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The Fix-It Man

The Fix-It Man

The Fix-It Man

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Fix-It Man

Dimity Powell

Nicky Johnston

EK Books, 2017

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

9781925335347

Dads can fix anything – that’s what dads do.  Kites, kennels, teapots – whatever is needed.  He can even cobble together a rug made of rainbows and old hugs for mum – but he can’t fix mum.  Not even with his special peach and honey brew.  Even the doctors and lots of rest can’t fix mum. Not even all the love in the world.  

And no matter how hard they try, little girls can’t mend broken hearts – not hers, not dad’s and not Tiger’s.  Well, not with stick tape or glue or needle and thread..  But dad has one more special thing up his sleeve  and together they start to mend.

This is a poignant story of loss and one that will resonate with many children who have lost a parent or other loved one.  With its gentle text and soft palette, even though it is sad it is not gloomy because the love between this family oozes from the page and from that, the hope is tangible. And the threads that bind the family are stronger and more enduring than nails, glue, sticky-tape or any other kind of man-made adhesive or fastening.

Grief is a natural part of life and while we might like to protect our children from it, nevertheless it happens and we often struggle helping them to cope with their loss.  This book allows conversations to start and explores the way it is an emotion that we each express and deal with in our own way.  Dad’s lap is cosy and warm but his face is crumpled and wet; pieces spill out from Tiger’s heart and little girls try to do what they can to paper over the cracks – but they are too wide. But together…

Whether shared as a 1:1 or as a class, it offers children the opportunity to talk about losses in their life and to learn that they are not alone in feeling lonely, lost, scared and even betrayed but there is love and it does get easier.

John Williamson’s Christmas in Australia

christmas_countdown_2016

 

 

 

 

John Williamson's Christmas in Australia

John Williamson’s Christmas in Australia

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

John Williamson’s Christmas in Australia

John Williamson

Mitch Vane

Penguin 2014

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

9780670077724

Christmas in Australia – time for families to get together and of, course, the perfect family photo for posterity.  But getting everyone together at the same time is not as easy as it sounds.

This is an hilarious, rollicking tune, probably known to every Australian school student, brought to life in picture book format through the talents of Mitch Vane.  As families gather together as the big day draws closer, no doubt its scenarios will be played out in real life in many backyards and children will be heard singing the song.

A must-have in any Christmas collection and for sending overseas to those who want to know about a summer Christmas as well.

 

The Legend of the Christmas Cookie: Sharing the True Meaning of Christmas

christmas_countdown_2016

 

 

 

 

The Legend of the Christmas Cookie

The Legend of the Christmas Cookie

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Legend of the Christmas Cookie

Dandi Daley Mackall

Richard Cowdrey

ZonderKidz, 2015

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

9780310747673

It is the Great Depression and Jack is missing his father who has gone West to work, desperately – even moreso now that he knows he won’t be home for Christmas.  As he walks into the kitchen on Christmas Eve, he smells sweet bread and licorice but there haven’t been cookies in the cookie jar for over a year.  But tonight his mother has decided to make  traditional Christmas cookies for the needy at church, although Jack would rather have them for himself.  The wooden cookie boards with their Nativity moulds are brought out and as she bakes, his mother tells him the story of Christ’s birth through the shapes, just as was done in medieval times when people were too poor to go to school to read.

Next day, they take the cookies to church, but to Jack’s delight his mother has saved him the angel one that he liked so much.  But just as he is about to take a bit, there is a knock on the door….

In the Scwaben region of Southern Germany, Austria and Switzerland these cookie moulds – or springerle moulds – were used to press into biscuit dough and this story is built on that. While not necessarily a regular custom in Australian homes, it is common in the US and it is yet another tale associated with the traditions of Christmas that is worth exploring and discussing the virtue of selflessness and giving rather than receiving.  It does have a strong Christian bent although the message of helping others in need is universal regardless of beliefs. The back flap includes a recipe for Christmas cookies and while the wooden moulds may be hard to obtain, there are enough Christmas shapes available to start a new family tradition.

Snot Chocolate

Snot Chocolate

Snot Chocolate

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Snot Chocolate

Morris Gleitzman

Puffin Books, 2016

165pp, pbk., RRP $A14.99

9780143309222

The blurb reads, “Stop your mum picking her nose, read the secret diary of a dog, catch a bus and then let it go, discover how one slice of toast can make you the most popular person in school, start wearing a crown and give up eating pig-nostril gruel, use a wrecking ball to defeat a bully, show your big sister the very scary secret in your wardrobe, unleash the awesome power of chips, live in a house that gets wiped clean more often than a bottom.”

