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Ava’s Spectacular Spectacles

Ava's Spectacular Spectacles

Ava’s Spectacular Spectacles

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ava’s Spectacular Spectacles

Alice Rex

Angela Perrini

New Frontier, 2017

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

9781912076536

Ava does not like wearing her spectacles at school so she finds it difficult to see the board and read her books.  Her teacher understands this and knows she has to help Ava feel okay with wearing them so she begins to talk to Ava.  “If only Little Red Riding Hood had put on her glasses the day she went to visit her grandmother…she would have seen the big teeth and big eyes.”

Ava stops crying and Mrs Cook continues, gradually getting Ava to understand that wearing glasses is helpful and a good thing, not a badge of shame.

Every now and then you pick up a story that really resonates with you and Ava was me 60 years ago, right down to the red hair tied up in bunches. It’s as though illustrator Angela Perrini had been looking at my family photo albums (although we didn’t have coloured photos way back then!)  And then six years ago, it was my granddaughter who was Ava and in the intervening time, hundreds of other kids too. No one likes to be different when they are little and wearing glasses seems like a huge placard that tells others you are not 100% perfect and that somehow you are less than the other children in your class.  As a teacher of 45 years, I’ve seen it over and over although luckily there is much greater acceptance these days.  Oh, to have had a teacher as understanding and as smart as Mrs Cook.

This is a book that not only belongs in any collection for young readers but which should be actively promoted to both teachers and parents as a strategy for getting little ones to be comfortable with wearing their glasses rather than ashamed.  While Mrs Cook sticks to well-known stories and rhymes where 20/20 vision would have been helpful there would be plenty of incidents, real and imaginary, that teachers and parents could draw on to play the what-if game.  

So many children will see this book as a mirror and learn to love reading even more as they read about themselves, while others will see it as a window and begin to understand how self-conscious Ava and others feel and how they can be more empathetic. They might even explore other “disabilities” and the sorts of ways that science and technology can now assist in overcoming them comparing the advances to the days when no such help was available and life became a misery. 

Superb.

Vet Cadets (series)

Vet Cadets

Vet Cadets

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Welcome to Willowvale (Vet Cadets #1)

Rebecca Johnson

Puffin, 2017

180pp., pbk., RRP $A14.99

9780143782711

  

Willowvale Girls Grammar is an agricultural boarding school with 500 students offering a Vet Cadets program, and Abbey, Talika and Hannah are sharing a room. They need to learn to live together even though they come from very different backgrounds – Hannah obviously has money on her side and is a neat freak, while Abbey is the opposite, and Talika is Indian, which neither of the others have any experience of. But each has a family who loves them and fusses over them, and each has first day nerves. 

Nevertheless, adjust they must and it is not long before the adventures begin and they become an inseparable trio solving mysteries, causing chaos and all the time, learning more and more about the creatures they care for..

From the author of Juliet, Nearly a Vet  comes this new series for slightly older readers who are interested in caring for animals, perhaps even becoming vets themselves. With three other titles due for publication over the next few months this promises to be a great addition to your collection to satisfy those girls who are always after new animal stories. 

To celebrate the launch there are two Vet Conventions being held in Queensland but check the website for availability of spaces. 

Just Like Molly

Just Like Molly

Just Like Molly

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Just Like Molly

Pippa Dowling

Sunshine 

Empowering Resources, 2016

32pp., pbk., RRP $A17.00

9780994501073

At some stage in their young lives, children have an imaginary friend – one who likes to do the things that you like, eat the things you eat, be scared of the things you are scared of and share good times with you.  And so it is with the little girl in this story.  Her friend Molly loves playing games, going to the park and going on the slides, eating fish and chips and gelati.  She doesn’t mind the other kids who are noisy but the barking dogs are a bit frightening.

But one day Molly disappears and no amount of searching finds her.  Things are bleak and lonely especially as school has just started and everyone seems to have a friend already.  And then one day a little girl called Zoe offers to share her crayons…

This is not an uncommon theme in children’s storybooks but the remarkable thing about this one is that the author wrote it when she was just 10.  She is now just 13. Whimsical characters in colours that echo the mood of the story bring the little girl and her friend to life and reassures those who are about to begin a new phase of their life that there will be someone ready to support them. It opens up opportunities to talk about what friends are and how to initiate friendships through kindness and that through our lives we will have many different friends. 

