, his peers seem to accept him for who he is, and although his father, whom he stays with “every-other-Friday” seems to struggle a little with his non-sporty son, generally Bat is content and just gets on with things.

But when his mum, a vet, brings home a newborn skunk that needs special care, Bat comes into his own, devoting his life to caring for the kit and planning how he will be able to keep it and care for it beyond the initial few weeks before the local wildlife refuge can take over. He needs to show his mum that he is responsible and committed enough, even contacting a skunk expert for advice. 

This is an engaging story that shows the reader the world through Bat’s eyes but which is not patronising, sentimental or emotional.  Bat’s autism adds a different and interesting perspective to the relationships between the characters but the concept of an eight-year-old taking care of an orphaned animal and hoping to keep it longer is a story that could be about any young person.  I believe that all children should be able to read about themselves in stories, and those about autistic children are rare, so this one which has such a solid, familiar storyline so every reader can relate to it while learning about the world through unfamiliar eyes, is a must-have.  Its sequel Bat and the Waiting Game is also available in hardcover. 

 

 

 

 

Boy Underwater

Boy Underwater

Boy Underwater

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Boy Underwater

Adam Baron

Benji Davies

HarperCollins, 2018

256pp., pbk., RRP $A14.99

9780008267018

Cymbeline Igloo is nine years old, is the third-best footballer in Year 4 (joint), second best at roller-skating. Even though he has only one parent while his friends have two or even four, he is  fit, healthy and totally normal in every way.  Yet, despite living in Lewisham in south-east London he has never been swimming.  His mum has never taken him near a pool, a lake, a river, the seaside – always brushing away his request with seemingly plausible excuses. 

So when his teacher says that the class will be starting swimming lessons the following Monday, Cymbeline is somewhat daunted.  He doesn’t even own a pair of swimmers!  But encouraged by his best friend Lance (named after the disgraced cyclist) and goaded by the class bully Billy, he agrees to a race against Billy in the pool.  Naturally, things end very badly for Cymbeline, not the least of which is losing the swimmers he found in his dad’s things in the attic, but it is the response of his mother who is called to the pool that is the most startling of all.  

As a result of this incident, she ends up in a psychiatric hospital taking Cymbeline’s beloved soft toy Mr Fluffy with her.  And Cymbeline is forced to stay with his rich Aunt Millie and Uncle Chris , to whom he is a burden, and cousins Juniper and Clayton who make it clear they want nothing to do with him. Totally alone, his mother hospitalised and not well enough to see him, and no cuddly toy to take to bed to comfort him, Cymbeline is bewildered and scared but determined to find out what is wrong with his mum to have had such an extreme reaction.  Surely the world seeing his willy isn’t enough to provoke such a response. And why has she taken Mr Fluffy?   Befriended by super-smart Veronique and even Billy, who has his own issues at home, Cymbeline is determined to get to the bottom of things.  And when he does, it becomes clear that adults really should paint the whole picture when they tell a child something big, not just the bits they think the child can handle.  Sometimes honesty can prevent a lot of heartache – the child isn’t left to fill the gaps with their own, often wild, imagination.

Written in the first-person in a voice that really echoes that of a 9-year-old boy, this is a story that will engage the independent reader with a storyline that has some meat to it and is totally credible. Even though it deals with some heavy-duty issues, this is done with a light hand, humour and empathy, providing an insight into the lives of some of the children in our care that we might not always see. Families falling apart for whatever reason is a common story, sadly, and it’s not always the teacher, in this case Mrs Phillips, who is the confidante.  Many children, like Cymbeline, are carrying  unseen burdens.   

For me, a quality novel is one that engages me to the end and I can hear myself either reading it aloud to students or book-talking it.  Boy Underwater is indeed, one of those.   

Things My Pa Told Me

Things My Pa Told Me

Things My Pa Told Me

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Things My Pa Told Me

Anthony Bertini

Jonathan Bentley

Little Hare, 2018

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

9781760501426

Ask a young child their age and they will tell you, but invariably they will add, ” But I’m turning…” It seems that all we want to be when we are young is older!  In this beautifully illustrated book, a father passes on the wisdom that he heard from his own father to his son.

“Your shoes are too big. You will grow into your clothes.” 

“You will fail many times. But you will overcome disappointment.  Your scars will heal.”

“Assemble the maps. But set your own compass.”

