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Armistice

Armistice

Armistice

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Armistice

Ruth Starke

David Kennett

Working Title Press, 2018

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

9781921504914

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

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

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

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

 

Lest We Forget.

 

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. 

The Mediterranean

The Mediterranean

The Mediterranean

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Mediterranean

Armin Greder

Allen & Unwin, 2018

32pp., hbk., RRP $A29.99

9781760630959

“After he had finished drowning, his body sank slowly to the bottom, where the fish were waiting.”

This is the introductory text, indeed the only text in this new book by Armin Greder, the master at honing in on the heart of an issue and then using his brilliant  artwork to express the story using a monochromatic palette, line and detail which really doesn’t need words.

In 2017 alone, it was estimated that more than 2000 refugees drowned in the Mediterranean Sea making the treacherous crossing from North Africa to Europe and Greder has explored the why and how of this in his iconic way which has a master twist of irony in it. It is a macabre, almost grotesque ‘life cycle’ that is enriched by the absence of text because the reader is forced to examine the pictures closely to create the story for themselves. 

The story has its own story (as the best ones do) and this is explained in the afterword by Alessandro Leogrande and there is also a ‘footnote” as part of the blurb from Riccardo Noury, a spokesperson for Amnesty International Italy.

As Australia debates the ball-tampering incident within Cricket Australia and many demand that such things are put into the perspective of things that really matter, the question is asked – how long will we remain silent witnesses?

This is a picture book for older readers, one that raises more issues and questions than it answers and one that is a must-have in the collection of secondary libraries, or any school with a significant refugee population. 

 

A peek inside...

A peek inside…

Parvana – a graphic novel

Parvana - a graphic novel

Parvana – a graphic novel

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Parvana – a graphic novel

Deborah Ellis

Allen & Unwin, 2018

80pp., graphic novel, RRP $A19.99

9781760631970

In 2000, Canadian author Deborah Ellis told the story of Parvana, an 11 year old girl who living in  Kabul, Afghanistan with her mother Fatana, her father, her older sister Nooria, and two younger siblings, Maryam and Ali when Taliban soldiers enter her house and arrest her father for having a foreign education and beginning a fascinating, intriguing, award-winning series of books which include Parvana’s Journey , Shauzia  and Parvana’s Promise that shone a spotlight on the conditions of women and girls in Afghanistan that continues to this day.

As a series it is an amazing, true-to-life story of a young girl living in circumstances that the rest of the world knew little about but which has now led to the establishment of international organisations which support not only Afghan women but the recognition and provision of education for girls in male-dominated countries like Afghanistan and Pakistan.  As a story, it is one of courage, resilience, determination and grit that is inspirational as well as educational.  So many young girls that I know who have read this have commented about how it puts their own issues into perspective.

Renamed The Breadwinner in the US, it was made into a film of the same name and now that has been adapted into graphic novel format which will enable so many more to learn about Parvana’s story and perhaps continue to read the entire series.

If this series is not on your shelves for your Year 5/6+ readers, it should be.  If it is but has not circulated, perhaps it is time to promote it to a new audience.   In my opinion, it is a modern classic that should be read by all as an introduction to the world beyond the Australian classroom.

 

NB If you are searching for the series it also has the titles The Breadwinner (1),  Mud City (3) and My Name is Parvana (4)

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.

 

 

Ruby in the Ruins

Ruby in the Ruins

Ruby in the Ruins

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ruby in the Ruins

Shirley Hughes

Walker Books, 2018

32pp., hbk., RRP $A27.99

9781406375893

“Ruby and Mum have lived through the terrifying London Blitz and are waiting for Dad to come home from the war. Ruby hardly recognizes the tall man who steps off the train, but when she falls in the ruins nearby, there’s only one person who she wants to rescue her.”