You can read more about this young author here and perhaps her story will inspire the writers in your class to keep at it. 

My Friend Ernest

My Friend Ernest

My Friend Ernest

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My Friend Ernest

Emma Allen

Hannah Sommerville

Angus & Robertson, 2017

32pp., pbk., RRP $A14.99

971460750544

It is the first day of school and Oscar has put his brave on along with the knight’s shining helmet from the big dress-up box.  But just as he goes to get the shield he is shoved out of the way by a kid who snatches the dragon tail.  A knight and a dragon are traditional enemies and so it seems to be the case again.  Oscar is intimidated by this scary dragon-child and even though he acts brave he’s not really.  Seeking shelter in the cubby he finds a princess who is  hiding from the crocodiles  and then in comes the dragon…

This is a story that was probably reflected in most of the schools around Australia just three or four weeks ago as the newest bunch of big-schoolers began their new adventure.  No matter how big and brave and fearless they were on the outside, they were just little five-year olds in a big new world on the inside.  While in those traditional scenarios Oscar would have slain that dragon, in this story he faces his fears.  He tells the dragon he is not afraid of him but when they come face to face he is able to articulate that he is a little bit scared and why.  Rather than hiding behind his fears and perhaps not having the best start to school because he makes Ernest scarier than he is, Oscar learns that acknowledging them and facing them can lead to something much better. He also learns that just as he is hiding his concerns behind the knight’s outfit, others might also be hiding behind a brave face and that taking the time to dig a little deeper can lead to some rewarding and fun times.

From the front cover, Sommerville’s illustration bring this text to life – young children will know immediately that this is going to be about two little boys – one a knight, the other a dragon and thus destined for conflict.  But there is also a clue to the outcome in the title – the main character is Oscar but the book is called My Friend Ernest.

Even though the beginning of term is slipping away into the memory, it is only days gone by so this would be a timely book to read to the children and remind them of how they were feeling back then and how far they have already come in conquering their fears and how brave they are and can be.  Life is going to be tricky at times – just how tricky depends on how we deal with the twists and turns.

 

small things

Small Things

Small Things

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

small things

Mel Tregonning

Allen & Unwin, 2016

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

9781742379791

 

Over recent weeks my life seems to have been leading up to opening this book.  

It started with a friend’s son committing suicide and my going back into the classroom as a volunteer to allow a colleague to attend the funeral.

There was RUOK Day which is a big thing for me because suicide has touched my life too many times.

Three schools I’ve been associated with have recently installed buddy benches.

This story came through my Facebook feed-Teen Makes Sit With US App That Helps Students Find Lunch Buddies and then, this morning, this meme…

small_things2

Even so, I was not prepared for the storyline of this important book even though I’d skimmed posts about its launch on my network connections. Let the blurb tell it for you…

An ordinary boy in an ordinary world. small things tells the story of a boy who feels alone with his worries, but who learns that help is always close by.”

Perhaps a storyline that has been done one way or another many times – but then, on the publishers’ blurb there is this…

In 2008, Mel began illustrating a graphic novel about the universal feelings of loneliness and happiness. In May 2014, Mel took her own life.

It is the most absorbing story of a boy who is dealing with lots of the small things in life that we all face but which affect each of us differently – small things that appear to be so unimportant that they don’t even require capital letters in the title.  Yet, while for some they may be no big deal, for others they lead to sadness, anxiety and depression exacerbated by the perception that you are the only one feeling this way.  Other people can make friends, other people can do pesky maths problems, other people can play basketball – why can’t you?  And the thoughts and doubts start grow and become demons which start to chip away from the inside out and then open cracks until you are surrounded by and followed by them.  They constantly exude from you without let=up until you are so overwhelmed that the pain of keeping them in is greater than physical pain of letting them out. So you give them a helping hand and for a brief minute one pain exceeds the other. But when even that doesn’t help and the darkness descends…

