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The Most Marvellous Spelling Bee Mystery

The Most Marvellous Spelling Bee Mystery

The Most Marvellous Spelling Bee Mystery

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Most Marvellous Spelling Bee Mystery

Deborah Abela

Random House Australia, 2018

240pp., pbk., RRP $A14.99

9780143786689

In Yungabilla, Australia, Toronto, Canada and Wormwood, England three young people are receiving invitations to an event that could change their lives forever.  Having proved their ability as champion spellers, each has been invited to compete in the Most Marvellous International Spelling Bee in London. But, like all children, each is unique and faces their own difficulties in getting to London.

India Wimple who won Australia’s  The Stupendously Spectacular Spelling Bee is so shy that she cannot compete without her family by her side but the organisers will only pay for the contestant and one chaperone; Canada’s champion Holly Trifle’s family is reminiscent of the Wormwoods in Dahl’s Matilda and see her competing only as a way to promote their weight-loss business; while bullied, lonely Peter Ericksson hopes that maybe his absent dad will see his face on television, recognise him  and come home because it’s been 2922 days since he walked out and left a dad-sized hole in Peter’s life.

With incredible insight into the lives of children, Deborah Abela has crafted an engaging, unputadownable story that weaves the  lives of India, Holly and Peter together as well as the familiar faces of Rajish and Summer as they compete while trying to get to the bottom of some mysterious mishaps.  

Independent readers will relate to all three characters – if they are not mirrors then they will know someone like them – and will become engrossed as they follow their struggles to overcome their personal obstacles as much as their competitive ones.  Being able to put yourself in the shoes of the characters is the most important way to ensure the page is turned to see what happens to them and Abela has the ability to do this in spades.  Miss 11 is going to LOVE this sequel.

Sorry Day

Sorry Day

Sorry Day

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sorry Day

Coral Vass

Dub Leffler

NLA Publishing, 2018

34pp., hbk., RRP $A24.99

9780642279033

Standing amidst the large crowd gathered on the slopes of Parliament House in Canberra is light-haired, fair-skinned Maggie clutching her Aboriginal mother’s hand waiting for the most important speech from a politician for generations.  It is February 13, 2008 and, on behalf of a more enlightened nation,  the newly-elected Prime Minister is about to deliver the long-awaited apology to all Australia’s indigenous peoples for their losses in past times when it was thought that their children would be better off if they were taken to live with and be raised by white families – the Stolen Generations.

In a time ‘long ago and not-so-long-ago’ children were taken from their parents, their ‘sorrow echoing across the land’. 

Intertwined with Maggie’s story of anticipation and sudden loss as she falls among the legs of the crowd, is that of her mother, a young girl in different times when the roar of a truck and the thud of boots was a signal to hide before the white men came to take them.

“Screams echoed across the land as they scrambled to escape, sliding in the mud with every step.”

But, in the final fold-out flap the stories merge as Kevin Rudd proclaims,For the pain, suffering and hurt of these Stolen Generations, their descendants and for their families left behind, we say sorry.  To the mothers and the fathers, the brothers and the sisters, for the breaking up of families and communities, we say sorry… We today take this first step by acknowledging the past and laying claim to a future that embraces all Australians.”  

And at last, hope glimmers.

The recognition of the treatment of Australia’s indigenous peoples was a central focus of the 2007 election campaign for it had been 40 years since the referendum to acknowledge and include  Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as citizens of Australia, and ten years since the historic Bringing Them Home report  was tabled in Federal Parliament. 

While many of an older generation will remember where they were on the day of the speech, our younger generations may not understand its significance seeing it as just another day paid homage during the school year. So to have such a beautifully written story with such evocative illustrations to explain its importance – perhaps akin to ANZAC Day in the shaping of our nation – is superb and a must-have in every school library collection, particularly as there are two pages of explanation and illustrations drawing on the collection of the National Library of Australia  to complete it. 

