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The Happiness Box

The Happiness Box

The Happiness Box

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Happiness Box

Mark Greenwood

Andrew McLean

Walker Books, 2018

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

 9781925081381

February, 1942.  Despite fierce battles, amazing resistance and extraordinary bravery, the fall of Singapore – known as “the Gibraltar of the east” because of its strategic position – was imminent as the Japanese steadily advanced through South East Asia. 

Amongst the women and children and more than 50 000 allied troops taken prisoner of war and herded into the notorious Changi Prison, was Sergeant David ‘Griff ‘ Griffin who tried to keep up the morale of the men by encouraging them to read and tell stories in what became a living hell for those interned, including my father-in-law.  Concerned for the children cooped up without books or toys and with Christmas approaching he and his colleague Captain Leslie Greener inspired the men to make toys with whatever they could find. Griffin was better with words than his hands so using paper scrounged from wherever he could find it, he crafted a story about three friends – Winston the lizard, Martin the Monkey and Wobbly the frog – who found a box that contained the secrets to happiness.  Greener illustrated it and it was typed and bound. 

But the Japanese commander had determined that he must inspect all the toys before they could be given to the children and when presented with The Happiness Box he declared it subversive because the lizard shared the same name as the British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and thus it must contain secret messages.  A mate stepped in and declared he would ensure the story was destroyed, and Griff braced himself for the inevitable beating, although the greater pain was knowing that none of the children received any gifts at all – the Japanese general exacting the greatest retribution.

The full story of The Happiness Box and its creators is told in the final pages of the book, one of the few stories of happiness and hope that emerged from the misery and brutality of Changi and the Japanese occupation – one that needed the mastery of both Greenwood and McLean to bring it to a new generation, although five years ago it was made into a musical for young people and for those in Sydney, there will be a one-off performance of it on November 4.

The book itself survived the war, having been buried rather than destroyed, and toured Australia along with Sir Don Bradman’s cricket bat and Ned Kelly’s helmet as part of the National Treasures exhibition from Australia’s great libraries. Griffin, who eventually became Lord Mayor of Sydney, donated it to the State Library of NSW where it is currently held.

The original

The original

If ever there were a book that fits the deeper meaning of this year’s CBCA Book Week theme Find Your Treasure then this is it!

 

Into the White – Scott’s Antarctic Odyssey

Into the White - Scott's Antarctic Odyssey

Into the White – Scott’s Antarctic Odyssey

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Into the White – Scott’s Antarctic Odyssey

Joanna Grochowicz

A&U Children’s, 2017

288pp., pbk., RRP $A16.99

9781760293659

In the early 1930s, living in the southernmost port in New Zealand, a young girl watched through her bedroom window at ships departing from the wharf heading south for Antarctica.  They fired her imagination and inspired her to learn all she could about this unknown continent and her personal hero, Robert Falcon Scott, vowing that one day she would follow in his footsteps.  This she did in 1968, becoming the first female journalist to go South and while she didn’t get to the South Pole like her hero, she did get to visit his memorial.

Dorothy Braxton - Scott's Memorial Cross, Observation Hill, Antarctica, 1968

Dorothy Braxton – Scott’s Memorial Cross, Observation Hill, Antarctica, 1968

Her love of the Antarctic was passed on to me, her daughter, and by the age of 10 I had already read The Worst Journey in the World by Apsley Cherry-Garrard, a member of Scott’s final expedition. One of my earliest writing memories was deciding to write my interpretation of that expedition, and an enlightened teacher allowing me to skip all the other lessons for the day as he realised I was gripped, on a mission and interruption would have been disastrous.  He even lent me his fountain pen so I didn’t have to keep dipping a nib into the inkwell and blotching my missive.  While that essay has disappeared somewhere in the last 57 years, I still remember the comment he wrote – “This is the best essay on this topic I’ve read from a child of your age, ever!”  Although my passion for the ice in general waned as other interests took over, my mum’s remained and the stories of Scott were common conversation in our household for many years.