Mel died before she completed her book and the wondrous Shaun Tan completed the final three pages.  And in doing so, he turns the darkness around into a powerful and hopeful ending so that even though there are small things that can cause such despair and desolation there are other small things that can lead to hope and happiness. It’s a story about discovering your place in the world and finding your path through it; about realising that while others’ paths may seem the same as yours, theirs may have obstacles invisible to you and hurdles they find too hard to climb; about being aware of others as well as ourselves and developing and showing empathy; about discovering that others have similar pains and you are not alone; about building a sense of a strong self and knowing and employing the strategies to achieve this. For all its physical, emotional and conceptual darkness, it is a story about light.

With so many of our students, even very young ones, struggling with bullying and mental health issues that too often lead to the dire consequences of drugs and death, this is an important book for teachers to examine so we can be alert to the needs of the children in our care and consider whether the remark made in jest or the less-than-average grade might have a deeper impact than we think. It’s about the need to help our children build a core of resilience and self-esteem so they can cope when their expectations are not realised and to help parents understand that stepping in and solving every problem for a child in the short term in not necessarily the best solution in the long term.  It’s about helping our children understand that there are not losers, only learners.

It’s about so much more than one reviewer can express in one review.  Perhaps its most critical role is that it even though it encapsulates the feelings and thoughts of the boy in its evocative pictures so well that no words are needed, it becomes the conversation starter – more than that, it generates a loud call to action.

On a literary level I believe this will feature in the CBCA Book of the Year lists in 2017; on a social level it is so much more important than that.

There are Teachers Notes for both primary and secondary available and they come with a warning of how you use it because of the nerves that may be touched, a warning I would echo.  Do not share this book as a stand-alone, time-filler. It’s format of many small frames does not readily lend itself to a class sharing, but rather a one-to-one exploration with a sensitive adult taking the helm.  However the teachers notes offer some really positive ways of promoting positive mental health and strategies for those who are feeling fragile as well as helping others know how they might help a friend.   Asking R U OK? is not just for one day a year. 

A most remarkable and life-changing book.  We need to nurture those who will sit with the lonely kid in the cafeteria but we must also know who the lonely kids are.

 

Shaun Tan completes graphic novel after author Mel Tregonning’s suicide: ‘Her absence made me try even harder’

Kids Helpline 1800 55 1800

Lifeline 13 11 14

Clever Trevor’s Stupendous Inventions

Clever Trevor's Stupendous Inventions

Clever Trevor’s Stupendous Inventions

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Clever Trevor’s Stupendous Inventions

Andrew Weldon

Puffin, 2016

100pp., pbk., RRP $A9.99

9780143309154

Clever Trevor’s name is not really Trevor.  It’s Stuart.  But nothing rhymes with “Stuart” and because he is so clever – he invented and built the Rabbit Brain Booster out of his dad’s old computer and a car battery – his friends have renamed him Trevor.  

But for all his cleverness Trevor was still failing at school, especially this year with Mr Schmedric.  Nothing Trevor submitted for his assignments met Mr Schmedric’s expectations – but then Mr Schmedric was one of those teachers who thought there was only one way to do anything.  He won’t accept Trevor’s inventions as acceptable solutions for assignments and bullies him mercilessly. He is the epitome of a nightmare teacher – and thankfully one that no student will ever meet.  

So you can imagine Trevor’s shock when he discovers that Mr Schmedric is not only confiscating his projects but he was selling them… and making a lot of money, which he makes sure Trevor knows about.  So Trevor and his friends hatch a plot to get their own back, but Mr Schmedric is smarter than they give him credit for.  When he threatens to make Stuart repeat his class next year, they have to come up with a new plan…

This is another very funny book-length cartoon from the talented Andrew Weldon.  We first met Clever Trevor as a friend of Steven, The Kid with the Amazing Head,  and now he comes into his own.  It is an engaging tale which brings up all sorts of issues about the ethical use of information and ideas as well as the concept of power.  Can authority be misused?  Is it possible for the underdog to win? Can brains overcome brawn?

