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Flamingo Boy

Flamingo Boy

Flamingo Boy

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Flamingo Boy

Michael Morpurgo

HarperCollins, 2018

288pp., hbk., RRP $A29.99

9780008134631

Time and circumstance have led Vincent to the Camargue in south-western France, the vast delta of the Rhone River,  cut off from the sea by sandbars  with over a third of it shallow lakes or swampy marshland, a haven for birdlife particularly the flamingo. Drawn there by a van Gogh painting that has hung in his bedroom since he was a child and an old story about following the bend in the road, Vincent succumbs to a mystery illness and finds himself in the care of Kezia, a middle-aged gypsy woman and the autistic Lorenzo who has significant intellectual challenges but who has a remarkable affinity with the wildlife, particularly the flamingos, his beloved “flam, flam”. 

Seascape at Saintes-Maries

Seascape at Saintes-Maries

 At first, Vincent assumes that they are husband and wife but as he slowly recovers, Kezia gradually tells him the story of how they became best forever friends and how when the Germans came and occupied their town, another unlikely friendship with a German soldier enabled ‘Renzo to cope and survive with the unexpected and unwanted changes that were inevitable under Occupation  where those, including children, who were different were always under threat.

“Lorenzo loved everything to be the same, even goodbyes. Goodbyes, hellos, sausages and songs, he loved what he knew, never wanted anything to be different. The trouble is that things do change, whether we like it or not. And for Lorenzo any change was always difficult. It still is sometimes.”

Morpurgo has a gift for telling unique, utterly engaging stories that appeal to all ages, and this one is no different. Inspired by his autistic grandson, Sir Michael Morpurgo describes it as “a story of love and friendship, of how people from different cultures and backgrounds can come together, especially when they are under threat.” 

The narrative style of being a story within a story has drawn criticism from some reviewers – all adults; and Morpurgo himself says that his knowledge of autism is “too shallow” but for the younger audience it is intended for, it is gentle and compelling. If the reader takes nothing away from this book beyond Morpurgo’s description of Lorenzo …“He was like no one I had ever encountered before. He joined our world – the real world as we like to think of it – and left it as and when he felt like it. Everything he did was both spontaneous and meant. His words and his ways were his own” which so superbly sums up the autistic child, then it is worth the time taken to absorb yourself in it. 

Bill Baillie – The Life and Adventures of a Pet Bilby

Bill Baillie

Bill Baillie

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bill Baillie – The Life and Adventures of a Pet Bilby

Ellis Rowan

NLA Publishing, 2018

104pp., hbk., RRP $A24.99

9780642279200

In the harsh, hot Western Australian desert, several hundred miles inland from Perth lies the town of Goongarrie, where, at the turn of last century, Tabitha, a painter, came to paint the wonders of the landscape and its inhabitants.  Despite its remoteness there were people there and each day they brought her “curious plants and queer beasts” to examine and paint.  

Among those “queer beasts” was a little creature – naked, five inches (12.5 cm) long at most, long legs with a strange eyelet mouth that had been attached to a teat in its mother’s pouch before she was killed in the sharp teeth of a deadly trap. Looking like he had given up and decided to die, it felt the warm, comforting hands of Tabitha around him and in that moment both were determined that he would live.  Bill Baillie’s life and adventures with this itinerant painter had begun!

And what a life it was – becoming famous and known as ‘Master Bill Baillie of Goongarrie” he travelled everywhere with Tabitha for the rest of his life, his energy unbounded, his curiosity unsated,  especially at night time which was his day, and his love for her unequalled. Getting into precarious situations, dodging a host of bilby enemies who wanted to eat him and travelling on trains and boats and wagons from Perth to Melbourne, Bill Baillie was Tabitha’s constant companion until his inevitable, sad death in her arms just two years later. 

“Tabitha’ is actually Ellis Rowan herself who was determined “to find and paint every wildflower on the continent”, and she initially wrote this story in 1908 at a time when having a native creature for a pet was considered a curiosity rather than a concern.  Using remarkable skill that keeps the reader intrigued and wanting to know more about these almost mythical creatures, Stephanie Owen Reeder has abridged the original using more accessible vocabulary and shorter chapters while omitting none of the drama of this curious relationship.  Rowan’s descriptions of the environment as viewed through the eyes of a painter are exquisite and the reader is transported to that vast lonely landscape with its brilliant colours and on-the-surface desolation brought to life.  Many of the original illustrations by Rowan and Hans Praetorius have been left in while others from the NLA’s collection of bilby paintings have also been included.