So to see a new book emerge focusing on the events of 1910-1913 that would bring the story to a new generation, the great grandchildren of my mum, was exciting and I knew I had to read and review it, so other children could learn about real-life derring-do just over a century ago and Miss 7 and Miss 12 could have a better understanding of what had shaped them, the legacy that has been left and be inspired to create and chase their own dreams.

Told in present-tense narrative that makes the reader feel part of the adventure, rather than an observer of facts or the consumer of a diary, it follows the journey of the Terra Nova from Dunedin’s Port Chalmers through the wild Southern Ocean and then the expedition to one of the last unconquered destinations that lured men like Robert Falcon Scott and his crew as they battled not only the extraordinarily difficult conditions with just ponies, dogs and wooden sleds but also time as they strove to be the first, knowing that Norwegian Roald Amundsen was on a similar mission coming from the other side of the Ross Ice Shelf.

The routes to the South Pole taken by Scott (green) and Amundsen (red), 1911–1912.

The routes to the South Pole taken by Scott (green) and Amundsen (red), 1911–1912.

Even though the outcome is known before reading starts -“If you’re into happy endings, you’d better look elsewhere. This story does not end well” – nevertheless the reader hopes against hope that history will be rewritten and that this band of men who so willingly followed another into the deepest of unknown territories, who never gave up on themselves or each other, would pull off a miracle like the recent rescues from that cave in Thailand.

A finalist in the New Zealand Book Awards 2018  this is one for those who like their superheroes to have been alive and real; who like to delve into a time gone by when the world was very different and who like real-life adventure.  But my copy is for two little girls who know and loved their own superhero, one who had a dream and followed it and inspired them to follow theirs. 

 

Waves – for those who come across the sea

Waves - for those who come across the sea

Waves – for those who come across the sea

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Waves – for those who come across the sea

Donna Rawlins

Heather Potter  & Mark Jackson

Black Dog, 2018

40pp., hbk., RRP $A27.99

9781925381641

“If you are not an Indigenous Australian, your family have, at some stage, come to Australia from across the waves.”

“Every journey is perilous, every situation heartbreaking. Every refugee is a person forced by famine or war or fear to leave their
home, their families, their friends and all they know. Children have travelled on the waves of migration to the shores of Australia for
tens of thousands of years. This book tells some of their stories.” 

In this poignant narrative non fiction that begins with endpapers forming a timeline of people and their vessels from 50 000 years ago to the present, we meet the fictional children who are representative of all those who have come before as they tell their stories of their situation and circumstances and their anticipation for a new life in a new land. War, famine and fear have forced each of them to leave all that is familiar and escape across the treacherous seas to safety and security with the waves of migration almost as regular as  those that hit our shores interminably.  

Somewhat reminiscent of the iconic My Place by Nadia Wheatley, each double-page spread presents a new child’s story, a snippet of the life that set them on the waves and the life they hope to have, softly and superbly illustrated to give life to the words. 

From Anak who arrives by raft from Indonesia to settle in northern coastal Australia 55 000 years ago to  the refugees of the the present day, it demonstrates how this nation has been shaped by those who have sought solace, safety and security here.  But as well as bringing to life this country’s chronological migration history, it is also an opportunity to spark students’ interest in their own stories and to investigate the circumstances that brought their families across the waves.  Naturally this would have to be done with some sensitivity as not all would be stories that parents would want to be shared especially if there were difficult or traumatic circumstances but it could fill parts of the identity jigsaw as well as stimulate greater understanding and empathy for others.

Teachers’ notes focusing on the History and English strands of the Australian Curriculum for Years 3-6+ are available. 

If we are to put human faces to our history so that its study has relevance, meaning and connection for our young students, this is a must-have to be in every collection and to be promoted. It is indeed part of Australia: Story Country.

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

Tommy Bell Bushranger Boy (series)

Tommy Bell Bushranger Boy (series)

Tommy Bell Bushranger Boy (series)

 

 

 

 

 

Tommy Bell Bushranger Boy (series)

Jane Smith

Pat Kan

Big Sky Publishing, 2016-2018

100pp., pbk., RRP $A12.50

When Tommy Bell is sent to work on his grandfather’s farm for the school holidays, he is very reluctant to go because he would rather stay with his mates in his regional NSW town.  But while he is exploring a cave, he discovers an old bushranger’s hat and he is whisked back to a previous time when these outlaws roamed the Australian bush.

