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Fairytales for Feisty Girls

Fairytales for Feisty Girls

Fairytales for Feisty Girls

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fairytales for Feisty Girls

Susannah McFarlane

Allen & Unwin, 2018

128pp., hbk., RRP $A24.99

9781760523541

Fairytales have a history much older than the sanitised Walt Disney versions that our young readers are familiar with; even older than the 19th century collections of the Brothers Grimm or Perrault in the 17th century- they delve right back into the history of oral storytelling, many based on true events that were brutal and terrifying, too horrific to record in print even for  Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm. However, they were determined to preserve the old stories that told of their Central European heritage  and so using the folklore as a basis, they created stories that were solidly rooted in good versus evil and didactic.

Their stories and those of others like Hans Christian Andersen have become part of our children’s literary heritage princesses are pretty, princes handsome, where good always triumphs usually at the hand of some man, and everyone lives happily ever after.  But society changes and so must the stories, particularly as the call for non-traditional princesses who save themselves grows ever louder.  So this collection of retellings of Rapunzel, Little Red Riding Hood, Cinderella and Thumbelina is a welcome and timely addition to a long line of reinterpretations.

Still using the original premise and plot, Susannah McFarlane has expanded the stories and woven endings that are completely plausible and palatable for those looking for strong, independent, resourceful and resilient female characters.  The heroes are as feisty as their readers. Written by the editor of Stuff Happens  one of my favourite series for boys, and beautifully illustrated by a number of female Australian illustrators, this is a book for the slightly older independent reader who is familiar with the Disney versions and can appreciate the twists that McFarlane has included.

Thirty years ago when we were just beginning to teach children about protecting themselves through programs like Protective Behaviours, Try Again Red Riding Hood was a preferred resource because it shone a spotlight on the actions of familiar characters and how they could have done things differently.  Fairytales for Feisty Girls takes this concept to the nth degree, perhaps becoming the latest evolution of stories that are almost as old as Methuselah! Students might like to try re-writing one of the other traditional tales in a similar vein.

Just So Stories (series)

Just So Stories

Just So Stories

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rudyard Kipling’s Just So Stories

John Joven

Usborne, 2018

24pp.,. pbk., RRP $A12.99

How the Camel Got his Hump

9781474941617

Why the Kangaroo Jumps

 9781474940962

Since 1902 when Rudyard Kipling began to explain how certain creatures got their distinguishing features as bedtime stories to his daughter Josephine, children have been fascinated by this collection known as the Just So Stories”, apparently because Josephine said they had to be told, “Just so.” 

Continuously in print for almost 120 years, this new collection has been retold by a number of different authors and pulled together into a collection for a new generation by the distinctive illustrations of John Joven.  

Young readers will delight in speculating about why kangaroos jump and why the camel has a hump and then comparing their ideas to those of Kipling.  Just two of a series that includes How the Elephant got his Trunk, How the Rhino Got His Skin. and How the Leopard got his Spots. 

Classics reads that are a must-have in any child’s literary and literature journey.

 

Wisp

Wisp

Wisp

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wisp

Zana Fraillon

Grahame Baker-Smith

Hachette, 2018

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

9780734418043

Idris lived in a small world where fences grew from the ground, shadows ruled and there were no trees offering shade, no rivers offered cool water to drink and there were no seas to swim in. His was a world full of people, but everyone in it was alone. 

Then one evening a Wisp came in on the evening breeze, unnoticed by all except Idris who gentlied it from the ground and softlied away the dust.  Clean and free, it began to wriggle and flitted away, finally settling at the feet of an old man, whose eyes had blurred long ago, but who put the Wisp to his ear and music memories of long ago poured forth.  Then, when it came again, it went to a woman who whispered the magic word, “Once” and a forest blossomed and a thunder of colours rained down. Whispers start as the memories are released and shared and gradually the loneliness is not so sharp any more.

Time and again the Wisp brings memories to those who have not forgotten but who have no one to share them with, so what happens when the Wisp settles with Idris, whose only memories are those of the desolate, lonely place he lives in?

Set against the darkest palette that reflects the world of Idris but which lightens when memories are evoked, this is a story of hope and promise – something that no amount of hardship and desolation seems to dampen within the human spirit. No matter where the refugee camp is there is always hope that there will be freedom and a life without fences, restrictions and oppression. With its poetic, eloquent words, this is another picture book that brings to life and light the plight of refugees around the world, adding to a growing collection that makes the more fortunate stop and think. 