Younger readers, particularly the boys and those who are reluctant readers, will enjoy this story in its very accessible format and will be eagerly awaiting a new adventure from this talented creator. And in the meantime they can use the makerspace to create their own great invention!

Friday Barnes: The Plot Thickens

Friday Barnes: The Plot Thickens

Friday Barnes: The Plot Thickens

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Friday Barnes: The Plot Thickens

R. A. Spratt

Random House, 2016

240pp., pbk., RRP $A15.99

9780857989932

Friday Barnes is the daughter of two highly-intelligent, eccentric physicists who are so disconnected from her upbringing that they called her Friday even though she was born on a Thursday.  She did have four siblings, all much older than her being born during the four-and-a-half years their mother had allocated for the task.  Friday was not scheduled and her birth was fitted in around a lecture her mother had to give in Switzerland.  Eleven years later, Friday had largely raised herself and she was happy with that.  Her greatest wish was to be unnoticed because you could do so much more that way like eating a whole block of chocolate at once without it being taken off you.    Unfortunately, it also means that you do not develop very good social skills particularly if you spend your time reading scientific tomes and educating yourself beyond the realms of anything a school could offer.

However, as well as the non-fiction her parents library consisted of, Friday had a penchant for detective novels because “being a detective allowed a person a licence to behave very eccentrically indeed” and she had honed her powers of observation and logical thought over the years.  But the time has now come for Friday to go to high school and given her parents haven’t even realised she is no longer in preschool, it was up to her to sort it.  She would have preferred not to go at all because she saw it as being all about “bullying, dodge ball and having to find a date for the prom” but the government was insistent that she do.  She tried to compromise by applying for university and passed the exam to study medicine but was knocked back on her age. 

So rejecting the idea of the Foreign Legion, the Peace Corps and being smuggled out of the country by people traffickers, after helping her ex-cop, private investigator Uncle Bernie solve a case she finds herself with the means to send herself to Highcrest Academy the best and most expensive boarding school in the whole country.  Her intention is to stay under the radar, do what she has to do and leave.  But things do not work out that way.  But right from the start, her nondescript self-imposed uniform of brown cardigans, grey t-shirts and blue jeans makes her stand out among the fashion parade that is the elite, wealthy students who also attend the school.

And so, in this the fifth episode in the series, Friday is well-known to all at the school , either having got them into trouble or out of it at some stage.  

Unfortunately, things do not start well for our heroine as she is immediately suspicious when the father of Ian Wainscott, best described as her frenemy arrives, declares he has been cleared of all charges and wants to whisk Ian off to the Cayman Islands.  Using her knowledge of remarkable things, Friday not only proves the papers he is waving are frauds but she works out why he wants Ian so desperately.  Thus Ian is not only once again reminded of his father’s lack of love for him but it’s done in front of his friends.  So he sets out to get revenge and Friday becomes the butt of numerous pranks that actually put her in danger.

Throw in a decidedly dodgy art teacher who has a huge tax debt and no income, someone mysteriously defacing the school’s artworks with graffiti, a new PE teacher who thinks he can break Friday’s will and the ever-present Melanie whose droll comments add so much humour to the situation and here is another great tale for those who are independent readers and who are looking for an out-of-the-ordinary heroine.  Throughout the story Friday finds herself embroiled in a number of incidents, all of which she solves with her incredible knowledge and logic, and all of which eventually contribute to the big picture in some way.

This is a series that is best read in sequence as one book leads to another and the last few pages of this one set the scene for Danger Ahead which will be released in January 2017. Independent readers from Yr 3+ will love it.

The Stupendously Spectacular Spelling Bee

The Stupendously Spectacular Spelling Bee

The Stupendously Spectacular Spelling Bee

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Stupendously Spectacular Spelling Bee

Deborah Abela

Random House Australia, 2016

232pp., pbk., RRP $A14.99

9781925324822

Things have been tough in the tiny town of Yungabilla, and particularly so for the Wimple family since mum gave up her teaching job to homeschool Boo because of his asthma and Dad lost his as a journalist when the local newspaper closed down and he’s now got his own handyman business. But they are a close-knit family with Dad’s eternal optimism steering them through the roughest times, Mum’s patience and calming influence keeping everyone on track and Nanna Flo’s pragmatism keeping them grounded Every Friday night they gather around the television to watch The Stupendously Spectacular Spelling Bee with India Wimple successfully spelling every word along with the contestants.  So when host Philomena Spright looks straight down the camera lens exhorting children to enter the new series, India feels she is speaking directly to her.