In a few, well-chosen words and sublimely constructed sentences, Coral Vass has written an evocative story that not only expresses the heartbreak of those whose children were taken but also the fear of the children as Maggie is briefly separated from her mother.  Accompanied by unforgettable illustrations that capture the landscape, the emotions and the tension of both Maggie and her mother’s stories, this is a unique story that enables all of us to understand the importance of May 26 each year.

Teachers notes are available

Little Dog and the Summer Holiday

Little Dog and the Summer Holiday

Little Dog and the Summer Holiday

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Little Dog and the Summer Holiday

Corinne Fenton

Robin Cowcher

Black Dog, 2017

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

9781925381160

“The long, lazy  days of summer holidays waited like parcels in a lucky dip” and under Little Dog’s supervision Jonathan and Annie are packing their shiny new caravan ready for the summer road trip!  From Melbourne to Sydney and back there are many places to visit and things to see – crossing the Murray River into NSW, visiting the iconic Dog on the Tuckerbox five miles from Gundagai, battling Sydney traffic to cross the Harbour Bridge, swimming at Bondi Beach, taking the ferry to Manly… but when it all comes down to it, there is one place that Little Dog likes better than any other!.

While the text alone could be that of a story today, Robin Cowcher’s gentle watercolour illustrations take this story back to the late 50s when caravans were rounded and there were no New Year’s Eve fireworks on the harbour.  Just as Little Dog and the Christmas Wish celebrated Melbourne, this new adventure celebrates Sydney.  Road trips remain a popular way to holiday for many families – mine included – and readers will have fun comparing their experiences to those of Jonathan and Annie and Little Dog.  Has anything really changed? If the story were written for 2018, what would be different?

The shape and inclusions may have changed, but has the fun?

The shape and inclusions may have changed, but has the fun?

A great story to share as students return from holidays and have their own stories to share.

Can I Touch Your Hair?

Can I Touch Your Hair?

Can I Touch Your Hair?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mrs Vandenberg sets her 5th grade class a poetry project and then says, “Pick a partner.”  Within seconds the only one left for Irene is you-never-know-what-he-is-going-to-say Charles and for Charles it’s hardly-says-anything Irene.  But that’s not the main difference they see – Charles is black and Irene is white.  Nevertheless, an assignment is an assignment and with no boundaries they select everyday topics like buying shoes, their hair, going to church and the beach to write about, each using blank verse to describe their experiences.  For Irene who is painfully shy and likes her “stringy, dishwater, blonde” hair because it’s a curtain she can hide behind, her first poems focus on how she would like to be like the popular girls in class.  “I’d rather be sun-burned than sugar-sand white.” For Charles, for whom words fly off the page and out of his mouth, they’re about how he too, would like to fit in better but is shunned because of the colour of his skin and the confusion that that sets up inside him.

But as they write and share their poems, the topics getting more personal and revealing, gradually a greater understanding grows and they realise they have many more similarities than differences, seeing each other as individuals, and that they are both so much more than black and white. However, the poems don’t just explore their growing connections – they also explore their personal conundrums.  Charles watches the news and sees people walking by as black people are being “choked, pummelled, shot, killed by police officers” and yet he has a special friendship with local (white) Officer Brassard; Irene is shunned by Shonda in the playground but when Shonda presents her family tree draped in chains, Irene feels the need to say, “Sorry”.  

Subtitled, Poems of Race, Mistakes and Friendship,  this book grew from a friendship that began as an email but evolved from all that had gone before in the authors; and illustrators’  lives to shape them into their current personalities.  Imagining what it would be like if they had met in a modern-day 5th grade class, rather than a book of unrelated poems this one tells the story of an evolving friendship between two people with seemingly distinct lives, diverse experiences and different perceptions using the format of the poem to be the voice of each, and each shedding light on innermost thoughts that illuminate a path that few get to tread.

