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DK Life Stories (series)

DK Life Stories

DK Life Stories

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

DK Life Stories

Gandhi

Diane Bailey

9781465474636

Albert Einstein

Wil Mara

9780241322918

Helen Keller

Libby Romero

9780241322932

Katherine Johnson

Ebony Joy Wilkins

9780241358580

128pp., hbk., RRP $A16.99

At last the people with the power of the purse strings are beginning to realise that not everything is available online, and what is there is unlikely to be at a reading level accessible to our developing readers, and publishers are responding to the resurgence in demand for quality non fiction resources in print format.  While DK have continued to produce quality print materials throughout this misguided era of everything having to be screen-based, their new Life Stories series, biographies for younger readers, is a welcome addition to a genre that can be the entry point to a world of inspiration for a new generation.

Currently comprising about a dozen  titles, including most of the usual subjects found in this sort of series, the one that caught my eye was that of Katherine Johnson, she who is now the famed NASA mathematician and one of the subjects of the best-selling book and movie Hidden Figures. Miss 12 was just awarded her school’s Science and Technology prize for her work in coding and so this is just perfect for inspiring her to maintain her passion and continue to break down barriers as she moves on to high school.  

Using accessible text, photographs and the usual DK production quality, this series tells the stories behind the celebrities bringing them alive for students who now understand that their world is much larger and older than they are and that many have gone before as pioneers, often against incredible odds, so that they can enjoy the life they do.  Perhaps others would eventually have done what Katherine Johnson did, but for Miss 12 who has the self-doubt and mood swings so typical of her age group, it is Katherine’s story of resilience and determination that is as important as her achievements, just as it is for all the others featured in this series, so it is inspirational on many levels.  When she feels overwhelmed, hopefully she will draw on Katherine’s story to find the courage to take the next step.

That sort of engagement doesn’t come from reading a dispassionate fact-and-figures webpage and so this book in particular and the series in general will be a superb addition to both private and school libraries this year.   

 

47 Degrees

47 Degrees

47 Degrees

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

47 Degrees

Justin D’Ath

Puffin, 2019

256pp., pbk., RRP $A16.99

9780143789079

Saturday, February 7, 2009 and Victoria wakes to a weather forecast of 47 degrees in Melbourne with strengthening northerly winds, part of the pattern of the previous few days as a heatwave crawls across the state. In the tiny community of Flowerdale,  Zeelie’s dad is enacting the family’s bushfire survival plan to stay and defend their home even though her mum and young brother are in the Emergency Department of a Melbourne hospital because Lachy has fallen off Zeelie’s horse Rimu.

Zeelie’s not sure her dad has made the right decision but even though there is a lot of smoke in the air her dad is convinced that his precautions are just that – precautions, and wherever the fire is, they will be safe. But when Zeelie goes next door to find Atticus, the old dog they are minding for absent neighbours who has wandered home and discovers small fires already started by embers, her fear rises particularly for the welfare of her horse Rimu. And when the generator fails and there is no longer electricity for the water pumps, it is clearly time to leave… but what about Mum and Lachy and Rimu?

Based solidly on his own experiences during those Black Saturday bushfires, Justin D’Ath has woven a tale that could be the story of any one of our students or children who has experienced the very real horror of bushfires.  At a time when adults are frantically busy trying to keep everyone and everything safe, and reassuring their children with what they want them to hear, there is not time to put themselves in their child’s shoes and see the events through their eyes.  When her dad asks her to pack suitcases, Zeelie packs her mum’s wedding dress and evening gowns rather than the more practical things;  she is angry at her mum because she has taken the vehicle with the towbar because she didn’t have enough petrol in hers so Rimu will be left to his own devices … kids focus on the details while the adults are dealing with the big picture and providing an insight into the child’s thinking and fears is what D’Ath has done so skilfully. Because he experienced many of the events that Zeelie does, the story has a unique authenticity and the reader feels the heat, smells the smoke, visualises the flames and empathises with the fear as Zeelie and her dad try all sorts of routes to get to Melbourne, only to be turned back towards the danger because even greater danger lies ahead.  D’Ath deals with the less-than-happy parts sensitively, acknowledging rather than ignoring them, and helping readers deal with the fact that not all things have a sugar-coated happy ending.  