For most children in our care, the world of refugees is not part of their every day experience but as some people show compassion and open their hearts and their doors to the families, it is creeping ever closer as the children become part of our classes, and everyone’s life is enriched.  Other reviewers have suggested that this book is for those 5 or 6 years and up but as I watch colleagues share stories like The Wonky Donkey and The Book with No Pictures  I wonder if those of such a young age are ready for one such as this. What questions will it raise and will we be able to answer them adequately, let alone reassure them?  Certainly, if the concept of refugees is part of their known world, then in the hands of someone prepared to listen and explain, younger readers will manage it, but IMO it is one for older readers who have an understanding of the sorts of things that cause people to flee their countries; the fears of those who think such people need to be imprisoned rather than welcomed; and the concepts of hope and freedom. Despite its warm fuzzy ending, like A Different Boy, the underlying constructs are dark and it is one that needs to be read before it is shared, particularly if there are children who have been in camps like Idris in the audience. Sensitivity is essential.

Princess Swashbuckle

Princess Swashbuckle

Princess Swashbuckle

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Princess Swashbuckle

Hollie Hughes

Deborah Allwright

Bloomsbury, 2018

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

9781408862810

Recently there was a national furore because a 9-year-old girl considered the words of our national anthem, concluded they were disrespectful to the indigenous community and refused to stand for the song in a school assembly.  Adults were outraged, claimed that this had to be the parents’ doing and recommended family counselling, suspension from school, and even a “kick up the pants” – bullying in a way that in the next breath they condemn. And yet we as teachers are striving to have students form opinions, express and justify them and the book reviewers I most admire – Megan Daley, Sue Warren, Margot Lindgren and Tania McCartney to name just a few – identify, celebrate and recommend those books we discover that have feisty, independent, thinking female characters that our readers can relate to.

So what then, would these conservative self-styled social commentators and political leaders make of Princess Swashbuckle? For this froggy princess (designed perhaps as a sideswipe at the saying about having to kiss lots of frogs to find a prince) has dreams to “one day rule the waves as a froggy pirate queen”, much to her parents’ dismay as they see her married to a handsome prince and leading a more conventional, traditional life. Disgusted by this thought, Princess Swashbuckle understands that she is so much more than her parents’ ideas, so she packs her bags and stows away on a pirate ship. Assuming leadership of the Stinky Fish abandoned by its captain, she tells the crew that they are “going on a mission to find NICE things to do.” News of her good deeds spreads far and wide but even swashbuckling princesses can get homesick…

Told in rollicking rhyme and rhythm and beautifully illustrated, this is a story to inspire young girls and boys to know themselves and follow their dreams to find their own version of happy.  If that means bucking the conservative, conventional norm, then so be it. Being the change you want to see can be difficult.   In the wake of the publicity given to Harper Nielsen’s protest, including a dedicated Twitter tag #sitwithharper, social media was flooded with alternative, more inclusive versions of the anthem including this one from Judith Durham.

Just as Harper started a conversation that might change thinking and Princess Swashbuckle changed Frogland forever, we need more of both of them – if only to inspire our girls and to show the right-wing,status-quo, stick-in-the-mud thinkers that young people do have thoughts and opinions and as future leaders, they need to be encouraged to express them, act on them and be acknowledged for their courage to do so.  

Lucia and Lawrence

Lucia and Lawrence

Lucia and Lawrence

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lucia and Lawrence

Joanna Francis

New Frontier, 2018 

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

9781925594157

Lucia and Lawrence live next door to each other, but two more diverse children would be hard to find.  Lucia is creative and lives in a world of fantasy with “dreams that reach as high as the sky and as deep as the sea.” She loves playing outdoors, cloud-dreaming and letting her imagination soar. Lawrence, on the other hand, has “a head full of numbers that are predictable and safe.” He prefers to stay indoors, using his imagination in a different way.  Lucia is outgoing, loud and confident; Lawrence is quiet, shy and prefers his own company. She is a risk-taker, he prefers the logic and order of his calculations. Hers is a world of colour ; his more monochromatic. 

Connecting through messages on paper aeroplanes and tin cans joined with string, they build up a friendship, respecting each others’ differences.  But when Lucia asks Lawrence to her birthday party, he declines and watches through his window as Lucia and her friends gallivant around her backyard in fancy dress and having a magical time.  And that gives him an idea, one that will combine his world of numbers and physics and her world of imagination and fantasy.

Children usually make friends easily, prepared to play with whoever is at hand ignoring all but the game in motion.  But every now and then they meet someone who is not quite like them, the yin to their yang, and yet still there is a connection that suggests this will be a deep and lasting relationship. But sometimes, even that connection is at the risk of fracturing as Lucia and Lawrence’s is when he refuses his party invitation and it can be tricky to build a bridge.  But if and when that bridge can be built it can lead to something that is better than before. 

