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We’re All Wonders

We're All Wonders

We’re All Wonders

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We’re All Wonders

R.J. Palacio

Puffin, 2017

32pp., pbk., RRP $A16.99

9780141386416

Wonder is the unforgettable story of August Pullman, an ordinary boy with an extraordinary face that has touched readers all over the world as it became an instant classic, used widely for one-school-one read projects and spread through word-of-mouth recommendations.  Now Palacio has transformed the core message of that book into a picture book that transcends ages with its powerful theme.

Even though he does ordinary things like riding a bike, eating ice cream and playing ball, Auggie is not an ordinary kid because he does not look like all the other kids in his class.  He knows this and he knows they point and laugh and call him names which hurt his feelings.  But he and his dog Daisy have a remarkable strategy for dealing with things when they get tough… And it certainly puts the hurt into perspective.

Even though he knows he can’t change the ways he looks, perhaps he can change the way people see.

Echoing the cover of the original, Palacio has depicted Auggie has a one-eyed child wearing a bright red t-shirt which stands out like a beacon against the more muted tones of the illustrations, somewhat like Auggie himself standing out amongst the masses. And for someone with no face, Palacio has nevertheless managed to convey a whole range of emotions in the illustrations and text. Every word does a job. 

In a book full of messages about belonging and acceptance perhaps the strongest one is Auggie’s inner strength.  Yes his feelings are hurt but he has learned through his family’s love and acceptance of him as he is that he has the strength to endure, maybe even overcome the insults and prejudices.  Even though he needs time out to heal, he has the resilience to come back stronger than ever.  He knows he is a wonder, he is unique – but then, aren’t we all?

Those who have not read the novel do not need to do so in order to connect to this book (although this one may well inspire them to seek it out) because it’s message is more important than the character.  Every one of us is an Auggie in some way – try being a red-head with freckles and glasses in the 50s when Marilyn Monroe-types were the role models – so every one of us could be the central character.  Written sensitively and with a light hand, particularly when it comes to Auggie’s solution, this book should be at the core of any program focusing on mindfulness, well-being, inclusivity, acceptance of others and being enough just as we are.  Perhaps this book will, indeed, bring Auggie’s hope of changing how people see to fruition.

 

Storm Whale

Storm Whale

Storm Whale

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Storm Whale

Sarah Brennan

Jane Tanner

Allen & Unwin, 2017

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

9781760293642

Bleak was the day and the wind whipped down when I and my sisters walked to town …

Surrounded by seabirds being buffeted every which way, wild waves  crashing on the shore and bitten by a chill wind that blew their skirts high, turned their legs blue and made their hair fly like a brumby’s tail, three sisters make their way to the beach undaunted by nature’s fury.  In fact they are delighting in it.  But that soon turns to anguish when they spot a whale stranded on the high tide line.  

Scarred old mariner, beached in hell,

Far from the cradling ocean swell,

Far from the peace of the ocean deep

Where ancient fugitives find their sleep.

Swept by the tide to its farthest reach,

Left with the kelp on the hard wet beach…

Dark as a demon, dull of eye

Waiting in silence to drift…or die

All day the girls battle to keep the whale alive, unperturbed by the weather and the waves soaking them to the skin.  But as dark rolls in and the driving rain sends them home, they have to leave the whale to its fate.  Even the cosy warmth of the fire doesn’t warm their hearts and their night is restless but dream-filled as the storm rages on.  Next morning they hasten back to the beach and discover a miracle…

Written in the most poetic language and accompanied by the most evocative illustrations, Storm Whale took me right back to my childhood in a seaside town at the very south of the South Island of New Zealand – next stop Antarctica- and brought back haunting memories of storms with wild winds that crashed the waves onto the rocks and made for the most exciting times.  While whales abounded, they didn’t become stranded on that part of the coastline although it was common on beaches not too far distant.  This is a story that not only paints a different picture of the seaside as the benign summer holiday playground of many of our students but brings to life the fury and magnificence of Nature and the insignificance of even those as mighty as whales in her power.   

The rhyming text suggest the ceaseless rhythm of the ocean and indeed, life itself, while both words and pictures give a subtle but strong message of respect and the need to appreciate, value and conserve.  

A most moving book that will touch the reader on many levels.