But as he makes these promises he urges his son to revel in what he has now and enjoy it because it is a time that will pass too quickly.

“You will be big most of your life.  Enjoy this brief time, just you and me, Our days together are short.  Sometime soon,  you will just be you.”

Told in short sentences that are almost poetic in their choice of language and brevity, this is a conversation for a son that is so personal and private and yet so universal and public. Bentley’s illustration are sublime as they portray an earlier time in a small Italian village when the father’s father is talking to him and the truth of his words evolves. There is a sense that the child will absorb these messages to pass them on to his own child in turn.

A peek inside...

A peek inside...

We know that our children cannot conceive of us ever having a childhood, that we are old and know nothing of their world and that advice we offer is irrelevant, if not interfering.  But with father’s Day on the horizon, this is the perfect book to share and discuss and share experiences of not only the actual situations in the story – “You cry easily, smile just as fast. Your anger is soon gone” – but also the truth in the guidance being offered – “Your shoes will fit.” If discussing fathers and their roles is sensitive because so many children are not in that sort of relationship, perhaps the children could share what advice they would pass on to their child in the future.  What have they learned that they think every child should know?

Gentle, timely and an opportunity to reflect as we rush from day to day. 

 

 

Mummy Fairy and Me

Mummy Fairy and Me

Mummy Fairy and Me

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mummy Fairy and Me

Sophie Kinsella

Marta Kissi

Puffin, 2018

166pp., pbk., RRP $A14.99

9780141377889

“Hello. I’m called Ella Brook and I live in a town called Cherrywood. My best friends at school are Tom and Lenka. My worst enemy is Zoe. And then there is my mummy. She looks normal, like any other mummy . . . but she’s not. Because she can turn into a fairy. She just has to shut her eyes tight, say ‘Marshmallow’ . . . and POOF! She’s Mummy Fairy.

Ella’s family has a big secret – her mummy is a fairy! She can do amazing spells with her computawand. Only, sometimes the spells go a bit wrong, and that’s when Ella steps in to the rescue.”

This is a new series for those readers who are newly independent from the author of the Shopaholic series as well as a number of other books for adults.  It is her first children’s book and she has nailed just the sort of thing that these young girls like to read and written it in a style that is similar to the way they write so it will engage them immediately.  Short chapters, large font and lots of line drawings to support the text will support the reader as skills are honed and its future as live-action movies for television  will ensure its future.  There is already a sequel available.

Fairy-in-Waiting

Fairy-in-Waiting

Those of us of a certain age will remember the popularity of Bewitched, and this could have a similar future. 

The Garden of Hope

The Garden of Hope

The Garden of Hope

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Garden of Hope

Isabel Otter

Katie Rewse

Little Tiger, 2018 

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

9781848577138

“Things had changed since Mum had been gone.  The house was untidy. Maya, Dad and Pip were a bit of a mess.  And the garden had become wild and overgrown. “

Each of them was sad and anxious, trying to help each other as best they could. One day, Dad tells Maya that whenever her mother was feeling anxious, she would plant some seeds because she knew that by the time they had grown, the worries would have faded. They were her “seeds of hope”.

So Maya decides to try her mother’s remedy, starting with planting sunflowers which were her mother’s favourite.  And gradually a transformation occurred – the garden started to flourish and Maya and her father started to heal. Despite the darkness and sadness, there was still beauty and hope in the world.

This is a charming story with illustrations as gentle as the text, that offer a wonderful strategy to help anyone, young or old, to deal with grief. Sometimes when we are overwhelmed by our emotions it is hard to see that time will pass – rather each minute seems to drag into an hour – so having something as simple as planting seeds, something  that could be done in almost any situation, and watching the progress of the flowers can not only offer distraction but also shows that there is movement in time, that some some peace of mind is possible and there can be unexpected rewards.  For Maya, the new garden brings not only beauty but bees and butterflies and other little creatures who find a home and sustenance because of her efforts.  And because gardening can be a solo or a shared activity that healing can help more than just the seed-sower. 

Children love to plant things and watch them grow, and many schools have established gardens, particularly kitchen gardens which supply the school canteen.  But how wonderful would it be to also have a flower bed, one where a troubled or grieving child can go to potter and seek tranquility and calm as they literally “smell the roses”.

This is a gentle, understated story that would be perfect to share with any little one suffering loss or heartache.