Even though the setting and time are very specific in this new story from multiple award-winner Shirley Hughes, it is one with universal application for all those children whose parents have been away for an extended time and their return means changes not just to regular routines but also having to get to know this stranger whose experiences have changed them as much as those left behind have changed.  It also has particular application to many of Australia’s children as it could be the story of their grandparents and great-grandparents  who came here after the huge disruptions caused by World War II, helping to put pictures into minds that previously had only heard words.  

We are so lucky not to have known the devastation and death of war on our doorstep but many of our new arrivals may be more than familiar with the scenes and the experiences so it needs a sensitive and knowledgeable adult to share this story, particularly if it is read aloud to a class.  An important story about the lives of children in another time while remembering it could also be the story of a child in our own time.

 

Giants, Trolls, Witches, Beasts – Ten Tales from the Deep, Dark Woods

Giants, Trolls, Witches, Beasts - Ten Tales from the Deep, Dark Woods

Giants, Trolls, Witches, Beasts – Ten Tales from the Deep, Dark Woods

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Giants, Trolls, Witches, Beasts – Ten Tales from the Deep, Dark Woods

Craig Phillips

Allen & Unwin, 2017

192pp., pbk., RRP $A24.99

9781760113261

Ever since there have been children there has been children’s literature and having children learn lessons about life through this literature has been a constant thread in every culture across the globe.  Since the earliest days of mankind, stories have been created and told from generation to generation not just to explain the unknown but also to inspire better, more mature and moral behaviour in children with dire consequences inflicted by fearful creatures if boundaries were breached.  Didacticism was alive and well with stories featuring giants, trolls, witches, beasts and other fantastic figures achieving amazing things, wreaking havoc, surviving disasters or decreeing punishments so that adults as well as children lived in fear of retribution for misdeeds.

Now, with modern communication and science, while such creatures do not have the power of fear they once had, nevertheless they are still a central part of today’s literature with stories like the Harry Potter series and Game of Thrones commanding huge audiences as well as a continuing fascination for those stories in which the modern have their origins.  But until now, these have been retold and republished in formats that tend to scream “younger readers” and from which those who see themselves as more mature than the “picture book brigade” shy away from regardless of the quality of the content.  So to have ten traditional tales from ten countries brought together in graphic novel format as creator Craig Phillips has done is going to create a buzz of excitement.  Here, in one superbly illustrated volume, are stories featuring giants, trolls, witches and beasts with all their magical powers and chilling feats and universal messages of courage and obedience. that will appeal to those who are fascinated by this genre in a format that will support and sustain their reading.

Phillips has kept his audience in mind as he has drawn – the imaginary creatures are all sufficiently gruesome and grisly so their characters are clear but not so much that they will inspire nightmares. The mix of familiar and unfamiliar characters offers something for each reader to explore and perhaps think about why stories from such diverse origins have such similar themes.  Is there indeed, a moral and ethical code that links humans regardless of their beliefs and circumstance?

One that will appeal to a wide range of readers and deserving of its place among the 2018 CBCA Notables.

 

Gladys Goes to War

Gladys Goes to War

Gladys Goes to War

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Gladys Goes to War

Glyn Harper

Jenny Cooper

Picture Puffin, 2016

32pp., pbk., RRP $A17.99

9780143507208

Auckland, New Zealand in the very early 20th century when girls were still supposed to be seen and not heard, despite having had voting rights since 1893 – still very much an English colonial mentality where they busied themselves with music, needlework and other “feminine” tasks.  However, unlike her sisters, Gladys was not good at such things, preferring instead to spend her time under the bonnet of her brothers’ cars and those of their friends.  

“No one will want to marry a mechanic” her mother told her, echoing the feelings and the culture of the times.  But her mother was wrong and in 1912 she met and married William Henning who taught her to drive and then set up a car sales business in Auckland. Being competent and comfortable in this “men’s world” meant that it was no surprise that when her husband and brothers enlisted when World War I broke out that Gladys wanted to go too.  But her efforts were met with the typical chauvinistic response of the times …”If you want to help the war effort, you should stay at home and knit socks and balaclavas.”

