The Most Marvellous Spelling Bee Mystery

The Most Marvellous Spelling Bee Mystery

The Most Marvellous Spelling Bee Mystery

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Most Marvellous Spelling Bee Mystery

Deborah Abela

Random House Australia, 2018

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

9780143786689

In Yungabilla, Australia, Toronto, Canada and Wormwood, England three young people are receiving invitations to an event that could change their lives forever.  Having proved their ability as champion spellers, each has been invited to compete in the Most Marvellous International Spelling Bee in London. But, like all children, each is unique and faces their own difficulties in getting to London.

India Wimple who won Australia’s  The Stupendously Spectacular Spelling Bee is so shy that she cannot compete without her family by her side but the organisers will only pay for the contestant and one chaperone; Canada’s champion Holly Trifle’s family is reminiscent of the Wormwoods in Dahl’s Matilda and see her competing only as a way to promote their weight-loss business; while bullied, lonely Peter Ericksson hopes that maybe his absent dad will see his face on television, recognise him  and come home because it’s been 2922 days since he walked out and left a dad-sized hole in Peter’s life.

With incredible insight into the lives of children, Deborah Abela has crafted an engaging, unputadownable story that weaves the  lives of India, Holly and Peter together as well as the familiar faces of Rajish and Summer as they compete while trying to get to the bottom of some mysterious mishaps.  

Independent readers will relate to all three characters – if they are not mirrors then they will know someone like them – and will become engrossed as they follow their struggles to overcome their personal obstacles as much as their competitive ones.  Being able to put yourself in the shoes of the characters is the most important way to ensure the page is turned to see what happens to them and Abela has the ability to do this in spades.  Miss 11 is going to LOVE this sequel.

Sorry Day

Sorry Day

Sorry Day

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sorry Day

Coral Vass

Dub Leffler

NLA Publishing, 2018

34pp., hbk., RRP $A24.99

9780642279033

Standing amidst the large crowd gathered on the slopes of Parliament House in Canberra is light-haired, fair-skinned Maggie clutching her Aboriginal mother’s hand waiting for the most important speech from a politician for generations.  It is February 13, 2008 and, on behalf of a more enlightened nation,  the newly-elected Prime Minister is about to deliver the long-awaited apology to all Australia’s indigenous peoples for their losses in past times when it was thought that their children would be better off if they were taken to live with and be raised by white families – the Stolen Generations.

In a time ‘long ago and not-so-long-ago’ children were taken from their parents, their ‘sorrow echoing across the land’. 

Intertwined with Maggie’s story of anticipation and sudden loss as she falls among the legs of the crowd, is that of her mother, a young girl in different times when the roar of a truck and the thud of boots was a signal to hide before the white men came to take them.

“Screams echoed across the land as they scrambled to escape, sliding in the mud with every step.”

But, in the final fold-out flap the stories merge as Kevin Rudd proclaims,For the pain, suffering and hurt of these Stolen Generations, their descendants and for their families left behind, we say sorry.  To the mothers and the fathers, the brothers and the sisters, for the breaking up of families and communities, we say sorry… We today take this first step by acknowledging the past and laying claim to a future that embraces all Australians.”  

And at last, hope glimmers.

The recognition of the treatment of Australia’s indigenous peoples was a central focus of the 2007 election campaign for it had been 40 years since the referendum to acknowledge and include  Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as citizens of Australia, and ten years since the historic Bringing Them Home report  was tabled in Federal Parliament. 

While many of an older generation will remember where they were on the day of the speech, our younger generations may not understand its significance seeing it as just another day paid homage during the school year. So to have such a beautifully written story with such evocative illustrations to explain its importance – perhaps akin to ANZAC Day in the shaping of our nation – is superb and a must-have in every school library collection, particularly as there are two pages of explanation and illustrations drawing on the collection of the National Library of Australia  to complete it. 

In a few, well-chosen words and sublimely constructed sentences, Coral Vass has written an evocative story that not only expresses the heartbreak of those whose children were taken but also the fear of the children as Maggie is briefly separated from her mother.  Accompanied by unforgettable illustrations that capture the landscape, the emotions and the tension of both Maggie and her mother’s stories, this is a unique story that enables all of us to understand the importance of May 26 each year.

Teachers notes are available

Lego Star Wars Choose Your Path

Lego Star Wars Choose Your Path

Lego Star Wars Choose Your Path

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lego Star Wars Choose Your Path

Simon Hugo

DK, 2018

125pp., hbk., RRP $A29.99

9780241313824

What more fitting book to review for May the 4th than one with a Star Wars theme? Even though it is not released till May 28, there is no harm in building up anticipation for something new and different that is going to encourage even the most reluctant of readers to explore.

