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Sarah and the Steep Slope

Sarah and the Steep Slope

Sarah and the Steep Slope

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sarah and the Steep Slope

Danny Parker

Matt Ottley

Little Hare, 2017

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

9781742974675

When Sarah opened her door one morning she was confronted by it.  A steep slope. Blocking out the sun and casting a shadow across everything. Rising in front her like an insurmountable and impenetrable barrier.  And so it proved to be.

Prodding and pushing didn’t move it,  surprising it didn’t shake it and trying to sneak around it was hopeless.  And when she tried to climb it, even with her climbing shoes, she got halfway and then slid all the way back down.  How was she going to see her friends?

Nothing worked – even ignoring it didn’t make it go away and neither did the help of the slope doctor so he left clutching a lot of notes for Sarah’s friends and going out the door to a flat, sunlit landscape. Next day her friends visited her and they didn’t see the steep slope either. They stayed and played all day long.  And the next day…

This is a sophisticated picture book for older readers who will appreciate its symbolism as Sarah tries to negotiate the steep slope that is only visible to her. Younger readers who are still at a very literal stage of development may not understand that the slope exists only in Sarah’s mind and that it is a representation of a problem that she perceives to have no solution.

If used in a class situation, students may make suggestions about the slope that is facing Sarah and be willing to share the “slopes” they have had to navigate – physical, academic, mental and emotional – and how they found their way, while others with slopes in front of them still may draw comfort and even hope that they are not alone and that there is a pathway they can follow. We are all faced with “slopes’ as we live and learn – some steeper than others but without them there is no progress in life – and part of the success of climbing them lies in being able to acknowledge and  analyse the issue, break it into small steps, develop strategies to tackle each step, understand that others are willing and able to help and it is no shame to ask them,  believe success is possible and engage in positive self-talk.  

This is a story about the power of friendship, of having the courage to take the next step forward, of being resilient and acknowledging we are part of a village that we can seek support from and that there is always help and hope. The absence of Sarah’s family in her solution and her reaching out to a doctor rather than a parent suggest that sometimes the issue is within the family or it is not something the child feels comfortable talking about with a family member for a range of reasons, giving the reader the approval that it is okay to seek advice and assistance beyond the traditional helpers used as they have grown up without feeling guilty that they have betrayed anyone or hurt their feelings.  

Apart from the concepts of symbolism, similes and metaphors and all that technical English language stuff, this is an important book in the mindfulness collection as we finally start to acknowledge the mental health issues for even the youngest children and help them develop the strategies and skills that will enable and empower them. Those are the important lessons teachers, and I use the word in its broadest sense, teach.

 

 

Pippa’s Island: Cub Reporters

Pippa's Island: Cub Reporters

Pippa’s Island: Cub Reporters

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pippa’s Island: Cub Reporters

Belinda Murrell

Random House Australia, 2017

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

9780143783688

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. So when teacher librarian Mrs Neill launches a student newspaper inviting all the students to submit articles for the first edition, they are very excited.    But each has different interests and therefore different ideas of the focus of their story so whose idea will be adopted? And what happens when naughty puppies and tropical weather and unco-operative shopkeepers interfere with their plans? Being a junior journalist is not as easy as it sounds.

This is the second in this new series by Belinda Murrell, aimed at the independent reader who is looking for something that will absorb them for a while.  Writing modern stories for this tween-age group who are on the cusp of becoming young women with all that that entails is difficult because there is a fine line between what to include so the older girl remains interested and what to leave out so that the younger girl who is reading at this level is not turned away. In this series, Murrell has nailed it with just the right balance.  There is action aplenty, a healthy relationship with the boys in the story, Cici’s fashion interests to add the touch of glamour and a main character who could be almost any girl who picks up the book.  This and its predecessor The Beach Shack Cafe      will be in Miss 11’s Santa’s Sack this year!

When I was this age I read The Pen and Pencil Girls   by Clare Mallory, a book which had such an influence on my writing as a child that I tracked a copy down and bought it a few years ago. Move forward a couple of decades and the Junior Journalists club was the most popular and sustainable one  that operated in my school library, and now we have Cub Reporters to inspire another generation.  Offering kids an authentic outlet for their writing, their illustrating and their photography is a winner for getting those who have a passion for these things involved in school life while perhaps moving them on to a higher level of expertise. Let this book be the one to kickstart a program in your library. 