Which is all very well because spelling really tricky words is not India’s problem – it’s her shyness and the family’s pecuniary problems that are bigger hurdles.  When she was younger and had the starring role in the school play, she was all set to go but just as she stepped on stage she saw a couple of people leaving and realised it was her mum and dad hurrying her young brother Boo outside to deal with another major asthma attack.  She lost her lines and her confidence in public at that moment but gained a loud voice in her head that constantly fuels her self-doubt and her fear that it would happen again. It pops up all the time suggesting that it’s impossible for one as ordinary as her to achieve a dream  So, at first she tells her family that she can’t enter and despite their protestations she sticks to her decisions.  But that night she sees Dad smile, something that is rare these days, so so that she can see that smile again, she agrees to have a go.

And so the scene is set for a most heart-warming, spirit-lifting story of a family and a community getting together to overcome all sorts of obstacles and hardships to make the dream come true.  This is not just about India- the whole town needs this, if only to prove that kids from the back of beyond are just as clever and polished as city kids and their own children can have the future they want.

Much has to be done to help India build her confidence and self-belief, just as much has to be done to find the money to get her to the heats and the final.  There are all sorts of contestants including the super-confident as well as  pushy parents to contend with, without even thinking of words that most of her age won’t have heard of, let alone use or understand (even when they are in a sentence!) It’s a story that we’re seeing playing on television all day at the moment, as our Olympic competitors from all sorts of backgrounds, overcome all the odds and realise their dream of being an Olympian. Even the contestants in the tremendously popular television program The Great Australian Spelling Bee will now come to life and be more like the real kids they know.  And while for Olympian, television contestant and India alike the prize is the goal, it’s also about the journey and what they learn along the way that is the most important.

This is an inspirational story that would make a great read-aloud and a wonderful read-alone at any time but particularly at this time or at the beginning of the year as we encounter students with all sorts of concerns about what hurdles they will have to leap as a new phase unfolds and fears have to be faced. Striving for a dream, using the support of those around you, taking one step at a time, believing in yourself and allowing obstacles to become opportunities is a  message that our young need to hear, especially when they seem to be surrounded by ‘instant success” and live in a world of ‘instant gratification’. 

Adding to the story is the introduction of each chapter… a particular word is featured, it’s definition and part of speech and just like in the competition it is used in a sentence.  This prepares the reader for what is to come, building personal vocabulary and understanding in the best way as we read on to see how it plays out.  Daunting, valorous, imperious, calamitous and skulduggery all come to life!

Deborah Abela has written a most profound book, very different from much that is available to younger readers today, and created not only an engaging, what-happens-next story but one built around a family who will be readily recognisable by readers.  If Miss 10 were to adopt India Wimple as her role model, I would be more than happy.

Penelope Perfect: The Truly Terrible Mistake

Penelope Perfect: The Truly Terrible Mistake

Penelope Perfect: The Truly Terrible Mistake

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Penelope Perfect: The Truly Terrible Mistake

Chrissie Perry

Hardie Grant Egmont, 2016

144pp., pbk., RRP $A14.95

9781760120276

Penelope Kingston (aka Penelope Perfect) has made a terrible mistake.  When she answered the questions on the maths test, she missed five of them on the back of the page!!  Not only does that mean she might not get an A  on her report card (and thus the admiration and another $20 from her absent father) but she has also received the same mark as Joanna, the “naughty girl’ in the class who is much more adept at blowing spitballs than academics.  Penelope is devastated, especially when Ms Pike refuses to let her take the test again!

But she sees a way to redeem her grades (which seem to be her motivation and on which her entire self-worth is based) through excelling in the drama competition instead.  In fact she has already written a play that will put them ahead of the other groups, but then her drama teacher Mr Salmon mixes up the groups and instead of her usual crew, Penelope now has Joanna in her group – and Joanna most definitely has her own ideas!

