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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.

Handstand

Handstand

Handstand

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Handstand

Lisa Stickley

Pavilion, 2016

32pp., hbk., RRP $A17.99

9781843653127

Little girls love to do handstands and Edith is no exception.  She is teaching herself and each day she gets a little better increasing her upside-downness by a second each day.  But each day something interrupts her concentration like the worm who popped up by her hand, the bird who used her hand for target practice and the spider that crawled down her shorts when she rested her legs against a tree.  But nevertheless she keeps on practising…

This is an interesting book – it’s tagline is “a kind of counting book” which it is as Edith manages an extra handstand and an extra second each day and the words and numbers are included in the illustrations.  But it is also intriguing because as she encounters each little creature the creature gives its perspective on how Edith has interrupted it, offering an introduction to getting young readers to see things from another point of view.  The worm pops his head above ground and sees “a giant hand next to my preferred popping up place”.  It could spark some discussion and drawing about how little girls and little boys appear to the creatures in their environment. Resilience is also a theme – how we must practise and practise to get better and not be deterred by trivial things like a spider in your knickers.

The appearance of the book is also interesting – harking back to a time when handstand competitions were features of recess and lunch break entertainment for girls of my era, the colours and style give it a definite retro feel.  Even the name ‘Edith’ suggests a bygone time. The illustrations are also what a child the age of the narrator might draw adding to the impression that this is, indeed a young girl telling her story, but the font, presented in the style of a young child might prove tricky for young readers  to start with. 

Even though this appears to be a counting book at first flick-through, there is much more in it that can provide lots of chat between child and adult and even tempt them to try a new skill.  I’m sure Miss 10 and Miss Nearly-6 eyes will boggle at the thought of Grandma being the school handstand champion a lifetime ago!!!

The Little Drummer Boy

christmas_countdown_2016

 

 

 

 

The Little Drummer Boy

The Little Drummer Boy

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Little Drummer Boy

Bruce Whatley

Random House, 2011

32pp., pbk., RRP $A9.99

9781864719925

When she was a little girl, Annie’s grandfather carved the little drummer boy from the leg of an old oak table left on the street, painted it carefully and wrapped it up in paper and twine.  Right from the start Annie loved it and it always had pride of place at the top of the Christmas tree.  Year after year, no matter where she was, it would look down like the guardian angel of Christmas.  Even when she had her own children and they had children, the little drummer boy was there at the top no matter how many other decorations were added.  Even when he was getting a little faded, Annie put it down to his being loved and loved him more.

But there came a day when there was no Christmas tree and no Annie…

This is a beautiful, touching story of the enduring nature of love and Christmas traditions, traditions that bind families together across time and place at this time of the year.  Even my own son, now 42, was horrified that I was contemplating not putting up a tree even though his family would not be able to visit this year.  He needed to know that what has been familiar to him for 42 years would still continue anyway.

As well as being a charming story, it is also a time to explore the unique things that each child’s family does at this time, the things that have endured over time and those things that they will pass on to their own children.  It even offers scope to look at the origins of some of the things that we, as a society, do each year and speculate on whether we will ever lose those northern winter images and customs that persist and why they have such deep roots in such a summer society anyway.

In the meantime enjoy my favourite version of my favourite Christmas song from my favourite group

Blue Sky, Yellow Kite

Blue Sky, Yellow Kite

Blue Sky, Yellow Kite

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Blue Sky, Yellow Kite

Janet A. Holmes

Jonathan Bentley

Little Hare Books, 2016

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

9781760124229

High above a bright yellow kite soars in the bright blue sky and as it dips and dives, flits and flies with its tail feathers flying it catches the eye of Daisy.  Intrigued she follows its string to see who is flying such a magnificent thing.  Up the hill, down the hill and across the field she finds William in a big house on the edge of town.  As she watches longingly through the fence, he invites her in and teaches her how to fly it. But then she does the unthinkable – she runs away with the kite all the way back to her house.  Knowing she has done the wrong thing she hides it and doesn’t fly it – but where is the joy in a kite sitting on top of a wardrobe instead of soaring through the sky?  At last she cannot stand it and she just has to fly the kite – but William sees her and just walks away.  Again the kite is placed on the top of the wardrobe but the next day, Daisy takes it down again…