Each book in the series brings Tommy and his friends face-to-face with one of our history’s well-known bushranger characters and as they are involved in an exciting adventure they learn not only about our past but also themselves as the historic story parallels their contemporary lives. 

Written for independent young readers, this series offers a different theme for this audience with its time-travelling going backwards rather than forwards.  The first, Shoot Out at the Rock, was a 2017 CBCA Notable, a testament to the content and the quality of the writing. 

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.

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.

 

Armistice

Armistice

Armistice

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Armistice

Ruth Starke

David Kennett

Working Title Press, 2018

48pp., hbk., RRP $A29.99

9781921504914

On Sunday, November 11 2018 at 11.00am the world will stop and remember that after a long, gruelling, deadly war that shaped both history and nations alike, the guns finally stopped a century ago.

The centrepiece of the Australian commemoration at the Australian War Memorial will be the installation of 62 000 knitted red poppy flowers. each representing an Australian life lost during the conflict.  While those 62 000 voices have been silent for a century, this new book, a companion to My Gallipoli, brings together the voices of many who waited for the inevitable outcome.  From the Chief Allied Interpreter, soldiers and civilians and even Corporal Adolf Hitler, lying wounded in a military hospital, the events and the emotions are given a human side rather than the stark words on the pages of history books or in the mouths of modern dispassionate commentators.

While the guns were silenced on November 11, 1918, the talking continued for seven months until the Treaty of Versailles was finally signed on June 28, 1919 and the reader learns not only of the changes that were made to the world itself but also the conditions that meant that a second world war was inevitable. 

With endpapers that show the political changes that occurred in Europe between 1914 and 1925, thumbnail sketches of those whose voices have been quoted and comprehensive teachers’ notes available  this is a remarkable book that will help our students understand the significance of the time and its centenary.  It is a must-have in any collection relating to World War I.

 

Lest We Forget.

 

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.

The Tale of the Anzac Tortoise

The Tale of the Anzac Tortoise

The Tale of the Anzac Tortoise

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Tale of the Anzac Tortoise

Shona Riddell

Matt Gauldie

Tortoise Shell Press, 2015

36pp., pbk., RRP $A19.99

9780473318949

Matthew and Marama loved playing soldiers in the backyard of the big, old house they had just moved into.  Using water pistols and plums as weapons, there were plenty of bushes and shrubs to hide in or seek shelter.  But most of all, Marama liked to attend to any wounds using the medical set she had been given for Christmas.  It even had fake blood! 

One day their games lead them to a hole in the hedge and when they crawled through it, they found themselves in a neat, manicured garden that had lawn as soft as carpet. And in the middle of the lawn, a strange creature was munching on dandelions. But rather than being the baby dinosaur they thought it was, it turned out to be Kemal an ancient tortoise with an amazing story – a story the children find themselves in when they touch the tortoise and find themselves transported back to the battlefields of World War I.

The centennial commemorations of World War I have inspired many to delve into their family histories to explore what part their relatives played in it, and from this many unique and unusual stories have emerged.  The Tale of the Anzac Tortoise is one such story. It is based on the true story of Peter discovered in the trenches of the Western Front by a wounded soldier who popped him in his pocket for safe keeping. After being evacuated to the Middle East for treatment, Pete was given to Nora, a New Zealand nurse stationed there, and she, in turn, took him back to New Zealand where he lived as a family pet until his death in 1994.

Told by Nora’s  great-great niece and illustrated by a former  former NZ Defence Force artist, this is yet another previously unknown but utterly intriguing story to emerge from World War I that helps to put a human face to the tragedies of so long ago that are so important to our nations’ histories but hard for little people to comprehend.  The final pages in the book tell a little of the story behind the story but since the book was written it has become more widely known and there is much online that the curious can explore.  

If for no other reason than it helps to illuminate to Australian children who put the NZ in ANZAC, this book deserves a place in your Anzac Day collection.