With the book comes protocol droid U-3PO, a small toy suitable for those 6+, who accompanies the adventures, gives advice and maybe even leads the adventurer astray. The reader chooses one of three quests- Hunt the Sith, Fight the Empire or Defeat the First Order – and then sets off to achieve it while meeting favourite characters and creatures, travelling in awesome vehicles as they move from planet to planet, all the while remaining in charge of the journey as they select the route according to the choices on offer.  

Along the way there are photos, facts and figures and information about a range of incredible Lego models that can be purchased – Star Wars fans like my son are so easy to buy for! –  as well as challenges to build new, original models.

The power of choose-you-own-adventure has long been proven as an inducement to read and discover, so to combine it with both Star Wars and Lego is just genius.  Perfect for that collaborative reading that young boys who are verging on independence love and need, or for any Star Wars fan. 

Tommy Bell Bushranger Boy (series)

Tommy Bell Bushranger Boy (series)

Tommy Bell Bushranger Boy (series)

 

 

 

 

 

Tommy Bell Bushranger Boy (series)

Jane Smith

Pat Kan

Big Sky Publishing, 2016-2018

100pp., pbk., RRP $A12.50

When Tommy Bell is sent to work on his grandfather’s farm for the school holidays, he is very reluctant to go because he would rather stay with his mates in his regional NSW town.  But while he is exploring a cave, he discovers an old bushranger’s hat and he is whisked back to a previous time when these outlaws roamed the Australian bush.

Each book in the series brings Tommy and his friends face-to-face with one of our history’s well-known bushranger characters and as they are involved in an exciting adventure they learn not only about our past but also themselves as the historic story parallels their contemporary lives. 

Written for independent young readers, this series offers a different theme for this audience with its time-travelling going backwards rather than forwards.  The first, Shoot Out at the Rock, was a 2017 CBCA Notable, a testament to the content and the quality of the writing. 

Little Dog and the Summer Holiday

Little Dog and the Summer Holiday

Little Dog and the Summer Holiday

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Little Dog and the Summer Holiday

Corinne Fenton

Robin Cowcher

Black Dog, 2017

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

9781925381160

“The long, lazy  days of summer holidays waited like parcels in a lucky dip” and under Little Dog’s supervision Jonathan and Annie are packing their shiny new caravan ready for the summer road trip!  From Melbourne to Sydney and back there are many places to visit and things to see – crossing the Murray River into NSW, visiting the iconic Dog on the Tuckerbox five miles from Gundagai, battling Sydney traffic to cross the Harbour Bridge, swimming at Bondi Beach, taking the ferry to Manly… but when it all comes down to it, there is one place that Little Dog likes better than any other!.

While the text alone could be that of a story today, Robin Cowcher’s gentle watercolour illustrations take this story back to the late 50s when caravans were rounded and there were no New Year’s Eve fireworks on the harbour.  Just as Little Dog and the Christmas Wish celebrated Melbourne, this new adventure celebrates Sydney.  Road trips remain a popular way to holiday for many families – mine included – and readers will have fun comparing their experiences to those of Jonathan and Annie and Little Dog.  Has anything really changed? If the story were written for 2018, what would be different?

The shape and inclusions may have changed, but has the fun?

The shape and inclusions may have changed, but has the fun?

A great story to share as students return from holidays and have their own stories to share.

Car, Car, Truck, Jeep

Car, Car, Truck, Jeep

Car, Car, Truck, Jeep

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Car, Car, Truck, Jeep

Katrina Charman

Nick Sharratt

Bloomsbury, 2018

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

9781408864968

There are many more ways of getting around than just the blue family car, and as the family go on a trip they see a vast array of ways to travel.

Car, car, truck, jeep,
have you any fuel?
Yes, sir, yes, sir,
three tanks full.

One for the red bus,
one for the train,
and one for the pilot
in her jumbo jet plane.

Written to the tune of Baa Baa Black Sheep and with bright, bold illustrations, this is one for the very young that will become a favourite.  It could also be the basis of an I Spy list for that next road trip!

 

Can I Touch Your Hair?

Can I Touch Your Hair?

Can I Touch Your Hair?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mrs Vandenberg sets her 5th grade class a poetry project and then says, “Pick a partner.”  Within seconds the only one left for Irene is you-never-know-what-he-is-going-to-say Charles and for Charles it’s hardly-says-anything Irene.  But that’s not the main difference they see – Charles is black and Irene is white.  Nevertheless, an assignment is an assignment and with no boundaries they select everyday topics like buying shoes, their hair, going to church and the beach to write about, each using blank verse to describe their experiences.  For Irene who is painfully shy and likes her “stringy, dishwater, blonde” hair because it’s a curtain she can hide behind, her first poems focus on how she would like to be like the popular girls in class.  “I’d rather be sun-burned than sugar-sand white.” For Charles, for whom words fly off the page and out of his mouth, they’re about how he too, would like to fit in better but is shunned because of the colour of his skin and the confusion that that sets up inside him.