But they had underestimated Gladys’s determination and in 1916 with the assistance of the New Zealand Volunteer Sisterhood she was reunited with her husband in Egypt becoming an ambulance driver, and when he was sent to France she went to England.  But again male-dominated bureaucracy determined her place was in the hospital scrubbing floors not driving ambulances.  Until one evening, there was a shortage of drivers…

This is the story of just one of the many women who played an active part in World War I as doctors, nurses, ambulance drivers and so much more, rather than being the stereotype wife/mother/ sister/ daughter who ‘kept the home fires burning’.  Despite their important contribution throughout history, so many women have been written out of it and when a request through a local network for a book for younger readers about World War I from a female perspective there was a paucity of replies.  Yet there are so many stories that could be told from both New Zealand and Australia.

Gladys was a pioneer in so many fields – in 1927, having survived both the war and Spanish flu, she and her friend Stella Christie became the first women to transverse Australia east to west and north to south in a car – and so bringing her wartime service to light is just the beginning of the stories that could be told about this remarkable woman.  But as well as her personal chronicle, this could be a springboard for having students investigate and retell the stories of other women whose contributions have been overshadowed by those of their male counterparts.  Searching the Australian War Memorial’s site for “women in war” is a good starting point.

But even if Gladys’s story is just shared as a standalone, it is a sound representation of #nevertheless,shepersisted 

 

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

 

 

Shout Out to the Girls: A Celebration of Awesome Australian Women

Shout Out to the Girls: A Celebration of Awesome Australian Women

Shout Out to the Girls: A Celebration of Awesome Australian Women

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Shout Out to the Girls: A Celebration of Awesome Australian Women

Random House Australia, 2018

210pp., hbk., RRP  $A29.99

9780143789420

In recent reviews such as Barney and the Secret of the French Spies,  Women in Science and Three Cheers for Women I have challenged readers to consider a woman whose story, they believe, needs telling.  The problem is that when it comes to uncovering these stories few have been revealed and so it is those of the “usual suspects” that are told and retold.  

But now, this new publication from Random House Australia opens a whole new range of women whose lives and work need to be given “a public expression of thanks”.  Although we find people like Cathy Freeman, Germaine Greer and Mary Mackillop featured, there are dozens of new names like Yassmin Abdel-Magied, Rachel Perkins, and Felicity Wishart whose names might only be known to those in that particular field of endeavour. There are also those of more recent heroes like Sia, Carrie Bickmore and Turia Pitt making this an exploration of significant women in our girls’ lives, not just women in history with whom they may feel no connection. 

All in all over 50 women have a brief one-page biography accompanied by an illustration from a range of illustrators. However, the book also acknowledges all those who have made a contribution to the field, not just the “poster person” for it.  For example, while Magda Szubanski is celebrated for “helping us laugh and speaking the truth”, there is a shout out “Brava for the women who make their own roles on stage, on screen and in life”; Rosie Batty for “her compassion and bravery” but also to “the courageous and strong women who speak out for the vulnerable”; and Mum Shirl for “unwavering dedication and generosity” as well as thanks to all “the advocates and activists who give so much of themselves to help others in need”. There is a feeling of inclusivity that we are drawn into as though someone, somewhere is acknowledging that which we do as we go about our daily lives.

There is even a shout-out to the reader for picking up the book wanting to learn about awesome Australian women while the very last entry is a shout-out to the Smith Family to whom all royalties will be donated so they can continue helping Australian kids get the most from their education.

From the front cover depicting a range of Australian native flowers because like Australian women, its flowers “aren’t wilting violets; they are strong and tough, and have evolved to endure extreme environments” this is an intriguing book in its design and content that must be in every library’s collection if we are to continue to reveal and tell the stories of our women and how they have contributed so much to the life that we enjoy today, holding up mirrors, staring through windows, marching through doors and breaking down barriers.  

Again I ask, “Whose story will you tell?”