Stunningly illustrated with images and colours that depict their characters’ personalities, this is a different story about a familiar theme that opens up much to explore about Lucia’s imaginary world and Lawrence’s more practical one.  Readers might identify with one child more than the other and this in itself lends itself to discussions and responses that will show a personal connection to the story.  Everyone will know either a Lucia or a Lawrence and be able to reflect on their similarities and differences as they learn the art of compromise, the glue that holds relationships together. 

Lottie Perkins (series)

Lottie Perkins (series)

Lottie Perkins (series)

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lottie Perkins (series)

Katrina Nannestad

Makoto Koji

ABC Books, 2018

64pp., pbk., RRP $A9.99

Movie Star

9780733339059

Ballerina

9780733339066

Pop Singer

9780733339073

Fashion Designer

9780733339080

 

Charlotte (you can call me Lottie) Perkins is an exceptional child – well, that’s her belief anyway.  She has a range of talents -each different in each book – but most of all she has drive, determination and a confidence in herself that is remarkable for a seven year old.  In each episode of this new series, Lottie becomes a different character, one that is determined by the events that get her into strife and how she extricates herself from it. 

Aided and abetted by her best friend Sam Bell, who believes in her as much as she does herself, her goat Feta and her pet rabbits, she slips into new roles while managing to circumvent the blocking efforts of mean-girl Harper Dark and her cronies, using her unique talents to emerge triumphant and even more confident than ever.

This is a new series for young girls who are becoming independent readers, with its large font, short chapters and liberal illustrations supporting their efforts.  They will relate to the feisty, resilient Lottie and readily imagine themselves in her shoes. Something new for this age group who are transitioning between basal readers and novels with the first two books available now and the next two to come in November 2018.

 

Help Around the House

Help Around the House

Help Around the House

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Help Around the House

Morris Gleitzman

Puffin, 2018

198pp., pbk., RRP $A16.99

9780143793236

Eleven-year-old Ludo is on his way to live in Canberra because his father has just been elected as the new Independent federal representative for Culliton, but beginning with being seated in business class he is overwhelmed by the luxury and ostentation that come as part of a federal Member’s salary and entitlements.

A boy who lives (almost) strictly according to Scout Law and his deceased mother’s mandate of helping others, Ludo vows to turn things around and get the politicians to understand and act on how much their generous remuneration would help others who are not so fortunate, particularly the homeless.  But it is not as easy as it seems and while his father is off on a fundraising trip, Ludo, with his new Scout friend Henry, soon finds himself embroiled in the seedier, selfish side of Canberra’s political life, hampered by Mike, his father’s aide who can see no further than votes, the next election and power, but helped by Mrs B, the housekeeper who knows more than a regular housekeeper might. Ludo is determined to ensure that fairness and justice prevail, even though that finds him out late at night, bending some of the rules instilled in him by his mother with whom he has regular ‘conversations’ and who Gleitzman says is modelled on his own mother who died while he was writing the book.  She is certainly a strong guiding presence for Ludo in a place where moral principles seem to have departed, and while the ideals learned from her may get shaken at times, nevertheless, Ludo’s core beliefs about who he is and what he should do are unshaken.

This is the latest release from the current Australian Children’s Laureate (his next is the finale to the Once series) and like all his books since his first, The Other Facts of Life written in 1987, this is a cracker.  Over 30 years of writing for children. children whose  own children will be getting ready to share his work with their children, and Gleitzman still has the rare gift of combining credible, likeable characters in almost-plausible situations with a message softened with humour.  Ludo who sees life through the idealistic eyes of a typical 11-year-old who has been brought up in kindness and selflessness and who has absorbed the tenets of Scout Law into his psyche learns some tough lessons about the reality of life, particularly how personal perceptions shape responses, while his father also has to reassess his future as the truth about political life becomes apparent.  Given the recent events in federal parliament, this is particularly relevant as questions are asked about who among our young people would want to become a politician.

Having spent 30 years living in Canberra, this book has a personal connection and even though some of the places are fictitious,  many of the events in the story are not and Gleitzman’s exposure of the behind-the-scenes machinations and motivations was unsurprising to this somewhat-jaded senior citizen.  But to the young reader, perhaps meeting Gleitzman for the first time,  it may be disappointing that adults are so self-centred but the ending is uplifting and will reaffirm their belief in the basic goodness and good intentions of most adults.  A page-turner! 