The Royal Academy of Sport for Girls (series)

The Royal Academy of Sport for Girls

The Royal Academy of Sport for Girls

 

 

 

 

 

The Royal Academy of Sport for Girls (series)

Laura Sieveking

Random House Australia, 2017

160pp., pbk., RRP $A14.99

9781925324624

The Royal Academy of Sport for Girls is the dream school for girls aspiring to be elite athletes in almost any sport.  With a range of high-spec training facilities, top coaches and a curriculum that embraces all the regular things but still allows time for training without ridiculous pre-dawn or after-dark hours, only the most promising are able to pass the rigorous entrance tests and go on to take advantage of what’s on offer.

This is a new series that will appeal to independent readers who are sports-minded and who are looking for stories about girls who excel at what they do. While each title so far focuses on a sport that  is normally for individuals, each is encased in a team atmosphere so the message about teamwork is still strong.  There is a strong central character who is devoted to her sport but who also faces particular challenges in order to be more than just a champion competitor.  In High Flyers Abby doubts her ability; in Leap of Faith Chloe starts two months after the other girls;  in Running Free Josie academic work is suffering; and in In Too Deep Delphie discovers a secret about a rival team member who is also her friend. 

Each book stands alone – it is the setting that is the common theme rather than the characters – but the whole series will be welcomed by those who enjoy reading about girls like themselves and putting themselves in the character’s shoes as they confront the choices that have to be made.

The Boy and the Spy

The Boy and the Spy

The Boy and the Spy

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Boy and the Spy

Felice Arena

Puffin, 2017

176pp., pbk., RRP $A16.99

9780143309284

Little did Antonio know that when he stuck an irreverent sketch of Hitler and Mussolini on the windscreen of a German jeep that that his life would change forever. Chased by a German soldier, leaping from the treacherous il Diavolo, and rescuing a wounded American spy is not in the script of life for a rota, an abandoned child who is despised and ridiculed by his Sicilian village even though he has been adopted and taken in by and cares for Mamma Nina. 

But that one act by an innocent 12-year-old sets off a chain of events that keeps the reader enthralled as Antonio lurches from one situation to another seeing the reality of war and understanding the true meaning of family. Set in his homeland, Felice Arena has always wanted to create a story there but it took a long time for Antonio’s voice to echo in his head and demand that his story be told. It is a story worth the wait,

Any story that encourages boys, particularly, to read is to be commended but it is wonderful to see what could be termed a true, rollicking, boy’s own adventure being published. Moving apace with credible characters, both good and evil, Antonio gets into such situations that you wonder how he will get out of them but are willing him onward to success even though he is technically helping the enemy.  That said, it will also appeal to girls because without Simonetta’s help Antonio would have stumbled at the first hurdle and Arena himself says that there could be another story in the escape of Simonetta and her mother.  That’s one I will be looking out for!

This one is for the slightly older independent readers who are looking for a bit of meat and tension in their stories, who like something that compels them to keep reading and appreciate story-crafting at a high level. 

100 Things to Know About Food

100 Things to Know About Food

100 Things to Know About Food

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

100 Things to Know About Food

Various Authors

Usborne, 2017

128pp, hbk, RRP $A19.99

9781409598619

This is a fascinating journey through the world of food that will not only appeal to budding young chefs but to anyone who likes to eat.  

Presented with lots of colourful illustrations with hundreds of simply expressed facts that are readily accessible to newly independent readers, it begins with an explanation of why we need to eat, the sorts of basic elements we need to have like fats, carbohydrates, proteins, minerals and vitamins and then takes us on a journey of the most diverse and interesting topics.  Who knew that hating brussels sprouts could be in your DNA; that you should never bake meringues on a rainy day; or that the national fruit of Jamaica contains a deadly poison?  Readers can find out about why farmers rent bees, the last meal served on the Titanic, even about the Frenchman who ate an entire plane between 1978 and 1980.