Unlike other books with “we’re-all-the-same-on-the-inside” messages, this one tackles the issue of race head on so that conversations can be started and differences can be explored rather than ignored.  Because even though we may be the same on the inside, all that has gone before us even before we are born has gone into the making of who we are now, and while that makes us unique individuals regardless of skin colour, it is that skin colour that can be the greatest division as first impressions are so deeply shaped by existing attitudes, perceptions and preconceptions.  Charles was picked first for the basketball team simply because of his skin colour and lanky legs, but things changed when he muffed an easy shot.

This is a complex book with so many layers that it risks being left unopened on the shelf if it is not shared with the child by an astute adult, either parent or teacher, who can begin and sensitively guide the conversations.  Cultural differences – racial, religious, sexual, lingual, socio-economic – are a big issue in our schoolyards as the focus on bullying demonstrates, so something new that approaches the issues in a radical way can be a catalyst for change.  What is we were all Mrs Vandenbergs and set our students a similar challenge, instead of the one-size-fits-all novel study, and insisted that students work with someone they have never worked with before?  

Extraordinary.

If you are in an Australian school and would like my review copy of this book to use with your students, be the first to contact me and ask for it.  Please include your name and postal address.

My Grandfather’s War

My Grandfather’s War

My Grandfather’s War

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My Grandfather’s War

Glynn Harper

Jenny Cooper

EK Books, 2018

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

9781775592990

On this most solemn of days on the Australian and New Zealand calendars, and as the centennial commemoration of World War I come to a close, My Grandfather’s War tells us of a more recent conflict, the Vietnam War, a war where those who served are now the grandparents of its target audience, our primary school students.

At a time when the world had almost emerged into a new era following World War II, the USA and the USSR were the new superpowers and the common catch-cry promoted by prime ministers and politicians was “All the way with LBJ”, Australian and New Zealand joined forces with the USA in this new conflict to stop the “Yellow Peril” of China moving south and overtaking nations just as Japan had tried to do between 1941 and 1945. Among the 65 000 troops of both nations committed between 1963 and 1975 was Robert,  Sarah’s grandfather who now lives with her family and who is “sometimes very sad.” 

Possibly a natio, drafted because a marble with his birthdate on it dropped into a bucket, old enough to die for his country but too young to vote for those who sent him, Robert, like so many others of his age whose fathers and grandfathers had served, thought that this was his turn and his duty and that the war “would be exciting”.  But this was a war unlike those fought by the conservative, traditional decision-makers – this was one fought in jungles and villages where the enemy could be anywhere and anyone; one where chemicals were used almost as much as bullets; one where the soldiers were not welcomed as liberators but as invaders; and one which the soldiers themselves knew they could not win. It was also the first war that was taken directly into the lounge rooms of those at home as television became more widespread, affordable and accessible. 

And the reality of the images shown clashed with the ideality of those watching them, a “make-love-not-war” generation who, naive to the ways of politics and its big-picture perspective of power and prestige, were more concerned for the individual civilians whose lives were being destroyed and demanded that the troops be withdrawn. Huge marches were held throughout the USA, New Zealand and Australia and politicians, recognising that the protesters were old enough to vote and held their futures in their hands, began the withdrawal.

But this was not the triumphant homecoming like those of the servicemen before them.  Robert came home to a hostile nation who held him and his fellow soldiers personally responsible for the atrocities they had seen on their screens.  There were no welcome home marches, no public thanks, no acknowledgement of heroes and heroism, and Robert, like so many of those he fought with, slipped back into society almost as though  he was in disgrace.  While the official statistics record 578 killed and 3187 wounded across the two countries, the stats for those who continued to suffer from their physical and mental wounds and those who died because of them, often at their own hands, are much more difficult to discover.  Like most returned servicemen, Robert did not talk about his experiences, not wanting to inflict the horror on his family and friends and believing that unless you were there you wouldn’t understand; and without the acknowledgement and support of the nation he was supposedly saving  and seeing his mates continue to battle the impact of both the conflict and the chemicals, he sank into that deep depression that Sarah sees as his sadness but which is now known as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Disturbed by his sadness but told never to talk to her grandfather about the war, Sarah is curious and turns to the library for help.  But with her questions unanswered there, she finally plucks up the courage to ask him and then she learns Grandad’s story – a story that could be told to our students by any number of grandfathers, and one that will raise so many memories as the 50th anniversary of the Battle of Khe Sanh approaches, and perhaps prompt other Sarahs to talk to their grandfathers.