But as they write and share their poems, the topics getting more personal and revealing, gradually a greater understanding grows and they realise they have many more similarities than differences, seeing each other as individuals, and that they are both so much more than black and white. However, the poems don’t just explore their growing connections – they also explore their personal conundrums.  Charles watches the news and sees people walking by as black people are being “choked, pummelled, shot, killed by police officers” and yet he has a special friendship with local (white) Officer Brassard; Irene is shunned by Shonda in the playground but when Shonda presents her family tree draped in chains, Irene feels the need to say, “Sorry”.  

Subtitled, Poems of Race, Mistakes and Friendship,  this book grew from a friendship that began as an email but evolved from all that had gone before in the authors; and illustrators’  lives to shape them into their current personalities.  Imagining what it would be like if they had met in a modern-day 5th grade class, rather than a book of unrelated poems this one tells the story of an evolving friendship between two people with seemingly distinct lives, diverse experiences and different perceptions using the format of the poem to be the voice of each, and each shedding light on innermost thoughts that illuminate a path that few get to tread.

Unlike other books with “we’re-all-the-same-on-the-inside” messages, this one tackles the issue of race head on so that conversations can be started and differences can be explored rather than ignored.  Because even though we may be the same on the inside, all that has gone before us even before we are born has gone into the making of who we are now, and while that makes us unique individuals regardless of skin colour, it is that skin colour that can be the greatest division as first impressions are so deeply shaped by existing attitudes, perceptions and preconceptions.  Charles was picked first for the basketball team simply because of his skin colour and lanky legs, but things changed when he muffed an easy shot.

This is a complex book with so many layers that it risks being left unopened on the shelf if it is not shared with the child by an astute adult, either parent or teacher, who can begin and sensitively guide the conversations.  Cultural differences – racial, religious, sexual, lingual, socio-economic – are a big issue in our schoolyards as the focus on bullying demonstrates, so something new that approaches the issues in a radical way can be a catalyst for change.  What is we were all Mrs Vandenbergs and set our students a similar challenge, instead of the one-size-fits-all novel study, and insisted that students work with someone they have never worked with before?  

Extraordinary.

If you are in an Australian school and would like my review copy of this book to use with your students, be the first to contact me and ask for it.  Please include your name and postal address.

My Grandfather’s War

My Grandfather’s War

My Grandfather’s War

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My Grandfather’s War

Glynn Harper

Jenny Cooper

EK Books, 2018

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

9781775592990

On this most solemn of days on the Australian and New Zealand calendars, and as the centennial commemoration of World War I come to a close, My Grandfather’s War tells us of a more recent conflict, the Vietnam War, a war where those who served are now the grandparents of its target audience, our primary school students.

At a time when the world had almost emerged into a new era following World War II, the USA and the USSR were the new superpowers and the common catch-cry promoted by prime ministers and politicians was “All the way with LBJ”, Australian and New Zealand joined forces with the USA in this new conflict to stop the “Yellow Peril” of China moving south and overtaking nations just as Japan had tried to do between 1941 and 1945. Among the 65 000 troops of both nations committed between 1963 and 1975 was Robert,  Sarah’s grandfather who now lives with her family and who is “sometimes very sad.” 

Possibly a natio, drafted because a marble with his birthdate on it dropped into a bucket, old enough to die for his country but too young to vote for those who sent him, Robert, like so many others of his age whose fathers and grandfathers had served, thought that this was his turn and his duty and that the war “would be exciting”.  But this was a war unlike those fought by the conservative, traditional decision-makers – this was one fought in jungles and villages where the enemy could be anywhere and anyone; one where chemicals were used almost as much as bullets; one where the soldiers were not welcomed as liberators but as invaders; and one which the soldiers themselves knew they could not win. It was also the first war that was taken directly into the lounge rooms of those at home as television became more widespread, affordable and accessible. 

And the reality of the images shown clashed with the ideality of those watching them, a “make-love-not-war” generation who, naive to the ways of politics and its big-picture perspective of power and prestige, were more concerned for the individual civilians whose lives were being destroyed and demanded that the troops be withdrawn. Huge marches were held throughout the USA, New Zealand and Australia and politicians, recognising that the protesters were old enough to vote and held their futures in their hands, began the withdrawal.