As is usual with NLA publications, the story is complemented by  several pages of further information, all based on the library’s relevant collections including the Rowan collection itself.  

Bilbies are an endearing but endangered species brought to our attention as the Australian symbol of Easter to raise awareness of the damage done to the environment by the introduced wild rabbits so the release of the charming story is fitting, with Easter on the horizon.

 

 

Lyla

Lyla

Lyla

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lyla

(Through My Eyes-Natural Disasters  series)

Fleur Beale

A & U Childrens, 2018

208pp., pbk., RRP $A 16.99

9781760113780

DISCLAIMER: This will be neither an impartial nor an unemotional review. For one who called Christchurch home for many years, particularly those formative years of my schooling and teacher education, and for whom so much that was so familiar is now gone, it is impossible to be objective when the places and events are so well-known.  Although I was not there during the earthquake I have made trips back and I still can’t get my head around it.

February 22, 2011 and life has returned to normal for Lyla and her friends Katie and Shona after the 7.1 magnitude earthquake struck – that’s if having the earth move under your feet several times a day and making a game of guessing the magnitude can be considered normal. Even the daily reminder of the main block of their school, Avonside Girls’ High, being damaged and unusable has been set aside as they try to do the things that 13 and 14 year olds students do. Caught in town at 12.51pm when ‘the big one’ hit, their lives are plunged into chaos as buildings collapse and  people panic as the air fills with dust making visibility almost impossible.

While it is possible to watch endless news coverage, read articles and information it is impossible to know what a natural disaster such as this is really like unless you are part of it and experience it for yourself.  So while I had watched and read and listened and learned, spoken to family and friends who were in the thick of it and even returned home and visited the backyard of such a major part of my life, it was not until reading Lyla that I got a real understanding of what it was to be in the moment.  Beale has drawn on stories of the events of the day and the months following and woven them into a narrative that is both scary and un-put-downable that illustrates not just individual heroism but that sense of community among strangers that seems to emerge when humans are put under such duress – made all the more haunting when you can picture the reality of the setting which is a well-known as the face in the mirror.

In the beginning, there is the fear for family and friends as both Lyla’s mother, a police officer and her father, a trauma nurse at Christchurch Hospital are unaccounted for and she is separated from Shona and Katie in the chaos as the SMS service goes into meltdown, and while they are eventually found to be OK that need to know family is safe means that all families have an earthquake plan much the same as Australians have a bushfire plan. The theme of needing to be with others is strong throughout as neighbours have a need to eat and sleep and be together even if they have a habitable home to go to, and enduring and unusual friendships and bonds are formed.   

There is also a strong thread of Lyla feeling powerless because of her age but finding things she can do that make a difference such as babysitting her neighbour’s children so their mother can return to the medical centre where she works; helping shovel the oozing, stinking liquefaction for elderly neighbours; setting up a charging station for those still without electricity… seemingly minor things within the big picture but nevertheless critical to her mental health at the time.

But like so many then and now, the situation becomes overwhelming. Despite hearing the harrowing tales of others and the rising death toll, and the news of the Japanese earthquake and tsunami and telling herself that compared to them she is in great shape, Lyla succumbs and needs qualified medical intervention.  This is another strength of the story – given that seven years on the city still has not recovered it was never going to have a happy, all-is-fine ending, so having Lyla denying help because the common thinking is that the people of Christchurch are somehow more resilient than others, that because her home isn’t munted she should be okay, but nevertheless accepting it and going some way towards recovery shines a light on the okay-ness of needing assistance to get things back in balance.  This particularly poignant in light of the subsequent increase in suicides, unprecedented demand for psychological help and the continuing need for support as there has been a 73% increase in the number of children who need support for mental health issues in Christchurch.

While this has been an emotional read for me, it and the others in both this series and its twin focusing on children living in conflict are essential elements of both the curriculum and the collection as they offer the ‘colour and detail’ to the stark monochrome sketches of news reports, websites and other information-only sources.  They are the blend of imagination and information that such fiction can offer that leads to insight and understanding.  