Chalk Boy

Chalk Boy

Chalk Boy

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chalk Boy

Margaret Wild

Mandy Ord

Allen & Unwin, 2018

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

9781760630683

As the city rushes by on its way to who-knows-where intent on who-knows-what, pavement artist Barnaby begins to draw with his thick blue chalk.  His focus is a portrait of a boy, but unlike his other drawings this one has a head that thinks, eyes that see, ears that hear and a heart that feels.  Barnaby warns the boy that when the rain comes he will wash away, and the boy accepts that, but in the meantime he will enjoy the life he has been given, no matter how short it is.  

But when the cold, cold night comes with its ominous dark clouds, and the inevitable is near, the boy cries out because he does not want to die alone.  Is his fate sealed?

Margaret Wild has a knack for packing a punch into her stories using a minimum of words, and this observation about the fragility of life and the need to enjoy what we have rather than wish for what we haven’t, is no exception.  Although it starts as a third-person narration about Barnaby creating his picture, it switches to the boy being the teller of his own story making it even more powerful.  Mandy Ord’s edgy, street-art illustrations are not only perfect for the setting but reflect her background with the Melbourne underground comic community. The concept of people hurrying, always seeking the next thing rather than being in the moment and appreciating it for what it is is very strong. The almost monochromatic palette with the boy in symbolic light blue being the only relief puts the focus where it needs to be.   

Despite the seemingly simple text, this is a book for older readers who can delve beneath what is on the page and consider what is actually being said. 

Things My Pa Told Me

Things My Pa Told Me

Things My Pa Told Me

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Things My Pa Told Me

Anthony Bertini

Jonathan Bentley

Little Hare, 2018

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

9781760501426

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A peek inside...

A peek inside...

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

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

 

 

The Peski Kids 1, The Mystery of the Squashed Cockroach

The Peski Kids 1, The Mystery of the Squashed Cockroach

The Peski Kids 1, The Mystery of the Squashed Cockroach

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Peski Kids 1, The Mystery of the Squashed Cockroach

R. A. Spratt

Puffin, 2018

275pp., pbk., RRP $A16.99

9780143788812

Feisty, feminist April is twelve; pedantic, peace-loving Fin is 13;  shy, stuttering Joe is 16 and they are the children of a brilliant paleontologist mother and a bumbling botanist father.  When their mother is captured at an Eastern European airport and imprisoned for being an international spy, her boss Professor Maynard intervenes, blows their house up and whisks the children away just seconds before the Kolektiv come to do the same thing.

Driving through the night, they are taken to their father’s farm near the tiny town of Currawong, a man who is as vague as their mother is smart and whom they haven’t seen for eleven years and scarcely remember because he is terrified of his wife. He is so nervous and passive that he lets his young neighbour Loretta Viswanathan practise her show jumping in his garden, despite her crashing into and ruining his carefully collected and nurtured plants.

Forced to change their name, and urged by Professor  Maynard to fit into the community so they are safe, they find themselves having to don a school uniform – which includes a skirt for April which deeply offends her principles of choices – and rushed off to school along with Pumpkin, April’s companion dog to help her with her anger management issues but which has more issues than she does.

But how are they going to fit into a town that has a giant potato (that looks like a big poo) as its main tourist attraction and where the Currawong Annual Cockroach Races are one of the biggest events of the year and the greatest hero to have emerged was a long-ago lawn bowls champion who is still honoured?  Can independent, street-wise city kids become country kids? Can they put their personal differences and continual squabbling aside to unite and keep themselves safe?

This is the first in a new series from the author of Friday Barnes and Nanny Piggins and which promises to be just as engaging and intriguing as its predecessors.  Because she draws on her own experiences, family, and surroundings, Spratt has a knack of making the quirkiest of characters credible so that the reader immediately connects with them and wants to find out what happens as they navigate their way not only through “normal life” but also the adventures and mysteries that befall them.  Inwardly, they want to be like Friday and her cohort and it will be no exception with this new family.  Funny, sassy, smart, independent, resilient with a strong sense of their own self and their place in the world, April, Fin (aka Sharkfin) and Joe (aka Peregrine but he forged a new birth certificate)  will quickly become the new aspirational heroes for the 10+ age group who are independent readers.

With two more additions already planned for release in January and August next year, Miss 12 (who adored Friday Barnes and begged me to buy her the whole series) is going to have her Christmas holiday reading sorted, as will all the other Friday Barnes fans!

The Peski Kids, The Mystery of the Squashed Cockroach will be launched at The Little Bookroom in Melbourne, today August 22.