As the 10th anniversary of one of this country’s greatest natural disasters when  173 people died and over 2000 homes were destroyed approaches, this is not only account of the an event that had an impact well beyond those who were caught up in it but also an insight into the what-did-happens and the what-ifs of those who have experienced similar events, providing us with an inkling of the trauma that many of our students might have faced and are still dealing with, critical as the milestone memory will generate a lot of media that could bring a wave of flashbacks and other psychological issues.

However, it is also a story of hope for them because 10 years on Justin is still able to write stories for them despite losing everything himself, and while the immediate future might be bleak, unknown and scary there is clear air coming and because Australians step up in an extraordinary way at these times, they will be OK. 

 

Let Sleeping Dragons Lie: Have Sword, Will Travel 2

Let Sleeping Dragons Lie: Have Sword, Will Travel 2

Let Sleeping Dragons Lie: Have Sword, Will Travel 2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Let Sleeping Dragons Lie: Have Sword, Will Travel 2

Garth Nix & Sean Williams

Allen & Unwin, 2018

288pp., pbk., RRP $A14.99

9781743439937

Independent readers who are lovers of fantasy, particularly tales of yore, will love this second in the series about Sir Odo and Sir Eleanor.  

First introduced in Have Sword, Will Travel, when Odo and Eleanor stumble upon an ancient sword in a river outside their village, and much to Odo’s dismay he discovers that he’s awoken a famous enchanted blade called Biter, and thus has instantly become a knight, this new adventure begins with an action-packed scene when Sir Odo and Sir Eleanor defend an old man named Egda, a warrior named Hundred  from the bilewolves who have already attacked their village. But Egda and Hundred are not who they appear to be at first sight, and with their trusty and talkative swords, Biter and Runnel, they are plunged into a quest that will take them to unfamiliar lands, where they will fight unseen enemies and unlock unbelievable secrets in order to prevent an unbearable impostor from taking the crown.

Not being a great fantasy fan – Harry Potter and the tales from Middle Earth being my limit – I was nevertheless engaged to the end with this new series by these master storytellers who have written several series in collaboration as well as their independent writing.   So those who like this genre will be more than thrilled with this new release that is exciting, fun, and which could so easily have them as the super hero characters.

 

Lenny’s Book of Everything

Lenny's Book of Everything

Lenny’s Book of Everything

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lenny’s Book of Everything

Karen Foxlee

Allen & Unwin, 2018

352pp., pbk., RRP $A19.99

9781760528706

On July 26, 1969, six days after man walked on the moon, Cindy Spink caught the Number 28 bus to the hospital where she gave birth to Davey, a brother for three-year-old Lenny.  Right from the start she had a ‘dark heart feeling -as big as the sky but kept in a thimble” that something wasn’t right and so it proved to be.  For, although he was a normal sized baby, Davey kept growing and growing until by the time he was ready to start school he was already 4″5″ (135cm) tall and had been denied entry to preschool because of his height. 

Lenny loves her brother very much but it’s tough being a sister to someone who is a bit different, no matter how lovable, and when your dad has walked out and your mum has to work two jobs just to keep a roof over your head so your eccentric Hungarian neighbour looks after you for much of the time, life can be confusing and conflicting . 

The bright spot every week is the arrival of the latest issue of the Burrell’s Build-It-at-Home Encyclopedia, which their mum won in a competition. Through the encyclopedia, Lenny and Davey experience the wonders of the world – beetles, birds, quasars, quartz – and dream about a life of freedom and adventure. Davey loves the articles about birds of prey while Lenny becomes fixated on beetles and dreams of being a coleopterist.  Together they dream of a life in a log cabin in Great Bear Lake, away from the away from the noisy city and the busy bus station across the road, their strange neighbours and the creepy Mr King. And when the instalments don’t arrive fast enough and the company keeps trying to tempt them to spend money to get issues faster and with the special volume covers, Mrs Spink takes the time to take on the publishers with the letters becoming a side story that shows her persistence and determination to do the best for her kids, regardless of the challenge. 