A Kiwi Year – twelve months in the life of New Zealand kids

A Kiwi Year

A Kiwi Year

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Kiwi Year – twelve months in the life of New Zealand kids

Tania McCartney

Tina Snerling

EK, 2017

32pp., hbk., RRP SA19.99

9781925335446

On the surface there don’t appear to be many difference between Australian kids and their Kiwi cousins apart from the fact the we Kiwis “talk funny”.  But as five Kiwi kids – Charlie, Ruby, Oliver, Mason and Kaia – show us as they journey through their year, there are subtle distinctions, enough to make their lives special and unique.

As well as different vocabulary like ‘tramping’ not ‘bushwalking’ and ‘jandals’ not ‘thongs’ Kiwi kids love rugby not rugby league or Australian Rules and are familiar with a very different range of flora and fauna.  Maori culture and the influence of our Pacific Island neighbours is very strong with official places and concepts being in both languages. Maoritanga is a mandatory part of the school curriculum.  The land is younger and much more mountainous and so winter is more severe with more opportunities to participate in snow sports, but summer sees us at the beach and playing cricket, even if we still remember that infamous underarm bowling incident.  

But like Australia, ANZAC Day is sacred and we remember those who put the NZ in the word, and with the European forefathers of both country being predominantly from the United Kingdom many of the annual festivals are the same.  But there are some that are unique that celebrate our heritage and landscape bringing a richness to our lives and our culture that is unique.

So many times I’ve heard Australians say they don’t want to go to New Zealand because it would be just like Australia in miniature, but once having been there, change their tune and marvel at just how different it is. Tania and Tina have ferreted out those things that make this country and its people unique and bring them to life through the eyes of the children, celebrating them in such a special way that this book will be handed on to my grandchildren (whose dad is also a Kiwi) so they can understand where they come from – and why Grandma is just a tad different at times!  LOL.

Noah’s Ark

Noah's Ark

Noah’s Ark

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Noah’s Ark

Charlotte Guillain

Lesley Grainger

Bloomsbury, 2017

24pp., board, RRP $A14.99

9781408883631

No matter your choice of religion or lack of it, the story of the flood caused by rain for 40 days and 40 nights and how Noah, his family and a collection of animals survived it by living on the Ark transcends them all and has almost become part of the folklore children are expected to know. 

This sturdy board book, the perfect size for little hands is a great introduction to this ageless story with its bright pictures and simple text.  Religion and story aside, it is also a great story to start a myriad of investigations taking the learner on a journey of their fancy.  They could investigate questions such as

Where did Noah live?

How big was the Ark?

How long is 40 days?

Why did he take two of each creature?

What makes rain?

What is a rainbow?

Geography, length, time, reproduction, family trees, weather, light and colour, history, can all be explored through this one story and each would lead to a better understanding of the world around them, something they strive to do. Such a rich story will be read over and over with something new to be discovered each time .Even if this board book  version isn’t the one for your students seek out a version that is appropriate for your students, surround it with a myriad of questions and let them loose!

 

How Many Dinosaurs Deep?

How Many Dinosaurs Deep?

How Many Dinosaurs Deep?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How Many Dinosaurs Deep?

Ben Kitchen

Vicky Fieldhouse

New Frontier, 2017

32pp., hbk., RRP $A22.99

9780995625556

Jim is learning how to swim but when it is time to move up from the baby pool to the middle-sized pool, he is not so sure that he is ready.   he’s concerned about its depth so his mother tells him that it would not even reach the knees of a stegosaurus.  This sparks a chain reaction of how deep would a … be and each time mum is able to explain it in terms of how many dinosaurs it would take to reach the surface.  And when she explains the Mariana Trench in the Pacific Ocean would need 587 brachiosauruses standing on each other’s head, Jim finally feels he is ready to cope.

This is a unique story that combines the love of dinosaurs that so many little ones have with their natural apprehension of venturing into something they are unsure of.  Clearly Ben Kitchen has done his homework on  dinosaur dimensions and there are two pages explaining the key features of those that are mentioned, including some that young readers may not be familiar with.  While more or less anatomically correct, the illustrations are still whimsical and fun and readers will gain courage from them rather than fear.  

Something completely different for the younger reader. Perhaps even an opportunity to go outside and measure things to compare them with the dinosaurs to bring the imagination to reality.

 

The Great Zoo Hullabaloo

The Great Zoo Hullabaloo

The Great Zoo Hullabaloo

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Great Zoo Hullabaloo

Mark Carthew

Anil Tortop

New Frontier, 2017

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

9781925059786

“When Jess and Jack open the gates to the zoo
It was strangely deserted. Nobody said BOO.”