Few picture books about the Vietnam War have been written for young readers, and yet it is a period of our history that is perhaps having the greatest impact on our nation and its families in current times.   Apart from the personal impact on families as grandfathers, particularly, continue to struggle with their demons,  it opened the gates to Asian immigration in an unprecedented way, changing and shaping our nation permanently. 

Together, Harper and Cooper have created a sensitive, personal and accessible story that needs to be shared, its origins explored and understanding generated.  

Lest We Forget.

 

My Sister

My Sister

My Sister

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My Sister

Joanna Young

New Frontier, 2018

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

9781925594041

Who knows you the best, laughs at your jokes and keeps your secrets safe?  Your sister!

This softly illustrated book for very young readers celebrates the special bond that exists between sisters, perhaps to remind them that even when sibling rivalry rears its head, there is still no one closer to you that your sister.

Growing up the only girl in the middle of eight boisterous boys (one brother, seven cousins) sometimes it would have been nice to have had a sister to confide in, particularly if the bond between them is as strong as sisters say.  This is a gentle book about counting your blessings because there really is nothing stronger than the bonds between a family. 

 

The Dream Bird

The Dream Bird

The Dream Bird

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Dream Bird

Aleesah Darlison

Emma Middleton

Wombat Books, 2018

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

9781925563337

George was a day child – he loved to run and play in the sunshine and light.  But it was a different story at night time when it was time to snuggle down and sleep.  No matter what he did, he could not sleep.  Even following the suggestions of his family like counting 100 sheep backwards and drinking hot milk did not work. 

Deciding to try something new, he crept into Gran’s room but her bed is cold without her cuddles to make it cosy.  But as he slips forlornly to the floor, she slips into the room and tells him a story about a magical bird that will help him sleep and have the nicest of dreams…

This is a most intriguing story, one that has many layers.  Certainly, on the surface, it celebrates the power of the bedtime story as an essential part of the nighttime routine and it also opens up discussions about the importance of sleep and the ways we can help ourselves drift off.  But what is Grandma’s secret?  Is she alive?  Did she die in her sleep making George scared that that will happen to him?  Is it her “ghost” telling the story of the Dream Bird?  

The contrast in the illustrations between George the day child and George the night child using the softest palette and increasingly ethereal lines, the transition between the two parts of the story is perfect, and even though Grandma is the youngest looking grandma on the planet (probably appropriate given George’s age), it all goes towards making this another Darlinson delight that will entertain as much as it intrigues. 

Message in a Sock

Message in a Sock

Message in a Sock

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Message in a Sock

Kaye Baillie

Narelda Joy

MidnightSun, 2018

32pp., hbk., RRP $A27.99

9781925227383

One hundred years ago and Australian soldiers are fighting in the waterlogged, mud-filled, rat-infested trenches of the Western Front and almost as great an issue as the enemy’s bullets is trench foot where the feet literally rot from being constantly cold and wet.  So the call goes out for 150 000 pairs of socks and the women and girls left back home start knitting.  

Click clack click clack click clack – no matter where you went, needles were working and socks were rolling off them –  long woolen ones that went up to the knees for added protection and silk knitted into the heels to make them extra strong. 

Tammy’s father is one of those away fighting and her mother one of those at home knitting. Day and night, whenever her hands aren’t doing something else, they are knitting. Tammy’s job is to wash the socks before they are sent away and into each of the ten pairs her mummy knits, she places a special message to her daddy.  

Dear Daddy, Bless your poor feet.  Every stitch is made with love to help bring you safely home.  From Tammy.