Seven years on, long after the event has disappeared from the news headlines and faded from the memories of those not directly involved,  the reality of that time is still in-your-face on every corner of Christchurch and will be for many years to come – Lyla and her friends will be 20 now, confronted by images and memories of that day still, just as anyone who has lived and loved Christchurch is.  For now Ruaumoko, the Maori god of earthquakes has settled a little (even though there were 25 quakes in the week preceding the anniversary, albeit peanuts compared to the 15669 on that day in 2011) but like her friends, family and all those who chose to remain in Christchurch to rebuild their lives and their city one wonders when he will wake again.

185 empty white chairs

185 empty white chairs surrounded by empty spaces, broken buildings and a gloomy sky – September 2015

 

 

Barney and the Secret of the French Spies

Barney and the Secret of the French Spies

Barney and the Secret of the French Spies

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Barney and the Secret of the French Spies

Jackie French

HarperCollins, 2018 

128pp., pbk., RRP $A14.99

 9781460751305

Barney first met the mysterious Elsie hiding under a rock and, like him, eking out an existence on the shores of Port Jackson in 1791 where he was an orphaned child, son of a convict and with no one and nowhere to call home.  Like Barney, she was eventually taken under the wing of the Reverend and Mrs Johnson but she remained an enigma for she never spoke.  On one or two very rare occasions, Barney did hear her utter something but it was so fleeting he thought he was hearing things. 

Now, in this 4th in this series that features Barney telling of his life while uncovering some of the secrets of this country’s early beginnings, Elsie’s story is told at last.  While Barney is beginning to prosper on his farm on the Parramatta River, Elsie has stayed in Sydney Town with the Johnsons and become a sought-after cook by the colony’s elite like Mrs Macarthur. But when word comes that she is desperately ill, perhaps with typhus, Barney hastens to her side in the isolation hut at the hospital and while she doesn’t have typhus it soon becomes clear why she has been put in isolation.  For in her delirium she cries out and while to Barney’s ear she is speaking gobbledygook, both Mrs Johnson and Mrs Macarthur recognise it as French!  They also recognise the dire consequences if Elsie’s nationality is discovered for once again, England and France are at war.

Acknowledging his  enduring love for Elsie and his intention to marry her, Barney stays by her side as she recuperates, encouraged by both women for they believe that he is the only one one that Elsie is likely to divulge her secrets to.  And what a secret it is….

The very best historical fiction weaves fact and fiction so closely together that the reader is left not only wondering what is true and what is imagined, but also wanting to discover more.  And so it is again with Jackie French’s masterful storytelling only this time the secret that Elsie discloses opens up so many pathways to wander down and explore that it is almost overwhelming.  Traditionally history has been told by men because only men were listened to and only the things men did were deemed important and so women and their achievements have been all but invisible. 

But they were there – often in disguise as Elsie’s great-aunt was – and making their mark in life if not in the history books! In the prologue the reader is warned that there are two secrets in this book – not just the story of Elsie but another one “every person needs to yell out loud” – the stories of the women in history that have been kept secret for centuries and generations; secrets that are slowly being uncovered and secrets that will never be discovered.   For it is only in this generation of women alive now that so many barriers have been battered down – even my own mother was expected to give up her hard-fought for job in journalism so a man returning from war could have employment –  that we can learn about the role of the women in our past and acknowledge and celebrate it. Through Elsie’s story and her author’s notes, Jackie not only builds awareness that the role of women goes far beyond anything we can imagine but also challenges us to expose it!

Whose secret will you share?

Butterfly Wishes (series)

Butterfly Wishes

Butterfly Wishes

 

 

 

 

 

Butterfly Wishes (series)

Jennifer Castle

Bloomsbury, 2018 

128pp., pbk., RRP $A9.99

Sisters Addie and Clara have just moved to a new house in the country, where they discover that their backyard is a gateway to the enchanted realm of magical butterflies called Wishing Wings. These special butterflies have the power to make wishes come true! 

Each story is complete with plenty of illustrations (the covers alone will inspire imagination) and contain a gentle life lesson as the problem and its resolution are explored.

This is a new series for newly independent readers, particularly girls, who are looking for something with sparkle, magic and the beginnings of fantasy.  While the first, The Wishing Wings,  is available now the others will be released in quick succession so these young readers do not have to wait too long to revisit this new magical world. 

A delightful new series that will encourage young readers to keep coming back for the next episodes.