This is the sort of book that attracts young boys in particular, as they sit around a library table each sharing the same book and each sharing the most outrageous pieces of information they can find.  Despite the knowledge that they gain about the topic, the sheer enjoyment of the activity, and the affirmation that reading is not only useful but fun are enough to ensure that this book deserves a place in the collection.

As is usual with Usborne non fiction, information literacy skills are supported by a glossary and an index  as well as pre-selected weblinks  which take the learning even further. 

Another one for the information-hungry, daughter-of-a-chef Miss 6.  She is going to be surprising her daddy with her new knowledge!!!

The Legend of Rock Paper Scissors

The Legend of Rock Paper Scissors

The Legend of Rock Paper Scissors

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Legend of Rock Paper Scissors

Drew Daywalt

Adam Rex

HarperCollins, 2017

48pp., hbk, RRP $A24.99

9780008252397

In the ancient and distant realm called the Kingdom of the Backgarden lives the warrior Rock.  He believes he is the greatest because no one can give him a worthy challenge that will prove his superiority.  While his battle with the clothes peg and the apricot entertain the backyard dwellers, he feels unsatisfied so he leaves the garden in search of a worthy foe.

Meanwhile in the Empire of Mum’s Study, Paper is feeling the same way. No one can outwit him and so he, too, leaves to look for a worthy opponent.  At the same time, in the Kitchen Realm, Scissors has beaten both Sticky Tape and Dinosaur Chicken Nuggets  so she also goes on a quest to find something better.

And in the great cavern of Two-Car Garage, the three meet for the first time…

Children (and adults) everywhere play the traditional game of Rock Paper Scissors to help them make decisions and reach compromises and now the mastermind behind The Day the Crayons Quit has brought us their true story. Told in narrative and speech bubbles which make the most of bold fonts and imaginative layout, and accompanied by fantastic pictures that bring the most mundane objects to life and emphasise the action, this is a story that will be enjoyed again and again.  Children will love the boldness and loudness that oozes from the pages and you can just see them swaggering around like the characters as they take on their favourite. 

“Dramatic”, “raucous”, “bombastic”, “energetic”, “outrageous” – all have been used to describe this story. Apart from encapsulating it perfectly, what fun students can have suggesting their own adjectives for it and investigating what those ones mean. Further teachers’ notes are available.

A superhero origin story of a slightly different type! 

Pip and Houdini

Pip and Houdini

Pip and Houdini

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pip and Houdini

J. C. Jones

Allen & Unwin, 2017

208pp., pbk., RRP $A14.99

9781760296056

Pip Sullivan first entered our reading lives in Run, Pip, Run when she had to live on her wits to stay out of the clutches of the authorities when her “grandfather” Sully had a stroke and subsequently died. Fearful of being put in foster care, Pip found temporary refuge with her best friend Matilda’s family. But to Pip, Matilda is perfect and never seems to get into trouble whereas Pip doesn’t seem to be able to stay out of it. Convinced she is going to be put in formal foster care with all that entails because she believes the Brownings no longer want her, Pip hits the road with her inseparable dog Houdini determined to find her real mother.  With only a nine-year-old postcard to go by, she is determined to get to Byron Bay…

Full of determination, resilience and quick-thinking Pip has much to overcome as she makes her way north, all the while never giving up hope and never forgetting Houdini who is very well named. Despite her somewhat unorthodox upbringing, she has learned some important life lessons from Sully and these make her a particularly likable little girl of just ten and a bit.  Asking to pay extra for her train fare because she had skipped without paying the day before is just one example. And when all you want is a family of your own, nothing will deter you.

Written so that the reader can understand her perspective and her thinking, it is an engaging sequel that is every bit as good as the CBCA shortlisted original. An engaging, solid read that is a little bit different for independent readers.

 

The Cherry Pie Princess

The Cherry Pie Princess

The Cherry Pie Princess

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Cherry Pie Princess

Vivian French

Marta Kissi

Walker Books, 2017

176pp., pbk., RRP $A14.99

9781406368970

“It’s not much fun being a princess: you have to be prim, proper and obedient. Princess Peony lives in a world full of magical creatures – hags, trolls, giants and fairy godmothers – but her father’s strict rules leave her feeling bored and lonely. She wants to learn how to DO things, and cooking’s at the top of her list. But when Peony borrows a recipe book from the public library, the king has the old librarian who tried to help her arrested for “speaking out of turn”. Can Peony stand up to her father and make things right?”