Then the socks are wrapped in special paper and taken to join all the other pairs about to be shipped.

Will her daddy get a pair of socks knitted by Mummy with their special message?

Based on a true exchange between Lance Corporal A. McDougall and a young girl,  Message in a Sock is another touching and intriguing story that helps put a human face on World War I making it easier for young children to understand this nation-shaping conflict and why the commemoration of its centenary is so important.  Told by Tammy herself, young girls can put themselves in her place and imagine what it would be like to have their father in mortal danger each day, far away in an unimaginable place and how even something as seemingly insignificant as putting a message in a sock can have such an enormous impact.  The tiniest stone thrown into a small pond can still make a ripple that spreads ever outwards.

With its muted colours but detailed pictures that contain so much interest, this is another unique story from a time long ago that like the impact of Tammy’s message in a sock, has the ripple effect of impacting understanding and perhaps lives. An essential in your ANZAC Day collection.

Alma and How She Got Her Name

Alma and How She Got Her Name

Alma and How She Got Her Name

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Alma and How She Got Her Name

Juana Martinez-Neal

Candlewick Press, 2018

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

9780763693558

Sometimes parents give their babies names that are bigger than they are- even when the baby grows up! And so it is with Alma Sofia, Esperanza Jose Pura Candela.  So she turns to her Daddy to explain why she has six names and as he tells her, she learns of Sofia, the grandmother who loved books and flowers; Esperanza, the great-grandmother who longed to travel; José, the grandfather who was an artist; the spiritual Pura and her activist grandmother Candela.  As she hears the story of her name and her history, Alma starts to think it might be a perfect fit after all — and realizes that she will one day have her own story to tell.

Parents choose our names for so many reasons – my own was changed to be the initials of the harbour board of which my grandfather was the chief engineer, initials which were on the risers of the steps leading to his important office so I was convinced they were my personal stairway to heaven – and to discover those reasons can be a fascinating insight into what life was like for our parents at the time, just as it was for Alma. But despite, or because of, our names we all remain unique individuals who will, in time, have our own stories to tell – just as Alma does.

There are so many cross-curriculum activities that can be done just by playing with and exploring our names – my students loved to see how much their names were worth if each letter had the dollar value of a Scrabble tile – that to have such a clever, poignant but fascinating story such as this to kickstart the investigations is just perfect.  (If you’re looking for suggestions scramble through your Teacher Resource section and see if you have a copy of Maths  About Me, written in 1991 under my other name of Hosie.)

Maths About Me

Maths About Me

Sandcastle

Sandcastle

Sandcastle

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sandcastle

Philip Bunting

Allen & Unwin, 2018

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

9781760295387

Rae loves the beach and wants to build a sandcastle, one of those magnificent ones you see in books with towers, ramparts, a moat and even a dragon to guard it!  With the help of his grandfather, he does just that. But while they eat their fish and chips, the inexorable tide moves closer and closer and Rae is worried that the fortifications will not be enough to keep out the sea.  Sadly, they don’t but Rae learns an amazing lesson about the nature of things…

In the author’s dedication he says, “You, me, this book, your breakfast…we’re all made from tiny particles, stuff that has been around since the beginning of time.  We’re only borrowing these particles from the enormous universe that made them.  Once we’re done with them, the bits that make us will go on to lead many new existences on Earth, and beyond.” So while, on the surface, this could be just a pleasant story about a boy and his grandfather at the beach doing something and experiencing the consequences that so many young readers will resonate with, it could also be an introduction to lessons about matter and atoms and stuff, another one of those topics that little ones find tricky to understand because they can’t see the individual components.

But for me, I found beauty in the words as a way of helping a child cope with the grief of losing a family member or pet – that no matter how a disease might have crept through their body and ultimately stolen it, as the sea does a sandcastle, the person still exists as memories and that a little part of them lives on in each person they touched and influenced in some way.  Very philosophical for so early in the morning but a mark of a quality storyteller whose work can touch the reader in many, often unintended, ways.