But as Davey’s health deteriorates, Lenny realises that some wonders can’t be named, but they can be diagnosed and when Davey’s gigantism is traced to tumours in his pituitary gland, in a time when cancer and its treatment were still referred to as “the C word”, the reader knows that there is probably not going to be a happy outcome. 

This is both a heart-warming and heart-wrenching book for older, independent readers, one they can relate to because Lenny’s life is so ordinary and like theirs, yet one that will engender compassion as she struggles to come to terms with what is happening to Davey, not wanting to burden her mother who is “made almost entirely of worries and magic” and who does not realise just how desperately she is missing her dad until she thinks she has found his family. For those who have siblings with significant health issues it may even be cathartic as they realise that the feelings of resentment, even shame, that they sometimes have are natural, common and understandable and they are not evil or undeserving for having them. 

Lenny’s Book of Everything doesn’t just refer to the encyclopedia that opens up the world for her and Davey; it refers to all her thoughts and emotions, reactions and responses of a childhood spent with a sick sibling in a sole-parent family in a poorer neighbourhood of a moon-rock drab town with very little money for everyday things let alone treats. It is raw in places but eminently understandable.  

Written when the author herself was going through a time of momentous grief . it is beautifully written, a compelling read and one that adults will also appreciate. It is a story of joy and heartbreak, humour and honesty, but mostly it’s just about the immense, immeasurable love among families.

 

 

 

 

The Upside-Down History of Down Under

The Upside-Down History of Down Under

The Upside-Down History of Down Under

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Upside-Down History of Down Under

Alison Lloyd

Terry Denton

Puffin Books, 2018

304pp., hbk., RRP $A24.99

9780143788669

 

“The story of Australia starts with a piece of land that went for a swim. About 200 million years ago it floated away from Africa. Very   very   slowly.  It was home to dinosaurs and giant animals, then the first Australians showed up.  And for a long time this wild and wonderful land was a mystery to the rest of the world.  Until the English decided it would make the best jail ever.”

When you read a blurb like that on the back of a book, you know you have got something somewhat different from the usual collection of Australian history books populating your 994 section, and indeed, different it is.  Spanning that time when the ancient continents split till Federation in 1901, this book tells the history of this continent in a quirky way with a narrative that speaks to the reader in short chapters with engaging headings and lots of the sorts of illustrations that are so uniquely Terry Denton.  It tells stories that are unfamiliar, challenges some long-held beliefs, and explores that which helped shaped 2018 Australia in a way that not only captures the imagination but makes the reader want to delve deeper.

Imagine, for instance, starting a study of the crossing of the Blue Mountains, with the sentence, “In 1813, three British gentlemen, Gregory Blaxland, William Lawson and William Wentworth, took four of their servants and four of their dogs out for a long mountain walk.” Or exploring the whaling industry under the title “How Australia got stinking rich”. 

So many of our students groan at the thought of studying history, seeing it as having no relevance to their personal lives, and having been exposed to the “If it’s Year 5, it’s the Gold Rush” version of the curriculum, dry, dull and done-to-death. But if that same topic was embedded in a geological study of the formation of the gold, as alluded to in All that Glitters is Gold and followed up with the meaning of “golden soil and wealth for toil” it may well spark greater interest. 

Why is gold so valued that people left all they knew and loved in a quest to find it? Why did the NSW government try to hide Edmund Hargreaves’ discovery? How was the Australian 2018 way of life shaped by those who were grubbing in the dirt 160 years ago?

This book is excellent for being the appetiser for the main meal – offering tasty tidbits that tantalise the tongue and make the reader want to indulge further.  It’s a way of serving our history to our students which, in the hands of a skilful cook or even a dedicated diner, will open new worlds and new understandings that shows the broad spread of what has gone before. 