Sometimes little people are just so tempted by someone else’s things that they just have to take them, even though, like Daisy, they know it is wrong to do so.  And with Christmas coming on and lots of children having lots of things to show off, there are going to be a lot of children fighting temptation.  Thus this is a timely story about wanting, needing, guilt and honesty which has a heart-warming ending that  lends itself to all sorts of discussions in the home and in the classroom.  

The visual contrast, both physically and metaphorically, of the bright yellow kite against the deep blue sky, juxtaposes Daisy and William’s positions and Jonathan Bentley’s illustrations add much to the text with   their movement and colour.

This is a charming story about friendship and forgiveness and the dilemma of whether a thing is more important than a friend.  

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.

Barney and the Secret of the Whales

Barney and the Secret of the Whales

Barney and the Secret of the Whales

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Barney and the Secret of the Whales

Jackie French

Mark Wilson

HarperCollins, 2016

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

9780732299446

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ellyse Perry (series)

Ellyse Perry (series)

Ellyse Perry (series)

 

 

 

 

 

Pocket Rocket
9780143781240

Magic Feet
9780143781264

Winning Touch
9780143781288

Double Time
9780143781301

Sherryl Clark with Ellyse Perry

Random House Australia, 2016

145pp., pbk., RRP $A14.99

With the Southern Stars and the Women’s Big Bash League now getting greater coverage on prime time, mainstream television, the name of Ellyse Perry is becoming one that is widely known and recognised.  So it is pleasing to see a series of stories that focuses on her sporting career from the choices she had to make at high school through to her current success becoming a part of the literature available to newly independent readers.  While there have been other series of this ilk such as Glenn Maxwell and Billy Slater there have been very few focusing on the prowess of Australia’s female sports stars.  Ellyse who plays both soccer and cricket at the elite level is a wonderful focal point for inspiring young girls to continue their sport after they leave primary school and she shows that with care and good choices, you can do all that you want. Boys will also enjoy reading about one of Australia’s leading lights.

Pocket Rocket and Magic Feet are available now just in time for the Christmas stocking and Winning Touch and Double Time will be available in early January ready for the long January days after the excitement of Christmas is over and our children are looking for something new.

 

 

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. 

 

Dance With Me

Dance with Me

Dance with Me

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dance with Me

Penny Harrison

Gwynneth Jones

EK Books, 2016

32pp., hbk., RRP $A19.99

9781925335231

The ballerina lived in a little wooden box and every day she stood straight and tall and danced for the little girl who would laugh and clap her hands and dance like the ballerina herself.  But as the years passed, the little girl grew up and the ballerina danced for her less and less, until, eventually, she danced no longer.  

So one day she jumped down from her box, skipped out the windowsill to find a new dance partner.  But the bee in the flowers was too busy; the turtle on the seashore wasn’t a dancer; and the leopard on the island wanted her for his lunch! So the ballerina hurried home to her box and danced one last time for the little girl.  But sadly, it was not enough and the lid was closed and the box stored away for many years.  Until one day another little girl opened the lid…

This is a poignant story about growing up and the treasured keepsakes we grow beyond as we do so.  For while it is the story of the ballerina wanting to do what she loves, it is also the story of those things that we always think of when we think of our childhood and which we know we will pass on to our own children in the hope they will get similar joy.  Gwynneth Jones’s illustrations are charming – gentle pastels while the ballerina is happy dancing for the girl and a bolder palette as she gets bolder – and feed right into the vision we have when we think about musical boxes with their magic tucked inside.

A great opportunity to talk about memories with our children as well as what they love enough to want to keep for their children, creating bonds across generations.  

small things

Small Things

Small Things

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

small things

Mel Tregonning

Allen & Unwin, 2016

40pp., hbk., RRP $A29.99

9781742379791

 

Over recent weeks my life seems to have been leading up to opening this book.  