So where have all the creatures gone? Because the more they look, the less they see – just trails of scats and feathers and tracks. Determined to find them they separate following the clues but as dusk falls and there is still no sign, Jess is getting concerned.  Then comes the sound of music from the nearby bush and a huge flash of a flare splits the sky and Jack emerges.  The animals are having a party but what are they celebrating?

A charming story told in rhyme which  will enchant young listeners as they try to guess where the animals have gone, and once they’ve been discovered, predict what they are up to. Filled with movement and sound both words and pictures convey the fun and excitement of a party  – just the feel of the word ‘hullabaloo’ on the tongue is fun.  But being part of it is even more fun so be prepared for making music!

But  there is also the opportunity for little ones to learn more about the creatures in the zoo – the fact that each has a different-shaped foot that makes a unique track starts the exploration on the endpapers, the references to the different feathers of the different birds and the introduction of the term “scats” and what they are and how they offer valuable clues about their producer all meld to make this an intriguing initiation into a more in-depth recognition of animals than just their shape and colour.

Further ideas are available in the teachers’ notes and Anil Tortop has demonstrated her illustrative techniques  to show how a pencil sketch becomes such a beautiful picture full of depth and colour.

The Princess and the Frogs

The Princess and the Frogs

The Princess and the Frogs

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Princess and the Frogs

Veronica Bartles

Sara Palacios

Balzer + Bray, 2017

40pp., hbk., RRP $A29.99

9780062365910

Princess Cassandra had everything she could possibly want  – hundreds of dresses, thousands of books and servants to bring her anything she wanted.  She should have been the happiest princess in the world.  

But there was one thing she didn’t have – she was lonely playing by herself and desperately wanted a best friend.  In particular, she wanted a pet – one that would match her best dress, swim and jump and play all day and at night sit on her pillow and sing to her.  So the Royal Pet Handler set off on a quest to find the perfect pet, but nothing was quite right.  The mouse was too squeaky, the kitten refused to swim, the hippo wouldn’t jump and none of them were green.  The task seemed impossible until one day the Royal Pet Handler arrived with a frog.  It seemed just perfect.  It was able to swim, jump and play, AND it was green.  But when Princess Cassandra put it on her pillow and kissed it goodnight, it turned into a prince!  

“Princes aren’t pets,” she declared and banished it to the royal kitchens.  So the Pet Handler went in search of another frog and the same thing happened.  Again and again and again, until there were princes everywhere.  Then one day, the princess found her own frog but the same thing happened, except this time the prince wanted to stay a frog.  Will she ever get the perfect pet?

This is an hilarious take on the traditional Princess and the Frog story made even moreso by the terrific pictures of Palacios who brings the characters to life through their facial expressions. Who would have thought there were so many different frogs?

A playful bedtime read that might make little ones think twice about kissing things goodnight!

The Most Perfect Snowman

The Most Perfect Snowman

The Most Perfect Snowman

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Most Perfect Snowman

Chris Britt

Balzer & Bray, 2016

32pp., hbk., RRP $A34.99

9780062377043

Built in the first flurry of winter snow, Drift was the loneliest of snowmen.  With his stick arms, small mouth and coal eyes he stood forlorn and forgotten amongst the bare winter trees.  He dreamed of having a smart scarf, warm gloves and a long orange carrot nose like the other snowmen so he could join in their banter, their fashion parades, snowball fights and other fun stuff.  But he was too plain and different to be included, so his days were spent swooshing and sliding through the woods, stopping and standing in the shadows to watch the others at play.

Then one day some children gave Drift all that he wanted – a fluffy blue hat, warm mittens, a soft scarf and even a long orange carrot nose.  Suddenly the other snowmen found him acceptable now that he had his new accessories and watched as he played all afternoon with his new friends.  But that night a blizzard blew and Drift lost his smart new clothes and no matter how hard he looked, he couldn’t find them. All he had left were his scarf and his long orange carrot nose.  Then he heard a tiny voice – a little bunny was lost in the snow, frightened and shivery cold.  Drift knows he can save the bunny by wrapping it in his soft scarf and giving it his long orange carrot nose but can he bear to part with them? Can he go back to being that plain snowman with skinny stick eyes, a small nose and coal eyes?

As winter begins to grip southern Australia and some parts are seeing early snowfalls, this is a charming story about what it means to be “perfect” and whether it is about looking a particular way or having the right things or whether it runs deeper than that. What is the meaning of the old adage “Clothes maketh the man” and is it true?  Are we more visible and therefore perhaps more powerful because of our external appearance?