The publisher’s blurb sums up this engaging story very well. Despite being somewhat of a misfit in her family shunning shoes and pretty dresses to better herself, she counts down the days till her 13th birthday when she is allowed an unescorted “educational” visit but is dismayed to find that her plans to again visit the library which she first discovered when she was nine, are thwarted by Mrs Beef who believes a visit to the family’s mausoleum to study her ancestors would be much better for her. But she manages to escape, makes her way to the library and there her adventures really begin…   

For independent readers who like their princesses to have some attitude but also compassion, this is a new take on the more traditional tale.  Lovers of familiar  fairy tales will see it still has many of the features of the originals with a tyrant king with old-fashion views; older, self-absorbed sisters who treat the youngest one with disdain; the mean, miserable governess with the iron fist; fairy godmothers who can grant wishes; a neglected old hag who is cranky that her invitation to the new prince’s christening has not arrived; dark gloomy dungeons where innocents sit forgotten for years; a talking cat… and only one person who can save the day when trouble threatens.   But they will also like the determination, compassion, resilience and self-reliance of Peony who is more like them and isn’t relying on a handsome prince to get her out of bother.

Vivian French’s storytelling is accompanied by a sprinkling of illustrations that add charm and character, making this ideal for a bedtime read-along  or read-alone for the 7+ age group.

The Secret Garden & Other Stories

The Secret Garden & Other Stories

The Secret Garden & Other Stories

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Secret Garden & Other Stories

Usborne Illustrated Classics

Usborne, 2017

388pp., hbk., RRP $A29.99

9781409586562

Usborne have added another volume to their stable of illustrated collections that bring us the tales, stories, myths and legends that have been shared with and enjoyed by children throughout the generations.  This collection includes The Secret Garden, The Railway Children, The Wizard of Oz, Black Beauty, Little Women and Heidi, all based on the original stories and beautifully illustrated to entice the young reader ready to take their reading in a new direction.

There are some stories that have endured over time for very good reasons and this collection is one that celebrates some of those that continue to be published in full so many years later.  They are the sorts of stories that grandparents and even great-grandparents remember fondly and love to give so these abridged versions are the perfect introduction to the longer, original stories.  Apart from just being a good read, they give 21st century children a glimpse into the lives of children of the past to a time when life wasn’t dominated by screens and technology. Who wouldn’t be tempted to explore the mysteries of Misselthwaite Manor, wander down the yellow brick road or be afraid of going from luxury to poverty overnight?

As well as being an essential addition to the collection, this could be one to flag in your suggestions for Christmas purchases for parents!

Aliens, Ghosts and Vanishings

Aliens, Ghosts and Vanishings

Aliens, Ghosts and Vanishings

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Aliens, Ghosts and Vanishings: Strange and Possibly True Australian Stories

Stella Tarakson

Richard Morden

Random House Australia, 2016

288pp., hbk., RRP $A27.99

9781925324969 

Australia really is a ‘story country” and the tales, tall and true that have been collected in this volume prove just how rich and diverse this nation is.  Even our unofficial national anthem focuses on a ghost so why wouldn’t there be a wealth of stories about mythical creatures, mysterious locations, haunted places, UFO sightings, bizarre disappearances and strange happenings?

 

From bunyips and yowies to Azaria Chamberlain and the disappearance  of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, this is a collection that will absorb the lover of the weird, wonderful and utterly mysterious, some familiar and others not-so. Ostensibly for those 10 and over, its clear format, short chapters and abundant illustrations will appeal to any independent reader who is interested in finding out more about the strange and unusual that this country has on offer.   

As well as the stories themselves, there are pages with extra information and some of the sources the author used for her research are included for those who wish to investigate further.  

Identified as a Notable Book in the 2017 Eve Pownall Award for Information Books, I know a couple of young readers who are going to be having to do scissors-paper-rock to see who reads this one first.