 

Mr Bambuckle’s Remarkables Fight Back

Mr Bambuckle's Remarkables Fight Back

Mr Bambuckle’s Remarkables Fight Back

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mr Bambuckle’s Remarkables Fight Back

Tim Harris

James Hart

Random House Australia, 2018

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

9780143785873

The 15 students in Room 12B are not happy.  As they walk into class, they discover the aptly-named Miss frost writing a list of rules on the board, none of which inspire positive behaviour but promise dire consequences for the opposite.  “Discipline is the new order” is her mantra and she further inspires their love and co-operation (not) by handing out 11 pages of handwriting exercises, and then walks around criticising everyone’s efforts. 

The class that had been labelled misfits and miserables who were just beginning to blossom and bloom with their quirky but beloved Mr Bambuckle, fired by Principal Sternblast, started to shrink back as though they had been sprayed with weedkiller. 

But Vex Vron has a plan and it’s time to put it into action… but he will need the help of his classmates and their particular and peculiar powers.

Readers who took a shine to Mr Bambuckle in the first of this new series will be glad to see him making a quick comeback – is there anything worse than having to wait a year for a sequel?- while others might be comparing their new year’s teacher with him and wishing they could be in 12B too! Ideal for independent readers with its humour, identifiable characters, short chapters, copious illustrations and other inserts that break up the text, this series is a perfect read-aloud to break the ice of the new school year and to encourage even reluctant readers that there is much fun to be had between the covers of books – they just have to open them!

Great thing that the ending of this one sets things up perfectly for yet another sequel.

 

The Wind in the Willows

The Wind in the Willows

The Wind in the Willows

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Wind in the Willows

Kenneth Grahame

Robert Ingpen

Walker, 2017

64pp., hbk., RRP $A27.99

9781760650247

Bored with his annual spring cleaning, Mole leaves his underground home to explore his surroundings and discovers a small community of other creatures living on the riverbank of a gentle English river. His first new friend is Rat, and after a long lazy afternoon boating down the river, Rat invites Mole to live with him.  And then the adventures begin as he meets Toad of Toad Hall and Badger.

This children’s classic first published in 1908 has remained in print in many guises for 110 years as well as being converted to other media including  stage, film  and television. Now, an abridged version beautifully illustrated by Robert Ingpen is available for another generation to enjoy the adventures of these four friends in Edwardian England. 

Whether read aloud as a bedtime story, a perfect vehicle for introducing young listeners to the concept of “chapter books” where the same characters feature in a complete story in each chapter, or as a foray into longer books by the newly independent reader, timid Mole, friendly Water Rat, imperious Badger and mischievous Toad will find a new set of fans as yet another generation follows their fun and frolics.

Ingpen himself has an impressive body of work including a range of children’s classics, his work was launched with the release of Colin Thiele’s Storm Boy in 1974, and as the only Australian illustrator to have won the Hans Christian Andersen Medal, his portfolio would make an excellent introduction for studying illustration in children’s picture books.  

Storm Boy

Storm Boy

“I just want to make pictures that help get messages across and tell stories and, if children are involved, I want to be able to have them maintain their natural imagination for as long as possible.”

An exquisite addition to a personal or a library’s collection.

A peek inside...

A peek inside…

Pippa’s Island: Kira Dreaming

Pippa's Island: Kira Dreaming

Pippa’s Island: Kira Dreaming

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pippa’s Island: Kira Dreaming

Belinda Murrell

Random House, 2018

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

9780143783701

Life could hardly be more different for Pippa.  From a seemingly happy family living in a Victorian terrace house in London to a caravan in her grandparents’ backyard on a tropical island off the Australian coast.  Forced to make changes when her husband decided to work in Switzerland without them, Pippa’s mother has uprooted the family to a totally new environment where she is now running the increasingly popular Beach Shack Cafe created from an old, abandoned boat shed – a huge contrast to being a stockbroker in London!.

Pippa has a new puppy called Summer, is learning to surf, has settled into school and now has a group of friends – Meg, Cici and Charlie- and they call themselves the Sassy Sisters. 

This, the third in this series for independent readers, focuses on Kira Cove Public School’s talent quest.and while her friends are excited about performing, Pippa is very nervous. Singing to an audience is not what she likes.  After a disastrous audition the girls get a second chance, but can Pippa find a way to smash her stage fright before the VIP concert?