Penelope turns to her beloved grandfather for advice – as she often does, particularly when she feels the loud, bossy, angry twin of her Gemini personality rising – and he gives her the cryptic message to “colour outside the lines”.  So will she be able to work as a team member and shine in the play or will her wilfulness and need to be perfect (in her eyes) destroy all her relationships? Is even her new best friend Bob deserting her?

Girls from Years 2-6 will be able to empathise with the plights of the characters in this story, whether they are a Penelope, a Joanna, or a peace-maker Bob.  Personally, I would have liked to have seen Penelope get a greater understanding of the reasons behind Joanna’s behaviours, but perhaps that just me with my adult-teacher hat on, and not seeing things through the eyes of Miss 10 who was eager to re-read the series and then devoured this new one on her recent visit.  I reviewed the first three earlier this year and it says a lot about how they resonated with Miss Now-10 that as she dug through the pile of new books on her bed, that this was her first choice to read. 

Reading series plays an important part in the reading development of our students because they have already internalised much about the characters and the setting so they can devote their attention to more complex plots so to have another one that appeals to those in-between readers to add to the collection is a bonus.  Miss 10 and I did have a discussion about whether Penelope should measure her worth in grades and whether that was the only reason her dad loved her, as well as what she thought about Joanna and whether there were ‘Joannas’ in her class and how she might reach out to them, which is the beauty of us both usually reading the same books, but even without that shared-reading element, this is a series I can recommend.

The Other Christy

The Other Christy

The Other Christy

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Other Christy

Oliver Phommavanh

Puffin, 2016

208pp., pbk., RRP $A16.99

9780143505723

 

For the last three years at Cabravale Primary, Christy Ung has been in the same class as Christie Owens.  Even though they share the same name, they couldn’t be more different.  Loud, brash, attention-seeking it girl Christie Owens is the opposite of shy, quiet, friendless Cambodian Christy – so much so that she has been dubbed “The Other Christy’.

All Christy wants is to have a friend, someone to bake treats for, someone who doesn’t see her as a ‘spare Christy’ and calls her anything but ‘The Other Christy’. But it doesn’t happen.  If her class were the solar system, Christie Owens would be the sun, her friends the planets, and Christy is Pluto.  She views herself as a meteorite floating around the school, spending her time in the Quiet Quad with the other meteorites who find it tricky to make friends for one reason or another.

She is made to feel even more isolated when she is the only person in the class who doesn’t receive an invitation to Christie’s party but even though her own birthday is just a week later she doesn’t feel she can invite people to her home because her Grandpa whom she lives with has a germ phobia and most of Christy’s home time is spent cleaning.  However, her dead mother’s sister has married an Australian and lives nearby so Christy is able to escape some times, learning to bake the most scrumptious treats.  It is Christy’s baking skills that bring a huge change in her life as she takes her birthday cake into school – a triple chocolate cheesecake that sets off a chain of events that Christy could not have foreseen.  Not only does she start to build friendships (although she doesn’t recognise them at the time) Christie becomes her BFF!  But, as is the way of friendships with this age group it has to survive and overcome several hurdles as both girls learn a lot about themselves and others on the way.

This is an engaging and entertaining read that reflects so much of what happens in Year 5 and 6 as friendships wax and wane, ebb and flow, include and exclude, as the children gradually move into adolescence and independence wanting to branch out on their own but needing the safety and solace of family.  Christy’s home life, built on a very different life in Cambodia that is gradually revealed, echoes that of many of our students who come here unable to speak English and having to overcome that as well as the cultural changes, let alone making friends in a situation where friendships were cemented in Kindergarten. 

Phommavanh says he has drawn on his experiences as a teacher and it is clear he was a very observant one as the dynamics of the relationships could be duplicated in almost any school in the country.   It is touching, sensitive and wholly realistic but mostly, it offers hope for those, who, like Christy, want nothing more than to have someone they can call a friend. It’s about staying true to yourself and your beliefs and trusting that who you are is enough.