It started with a friend’s son committing suicide and my going back into the classroom as a volunteer to allow a colleague to attend the funeral.

There was RUOK Day which is a big thing for me because suicide has touched my life too many times.

Three schools I’ve been associated with have recently installed buddy benches.

This story came through my Facebook feed-Teen Makes Sit With US App That Helps Students Find Lunch Buddies and then, this morning, this meme…

small_things2

Even so, I was not prepared for the storyline of this important book even though I’d skimmed posts about its launch on my network connections. Let the blurb tell it for you…

An ordinary boy in an ordinary world. small things tells the story of a boy who feels alone with his worries, but who learns that help is always close by.”

Perhaps a storyline that has been done one way or another many times – but then, on the publishers’ blurb there is this…

In 2008, Mel began illustrating a graphic novel about the universal feelings of loneliness and happiness. In May 2014, Mel took her own life.

It is the most absorbing story of a boy who is dealing with lots of the small things in life that we all face but which affect each of us differently – small things that appear to be so unimportant that they don’t even require capital letters in the title.  Yet, while for some they may be no big deal, for others they lead to sadness, anxiety and depression exacerbated by the perception that you are the only one feeling this way.  Other people can make friends, other people can do pesky maths problems, other people can play basketball – why can’t you?  And the thoughts and doubts start grow and become demons which start to chip away from the inside out and then open cracks until you are surrounded by and followed by them.  They constantly exude from you without let=up until you are so overwhelmed that the pain of keeping them in is greater than physical pain of letting them out. So you give them a helping hand and for a brief minute one pain exceeds the other. But when even that doesn’t help and the darkness descends…

Mel died before she completed her book and the wondrous Shaun Tan completed the final three pages.  And in doing so, he turns the darkness around into a powerful and hopeful ending so that even though there are small things that can cause such despair and desolation there are other small things that can lead to hope and happiness. It’s a story about discovering your place in the world and finding your path through it; about realising that while others’ paths may seem the same as yours, theirs may have obstacles invisible to you and hurdles they find too hard to climb; about being aware of others as well as ourselves and developing and showing empathy; about discovering that others have similar pains and you are not alone; about building a sense of a strong self and knowing and employing the strategies to achieve this. For all its physical, emotional and conceptual darkness, it is a story about light.

With so many of our students, even very young ones, struggling with bullying and mental health issues that too often lead to the dire consequences of drugs and death, this is an important book for teachers to examine so we can be alert to the needs of the children in our care and consider whether the remark made in jest or the less-than-average grade might have a deeper impact than we think. It’s about the need to help our children build a core of resilience and self-esteem so they can cope when their expectations are not realised and to help parents understand that stepping in and solving every problem for a child in the short term in not necessarily the best solution in the long term.  It’s about helping our children understand that there are not losers, only learners.

It’s about so much more than one reviewer can express in one review.  Perhaps its most critical role is that it even though it encapsulates the feelings and thoughts of the boy in its evocative pictures so well that no words are needed, it becomes the conversation starter – more than that, it generates a loud call to action.

On a literary level I believe this will feature in the CBCA Book of the Year lists in 2017; on a social level it is so much more important than that.

There are Teachers Notes for both primary and secondary available and they come with a warning of how you use it because of the nerves that may be touched, a warning I would echo.  Do not share this book as a stand-alone, time-filler. It’s format of many small frames does not readily lend itself to a class sharing, but rather a one-to-one exploration with a sensitive adult taking the helm.  However the teachers notes offer some really positive ways of promoting positive mental health and strategies for those who are feeling fragile as well as helping others know how they might help a friend.   Asking R U OK? is not just for one day a year. 

A most remarkable and life-changing book.  We need to nurture those who will sit with the lonely kid in the cafeteria but we must also know who the lonely kids are.

 

Shaun Tan completes graphic novel after author Mel Tregonning’s suicide: ‘Her absence made me try even harder’

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