But there is so much more to this collection of short stories from a master storyteller who seamlessly switches between the poignancy of Two weeks with the Queen, the gaiety of Toad Rage and the seriousness and sincerity of the Once series. Gleitzman himself says, “Nine stories, and I’ve made them different lengths because different parents have different ideas about how long a person should be allowed to read before turning the lights out.”

With a title designed to attract that reader who loves to makes sure parents and teachers have a stomach-churning moment when they see it, nevertheless there are serious undertones to each as the central character of each tries to grapple with a big problem affecting family or friends using a thought process and logic that are particular to that age group.  Creativity is alive and well in children – until the formality and seriousness of school try to quell it.

Along with Give Peas a Chance and Pizza Cake, these stories which give the author “a break from the stiff neck and stiff brain you sometimes get writing book-length stories” might seem a long way from the stories Gleitzman commonly crafts and which he is so valued for, but as he says, he would” hate to forget that in stories a laugh can have a teardrop as a very close neighbour.”  However, despite the sombre notes this is a collection that will keep those newly independent readers, particularly boys, reading and help them transition to the next phase of their reading journey – which will probably be a Gleitzman novel – as they show that even short stories with wicked titles can have great, credible characters and a depth of plot that makes reading so worthwhile.  

Parents,  teachers and teacher librarians are blessed to have such a gifted writer as Gleitzman on their side.

Read what Morris Gleitzman has to say on the value of short stories.

Worm Loves Worm

Worm Loves Worm

Worm Loves Worm

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Worm Loves Worm

J.J.  Austrian

Mike Curato

Balzer & Bray, 2016

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

9780062386335

Worm loves Worm.  So they decide to get married.  It shouldn’t be a problem but suddenly all their minibeast friends chip in. “You’ll need someone to marry you. That’s how it’s always been done.”  You’ll need a best man, bridesmaids, rings, a band… and so on and so on, because “that’s how it’s always been done.”  Worm and Worm agree to each suggestion hoping that after they acquiesce they can get married but no… there is always something else.

So when they are told that they need to have a bride and groom, worms being hermaphrodites, they have no trouble with being either or both – but that isn’t how it’s always been done.  Will they ever just celebrate their love by getting married???

This is a charming book that, on the surface, is just a story about two worms wanting to get married because they love each other, and that, to a four-year-old is a natural thing to do.  It is just a celebration of love.  For those in different circumstances or a little bit older there is a sub-text of marriage equality and things can change – they don’t always have to be because they have always been.  It’s enough to love each other without all the other trappings; it’s about inclusion and equality and showing affection regardless of any traditional views and values that have been imposed on a natural state of mind. That’s what little ones understand and accept – intolerance is something they learn.

Choosing worms as the main characters is a masterstroke because there are no physical differences between worms – there is nothing to say which is female and therefore the bride or male and therefore the groom. So the central message of love being the key ingredient and the rest of the elements of a wedding just being seasoning remains the central theme.  

Perhaps some of our politicians  and those who influence them should read this and get to the core of what really matters.

A great addition to a school library collection that allows children to see their own family structure in a story, to show others that there are all sorts of family structures,  and to explain marriage equality to those unfamiliar with the concept.

A peek inside...

A peek inside…

 

 

Fancy Nancy: Saturday Night Sleepover

Fancy Nancy: Saturday Night Sleepover

Fancy Nancy: Saturday Night Sleepover

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fancy Nancy: Saturday Night Sleepover

Jane O’Connor

Robin Preiss Glasser

HarperCollins, 2016

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

9780007560912

Fancy Nancy’s mum has won a weekend at a resort , and sadly for Nancy, children are not included.  So she and little sister JoJo are going to have a sleepover at Mrs DeVine’s.  Even though both girls love Mrs DeVine, this is Jo Jo’s first sleepover and she is a little nervous.

Being a good big sister, Nancy is determined to help JoJo overcome her nerves and help her through this experience, rehearsing it, making her a survival kit and  showing her the photo album of the sleepover she had recently.  Mrs DeVine is also an expert at sleepovers and has much fun planned and in the end, it isn’t JoJo who has trouble going to sleep.

This is a series that will appeal to younger readers, particularly those who are big sisters.  Lavishly illustrated including a sparkling, glittery cover, it has all the things that little girls love as they take early steps into reading series and learning to carry characters through a number of stories.  She has her own website and even her own YouTube channel where all the stories are read.