But this was not the triumphant homecoming like those of the servicemen before them.  Robert came home to a hostile nation who held him and his fellow soldiers personally responsible for the atrocities they had seen on their screens.  There were no welcome home marches, no public thanks, no acknowledgement of heroes and heroism, and Robert, like so many of those he fought with, slipped back into society almost as though  he was in disgrace.  While the official statistics record 578 killed and 3187 wounded across the two countries, the stats for those who continued to suffer from their physical and mental wounds and those who died because of them, often at their own hands, are much more difficult to discover.  Like most returned servicemen, Robert did not talk about his experiences, not wanting to inflict the horror on his family and friends and believing that unless you were there you wouldn’t understand; and without the acknowledgement and support of the nation he was supposedly saving  and seeing his mates continue to battle the impact of both the conflict and the chemicals, he sank into that deep depression that Sarah sees as his sadness but which is now known as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Disturbed by his sadness but told never to talk to her grandfather about the war, Sarah is curious and turns to the library for help.  But with her questions unanswered there, she finally plucks up the courage to ask him and then she learns Grandad’s story – a story that could be told to our students by any number of grandfathers, and one that will raise so many memories as the 50th anniversary of the Battle of Khe Sanh approaches, and perhaps prompt other Sarahs to talk to their grandfathers.

Few picture books about the Vietnam War have been written for young readers, and yet it is a period of our history that is perhaps having the greatest impact on our nation and its families in current times.   Apart from the personal impact on families as grandfathers, particularly, continue to struggle with their demons,  it opened the gates to Asian immigration in an unprecedented way, changing and shaping our nation permanently. 

Together, Harper and Cooper have created a sensitive, personal and accessible story that needs to be shared, its origins explored and understanding generated.  

Lest We Forget.

 

The Bacteria Book

The Bacteria Book

The Bacteria Book

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Bacteria Book

Steve Mould

DK, 2018

72pp., hbk., RRP $A19.99

9780241316580

As winter approaches and with it, the cold and flu season with all its accompanying warnings of washing your hands, sneezing into your elbow and staying home if you’re sick, the timing of the publication of this new release from DK is perfect.  While we are so conscious of not spreading disease, just what are these baddies that are so tiny that we can’t see them but fear them anyway? And are they all bad?

Steve Mould (!) takes young readers into the world of microbiology and introduces the bacteria, viruses, and other germs and microbes that are all around, and how they keep us and our world running.

Bacteria and their microbial mates viruses, fungi, algae, and protozoa are the most important living organisms on Earth, and 99 per cent of them are helpful, not harmful. Without bacteria, there would be no bread or cheese, and our bodies wouldn’t be able to work how we need them to. Using the iconic DK style of photos, captions, small blocks of text, a glossary for the big words and an index to discover a particular interest, young readers can discover this almost-invisible world through explanations which use the technical language but in a way that young readers can easily grasp the meaning.  

From discovering bacteria’s superpowers – they are magnetic, electric, sticky and and able to dissolve other creatures – to learning that half of all people have little creatures that live in their eyelashes and walk around on their eyelids at night, this is a book that will fascinate young minds and may even initiate some dinner conversation!

Perfect for raising awareness and understanding, Display it with a microscope and other paraphernalia and listen to the conversations begin!

 

Lessons of a LAC

Lessons of a LAC

Lessons of a LAC

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lessons of a LAC

Lynn Jenkins

Kirrili Lonergan

EK Books, 2018

32pp., pbk., RRP $A19.99

9781925335828

In one village on one side of the mountains live the LACs – Little Anxious Children who constantly look for danger and who only have negative self-talk; in another village on the other side of the mountains live their enemies the Calmsters who can take life as it comes because of their positive self-talk.  The two sides are constantly battling because when one wins, the other shrinks.

One day Loppy the LAC decides to climb the mountain and spy on the Calmsters but his anxiety goes through the roof when he spies a Calmster looking back.  And not only looking back, but coming to meet him! Who will win the impending battle? Does there have to be a winner and a loser?

Anxiety amongst children in on the increase.  According to a recent national survey of the mental health and wellbeing of Australian children and adolescents, approximately 278,000 Australian children aged between 4 and 17 struggle with clinical symptoms of Anxiety. (For a summary see kidsfirst children’s services) Therefore books which shine a light on this condition which affects 1 in 7 of those between 4 and 17 and which can be used as a starting point to help the child manage the symptoms are both important and welcome, particularly as mindfulness and mental health are gaining traction in school curricula. While there are almost as many causes of anxiety as there are children affected by it,  such as not being perfect, helping children turn their self-talk around, as Curly did for Loppy, is a critical starting point and many classrooms are now displaying images such as these…

 

Not only do such explicit statements give the anxious child prompts for the new words, but they also acknowledge that anxiety is real and that there are others who are anxious too.  While climbing that internal mountain as Loppy did can be hard, knowing that there are others who also battle can be reassuring. While teachers are not clinical psychologists like the author, having tools like the Loppy books in the mindfulness collection and using them not only to help the Loppies move forward but also to help the Calmsters learn that some of their friends may be like Loppy so deserve  and need understanding rather than ridicule can be a starting point in achieving harmony in the classroom.

Teachers’ notes which extend the story into practical applications are available.