It also raises the concepts of selfishness and selflessness and whether even giving just a little can make any difference.  Do we need to be applauded and rewarded for doing something kind or should it be enough to within that we have made a difference?  Do we have to be the person giving the boldest and brightest present at birthday parties or is it the phone call saying thank you afterwards that is most remembered?

The soft palette echo the gentleness of both the story and its message but this is more than just a story to welcome winter.

 

Fabish: the horse that braved a bushfire

Fabish: the horse that braved a bushfire

Fabish: the horse that braved a bushfire

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fabish: the horse that braved a bushfire

Neridah McMullin

Andrew McLean

Allen & Unwin, 2016

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

9781925266863

Bushfires are part of the Australian landscape and psyche.  Even though we know they are a necessary part of the life cycle of the indigenous flora, we still brace ourselves each summer hoping that we won’t be affected by one that season.  When they do strike though, news reports are cluttered with statistics of acreage burnt, homes and buildings destroyed, and too often, lives lost.  Seldom do we hear of the wildlife that is caught up in them, those that can’t clamber into a car and head to safety, although occasionally there are tragic photos of fields of dead sheep or heart-warming ones of a firey giving a koala a drink from his water bottle.  

In this book, based on real events that emerged from the tragic Black Saturday fires in Victoria in 2009, we are taken to Tarnpirr Farm in Narbethong in north-east Victoria where trainer Alan Evett tried desperately to save the horses in his care. With expensive thoroughbreds to save, Evett had no choice but to set retired favourite Fabish and the seven young horses he led free from their paddock to fend for themselves while he cared for those he hustled into the stables.  All around the fire raged, Evett working tirelessly on spot fires and keeping the horse calm, while outside…

Thankfully, the fire dragon passed over the top of the building even though it ate everything else in its path and when morning came, Evett emerged to a scene of utter desolation.   Although he had saved the life of the racehorses. Evett feared he would never see his old mate Fabish again.  Climbing into an old ute that had somehow escaped too, he drove out through the paddocks to be met by more devastation and disaster.  Standing in the smoke-filled ruins of what had been his landscape and livelihood he mourned for Fabish and the yearlings until…

Together McMullin and McLean have brought to life not only the story of Fabish and all the other horses like him, but also the sights, sounds and the smells of a fire that once experienced can never be forgotten. Through carefully chosen vocabulary and evocative pictures the reader is drawn into the story hoping for a good outcome. The fire dragon is indiscriminate when it attacks and young children are often caught up in it just as grown-ups are, and their questions are often about the animals and how they survived.  In the aftermath when adults are busy doing the adult things they must, the children are often left wondering and so to have an uplifting story like this that not only demonstrates the determination and courage of those like Alan Evett who put their charges’ welfare before their own but also has a happy ending can go some way to alleviate their fear that everything is destroyed.

Sensitive in its approach, even those children who can remember the fires will relate to it although some discretion might be needed if there have been recent fires in your area because even though it is heart-warming we must be conscious of the memories it might evoke. For those who want to know more, Fabish was honoured a year later at the Healesville Picnic Races  and while Evett died not long after, his heroic story and that of Fabish are becoming more widely known as this book is shortlisted for the 2017 CBCA Eve Pownall Award.

A story for horse lovers as well as those exploring the impact of bushfires on the landscape.  

Fabish and his yearlings, picture courtesy Racing Victoria Ltd.

Fabish and his yearlings

Little Owl’s Egg

Little Owl's Egg

Little Owl’s Egg

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Little Owl’s Egg

Debi Gliori

Alison Brown

Bloomsbury, 2016

32pp. pbk., RRP $A14.99

9781408853795

When Mummy Owl announces that she has laid a beautiful egg and there is going to be a new baby owl in the nest, Little Owl is most dismayed.  There cannot be another baby owl because that’s him! But when Mummy suggests that perhaps it will be a worm rather than an owl, Baby Owl is even more distressed.  

And so begins a charming tale of speculating just what might be in the egg . In the absence of it being a Princess Wormy Choco-Penguin Crocophant Dragowl Baby Owl is prepared to settle for it being a dragon but then he starts to think and gradually his mind is changed and he begins to look forward to the newcomer.

Young readers will connect with this story, particularly those who have had news that there is to be a new baby in the house and they are worried that there won’t be enough love for two. Alison Brown’s illustrations capture the author’s text perfectly and make the characters very endearing. Speculating what else could be inside the egg will provide fun and the opportunity to investigate what else begins as an egg because chickens aren’t the only onescould lead to some interesting discoveries.