To add to the experience, there is a wealth of support materials available on the author’s website.

DC Comics Absolutely Everything You Need to Know

DC Comics Absolutely Everything You Need to Know

DC Comics Absolutely Everything You Need to Know

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

DC Comics Absolutely Everything You Need to Know

Liz Marsham & Melanie Scott

DK, 2018

200pp., hbk., RRP $A39.99

9780241314241

Founded in the US in 1934 by Malcolm Wheeler-Nicholson, DC Comics, named from an original series called Detective Comics which introduced Batman to the world in 1939,  is one of the world’s oldest comic publishing companies.  Now a subsidiary of Warner Bros, DC is the home of many popular superheroes such as Superman, Wonder Woman, Aquaman,  Green Lantern and Green Arrow;  supervillains like The Joker; Lex Luther,  Brainiac, and The Penguin; and fight-for justice teams like The Justice League and Teen Titans. 

While they have always been popular in comic format, the magic of technology and special effects have seen a surge in popularity of all these characters as they garner new audiences through movie screens.  In this new publication from DK, all the known and unknown of the goodies and baddies has been gathered together so young readers can learn more about their heroes and their enemies and get a better understanding of who they are, what they do and how and why they do it.. Reflecting the comic format of their origins but touched with DK publishing magic to make the range of information easily accessible to young readers, this publication takes the stories back to their print origins, albeit in full colour these days, turning them full circle and encouraging fans to read as well as view. 

With events like Comic-con  pulling massive crowds of young and not-so around the world; regular news stories of sick children being lifted by a visit from their heroes and new-release movies breaking box-office records, the pull and power of those original characters has not dwindled over the last 80 years.  Thus, this would be an investment for the library collection or the Christmas stocking as there is already a captive audience who could boast that reading is their superpower.   

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.

In the Mouth of the Wolf

In the Mouth of the Wolf

In the Mouth of the Wolf

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In the Mouth of the Wolf

Michael Morpurgo

Barroux

Egmont, 2018

160pp., hbk, RRP $29.99

9781405285261

In the village of Le Pouget, in the Languedoc region of south west France, Francis Cammaerts is resting after the celebrations for his 90th birthday come to a close.  As dusk turns to dark and the church bell strikes midnight, he thinks of those who have been a part of his journey to this ripe old age – those who raised him, supported him and had so much to do with the man he became.  And from those reminiscences comes a story of determination, danger, courage and heroism that would have gone untold if not for Morpurgo’s pen and Barroux’s brush.

One of two sons born during the Great War, Francis grows up to be a teacher while his brother Pieter is a burgeoning actor,  But when World War II breaks out, the brothers take very different paths. Frances believes war is futile and barbaric, that people should not descend to the level of the fascists and that only education and pacifism are the “way forward for humanity”. Pieter, however, believes that pacifism will not stop Hitler, that the cruelty of fascism had to be confronted and so he becomes a Sergeant Navigator in the RAF.  While he eventually goes to join a bomber squadron in Cornwall, Francis goes to Lincolnshire to work on a farm having justified his beliefs to a tribunal.  

But when Pieter is killed returning from an air raid over France and a bomb dropped by a German plane kills the family on the next farm including including baby Bessie, Francis begins to rethink his decision, particularly as he now has a wife and the birth of his own child is imminent.  He talks to Harry, his mentor from his teaching days – a conversation that changes his life forever as it leads him into the silent world of the secret agent working with the Resistance in France…

As with Flamingo BoyMorpurgo shines a light on the real story of war and its impact on ordinary people by taking an unusual perspective and telling the story through that.  This is not a tale of derring-do embellished with action scenes and special effects -although it could be that in the hands of another – but a quiet tale of remembrance and reflection, of the impact of the legacy of others on a particular life, when that life itself has left its own legacy.  Morpurgo has said, ” This book may read like fiction. But it is not. That is because it does not need to be.” It is the story of his own uncles.