Meanwhile, at the Beach Shack Cafe a mysterious visitor is causing havoc when backs are turned. When Pippa finds a clue, she is determined to track down the mischievous cafe thief.

This series was going to be in Miss 11’s Santa’s Sack but when that got too full, I decided to hold it back till that time in the holidays when there is a lull in the excitement – in her case, wedged between Christmas and a new bike and going on Scout camp.  And it was a great decision because as soon as I gave it to her she was off to read it and has now read all three books in 48 hours and demanding to know when the next one is coming out.  She tells me she loves them because the story “sounds just like me and my friends and the things we do.”  I could rave on about the quality of Murrell’s writing and the way she portrays the characters, but surely there is no better review than a big thumbs up and huge anticipation from one for whom the story was written!

If you don’t have this series in your collection, then put it at the top of your to-buy list and let your girls have at it. 

Lucky Button

Lucky Button

Lucky Button

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lucky Button

Michael Morpurgo

Michael Foreman

Walker, 2017

176pp., hbk., RRP $A19.99

 9781406371680

May 8th, the one day of the year that Jonah dreads because it is the anniversary of the accident that left his mother in a wheelchair two years previously and left him as her carer.

He regards it as ‘the day the music died’ because despite her love of music and American Pie being her favourite tune, his mother has not played or sung since the accident.  Jonah himself loves to sing and has been given an important role in the upcoming school play because of his voice. However, because of having to care for his mother – a fact he keeps secret although his teachers are aware of it and are compassionate – he finds it hard to fit in at school, has no friends except for the thread of one with Valeria, a newly-arrived Russian girl, and is teased and bullied because of his name.

During play practice one of the other boys deliberately injures him, and after being attended to by the school nurse, Jonah flees to the school chapel, his place of refuge where he can cry, and yell out his anger and sing his heart out till he gets back to a place of balance.  There on the floor he finds a brass button and as he picks it up, the church’s pipe organ begins to play and a remarkable story that impacts him profoundly unfolds…

As with stories like The Fox and the Ghost King, Morpurgo weaves the facts of history with the fiction of his imagination into an engaging, memorable story and Lucky Button is no exception.  Focusing on the story of Nathaniel Hogarth, an orphan of the Foundling Hospital, created by Thomas Coram in 1739 with help from William Hogarth and George Frideric Handel, music becomes the centre of the story as the young boy is befriended by the young Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and his sister during their time in England. Sensitively illustrated by Michael Foreman, this is a story for newly independent readers who like historical fiction and something a little bit different.

Sage Cookson’s Christmas Ghost

 

 

 

Sage Cookson's Christmas Ghost

Sage Cookson’s Christmas Ghost

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sage Cookson’s Christmas Ghost

Sally Murphy

New Frontier, 2017

65pp., pbk., RRP $A9.99

9781925594058

Sage Cookson, daughter of globe-trotting celebrity chefs Ginger and Basil, is on the move again.  Sad about leaving her best friend Lucy behind for Christmas, nevertheless she is excited about going to Western Australia where her parents are going to be supervising the creation of the world’s largest pavlova in an attempt to break the record for this dessert, currently held by its country of origin, New Zealand.  

Too large to be baked in conventional ovens, the action takes place in a disused brickworks where the kilns are large enough to accommodate it, and there will be live crosses to its creation and success (or otherwise) during the annual carols by Candlelight program broadcast on television in the eastern states.  Despite a definitive ruling,  this concoction of sugar and egg whites has been the subject of dispute since it was first created and served in 1927 in honour of ballerina Anna Pavlova’s visit to the two countries in the 1920s and this becomes the centre of the conflict.  Are all the little things going wrong or going missing the work of a malevolent Christmas ghost or a saboteur…

This series for newly independent younger readers combines the author’s love of television cooking shows and mysteries, so that in each new addition something goes wrong and Sage has to solve the problem. Will she get to the bottom of this mystery and enable Australia to claim the record or will it stay where it belongs, in New Zealand?  Sage is going to appeal to a range of young readers who will be able to follow her adventures and then visit her website for more fun. Learning to make proper pavlova is something we Kiwi kids learned at our mother’s elbow, but there is a recipe included (very similar to the original, proper one) that more adventurous young cooks might like to try.