Three Little Monkeys

Three Little Monkeys

Three Little Monkeys

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Three Little Monkeys

Quentin Blake

Emma Chichester Clark

HarperCollins, 2016

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

9780008164478

Hilda Snibbs is not like other people.  She doesn’t have a dog or a cat or even a goldfish – she has three little monkeys.  Their names are Tim and Sam and Lulu and they are very lively.  Every time she leaves the house and leaves them on their own, they trash it.  Nothing is safe – not her hat, her knitting, her favourite shampoo, the toilet paper…

She tells them she is disappointed in them, she asks what she has done to deserve such wretched little monkeys; she wonders how long she can put up with them – and each time Tim and Sam and Lulu look at her with their big round eye and say nothing.  One day after they had been into everything in her bathroom, she cries, “Oh, for a peaceful life without these wicked little monkeys!”  But when she comes home the next day and they are gone, she realises how much she misses them until…

This is a funny, lovable story that will become a favourite of little ones as they recognise some of the mischief they themselves might have created over time. Quentin Blake’s words marry so well with Emma Chichester Clark’s illustrations – little vignettes that are full of action and fun as they show the monkeys at work – that this is a masterful collaboration.  Even though the monkeys are so naughty they remain lovable and it’s Hilda Snibbs who becomes the “villain”.  As Miss 5 said, “Why did she keep leaving them on their own?  She’s stupid!”

Three Little Monkeys is the perfect bedtime read-aloud as the children delight in the antics and naughtiness of the monkeys and see that they are loved regardless of what they do, while Hilda Snibbs will resonate with exasperated parents who sometimes long for the quiet life they had before their own little monkeys were born., even though they know they wouldn’t have it any other way.

Joyful. 

 

Was Not Me

Was Not Me

Was Not Me

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Was Not Me

Shannon Horsfall

HarperCollins 2016

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

9781460752463

When there is a big mess in the house, Not Me is the cause.  When the bathroom is flooded after battles fought with tough pirates, Not Me is responsible.  When the garden is trashed because masses of monkeys have been chased away, it’s Not Me’s fault.  And when the bed breaks because it’s been used by a circus tumbler, Not Me has done it again.

This is a funny and familiar story about a little boy and his invisible twin brother Not Me whom he holds accountable whenever something that is done that makes his mum cross.  Young readers will resonate with its invisible friend theme but they will also like the ending which exposes the real culprit. As well as the rhyming text which invites the reader to join in with “Not ME”, the pictures cleverly incorporate the leg of Not Me running off to the next page to cause some more mischief and inviting us to tag along.  And although we don’t see mum looking cross and cranky, we do see the little boy looking very sheepish and remorseful and you just know that he will own up to the devilment because mums ALWAYS know!

A charming debut story for this new author-illustrator. 

 

Stanley

Stanley

Stanley

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Stanley

Colin Thompson

ABC Books, 2016

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

9780733332852

Stanley is not the world’s most attractive dog – he looks like he has been built out of very old, very weathered, very strong bricks and even though he looks dangerous from a distance, he was really as soft as a pillow.  Stanley loves four things – his bed, his dinner, his red rubber ball and Gerald, his human. Unlike Stanley who looked like he had been built from bricks, Gerald looks like he has been created from carefully crafted paper, folded and glued together and rather than looking dangerous, he looked as “harmless as a postage stamp.”  Gerald loves his mum, Stanley and Lego.

Most days Stanley walks Gerald to school but on the whole he was quite lonely at times as Gerald and his mum were all the family in the house, and while he loved them, they never came to sleep in his bed with him.  So when Gerald took Stanley and his red ball to the park and Stanley got to play with other dogs, he loved it.  When Gerald threw the  ball all the dogs would chase it, but they always stood back and let Stanley fetch it.  Until the day a fluffy little thing called Lulu caught it and refused to give it back…an event that will change his life forever!

Colin Thompson, author of the fabulous Fearless, has created another doggy character that children will love and resonate with giving them hope that even though they might feel lonely and be the only one in a single-parent family, things can change.  With his vivid words-and-pictures descriptions of both Stanley and Gerald (with lots of wonderful similes to explore) there is a strong message about not judging things on their appearance and the juxtaposition of the soft, fluffy Lulu  standing up to the tough-looking Stanley is just one example.  

This story has many layers so will appeal to many age groups, but overall it’s just about love and the power of hope and a red rubber ball.

Very useful teachers notes are available.

 

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.