Generously illustrated using family photographs which are included at the back of the book as well as biographical details of those who had such a profound impact within the story, Morpurgo has produced a story that not only tells yet another untold story of the war but one which has shaped his life too.  

One for independent readers  wanting something different, compelling and utterly readable. 

A Different Boy

A Different Boy

A Different Boy

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Different Boy

Paul Jennings

Geoff Kelly

A & U Children’s, 2018

112pp., pbk., RRP $A14.99

9781760523503

Anton is lost, lonely, hungry and bewildered as he is led into Wolfdog Hall, a home for boys without parents. He is handed his tag – O. Muller – and told the O is for “Orphan” although he will most likely end up as a C – ‘custody’ or ‘criminal’, the tag for those who try to abscond.  As gloomy and as dismal as his future, which was to have been on the great ocean liner he can see sailing to  “a warm, sunburnt country -a land of sweeping plains and rugged mountains which ran down to golden beaches surrounded by a jewel sea,” Anton soon finds himself between a rock and a hard place.  He is either going to be strapped by a brutal teacher for drawing a rude picture of him or be beaten up by the boy who did draw it for dobbing on him.  But then he recalls his dead’s fathers words – ‘If you’ve got a bad deal, get out of it and move on.” – and so he walks out of the orphanage altogether.

His steps lead him to that ocean liner but how is he to get aboard with no boarding pass, no family, no money and no luggage?  Is he doomed to be returned to the orphanage and fulfil the officer’s prophecy?

Confronted on the first page by just two paragraphs of text surrounded by razor wire, it is obvious that this is not going to be one of Paul Jennings’ more light-hearted stories. And indeed, it isn’t.  Despite its initial appearance as a stepping stone for newly-independent readers, this one has a lot of twists and turns that need a more mature mind to get the most from it.  Although Australia is clearly identified as the “New Land”, Anton’s origins are not defined beyond being a country that has recently been devastated by war, which may resonate with some readers, and the events on board the ship are complex, especially the final resolution.  

As an adult reader, this is Jennings at his best but don’t be misled thinking that this is one for younger readers.  That said, it is unique, different and utterly absorbing for those who are ready for it.

The Dog With Seven Names

The Dog With Seven Names

The Dog With Seven Names

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Dog With Seven Names

Dianne Wolfer

Random House Australia, 2018

240pp., pbk., RRP $A16.99

9780143787457

A tiny dog, the runt of the litter, is born on a remote cattle station. She shouldn’t have survived, but when she is given to Elsie, the station-owner’s daughter as a Christmas gift, and is called Princess, she becomes a cherished companion. Life is perfect … until War arrives.

With Japanese air raids moving closer, Elsie’s family leaves the Pilbara for the south and safety. But the small dog has to stay behind. Found by Stan and Dave, two drovers intent on signing up for the Army, but who have a mob of cattle to deliver to Port Hedland, she becomes just plain “Dog”. But tragedy strikes and she is taken under the wing of a flying doctor,who calls her Flynn, and becomes a hospital dog and experiences the impact of war on north-western Australia. She witnesses wonderful and terrible things and gives courage to many different humans… 

But through all her adventures and many names, the little dog remembers Elsie, who girl who loved her best of all. Will she ever find her again?

Told through the voice of Princess, this is a heart-warming story that not only tugs at the heart-strings but also brings to life the events of the early 1940s and their impact on north-western Australia, a region as historically remote to many as it is geographically,  in a way that alerts children but doesn’t scare them. 

Many of Dianne Wolfer’s books have an historical theme which brings the past to life for young readers (Light Horse Boy was a CBCA Honour Book in 2014 and Nanna’s Button Tin is a Notable for this year) and once again, her thorough research is a hallmark of this new release.  There is a timeline of the events of World War II aligned to the events in the story as well as other historical notes, all of which not only add authenticity to the story but also provide new pathways for interested readers to follow.  

Independent readers who like animal stories will adore this.