Everyone knows that penguins are found at the South Pole not the North Pole. But when the Pilchard-Browns get lost on the way to their picnic things change. Mr and Mrs and Peeky, Poots and Pog find themselves floating on an iceberg that drifts through days and nights until they discover a strange something on another iceberg. It turns out to be Mr White the polar bear who tells them that the South Pole is 12 430 miles in the opposite direction!
But Mr White has always wanted to go to the South Pole and so the Pilchard-Browns follow Mr White – always on the lookout for a picnic place. The ice floe they are on isn’t safe with killer whales floating around, and America was too busy – and it wasn’t home. Even though England was charming it still wasn’t home. And so the journey continues, through countries large and small as they make their way south. But no place is home, not even for Mr White.
This is a quirky story, aptly named for the theme that runs through it that even we can follow our dreams there is a place for each of us that is home. But as we journey through life we can meet many different types who can still be friends even though everything about us is poles apart. Written mostly in dialogue, it could be a good read-aloud for new students starting school for the first time to show that friends can come from many different places, as well as reaching out to those new to this country so they can see themselves in a story. It might even serve as a vehicle for a class version – if Mr White and the Pilchard-Browns visited all the countries represented in our class, where would they go? It could be an engaging introduction to getting to know each other, as well as mapping.
In this new series for boys who are independent readers Brand and Jellett introduce Freddy Tangles who is an ordinary boy to whom extraordinary things happen. Even though the events themselves are ordinary, if there is something that can go wrong then it will happen to Freddy and this makes for some really funny adventures that will appeal to those who like Big Nate and Tom Gates. Freddy is at that age that boys go through where they are awkward, accident-prone and tongue tied and so his audience will relate to him and perhaps gain some comfort in recognising themselves in him.
Freddy is a likeable lad, bold on the outside but not quite so on the inside with a group of friends like Blocker from Russia who has a quirky way of giving good advice, Scabs who is also accident prone and Tabby, a smart, straight-talking girl whom Freddy is gradually realising is a girl. As the titles of each book suggest, Freddy encounters a major issue in each story and he has to take the actions that decide whether he is a loser or a legend, a chicken or a champ.
Liberally illustrated in cartoon style, but with more text than a graphic novel, this series has the potential to be the next big thing with the age group. It will be interesting to see how my middle-school boys respond to it.
In 1875 Ernest Giles is determined to cross Australia from east to west and he knows that camels are the key to his success. Sir Thomas Elder of Beltana Station set in South Australia’s Flinders Ranges is charged with supplying the camels for this new expedition providing the impetus for this award-winning story about an Afghan camel driver’s son, a protected English girl and a small but determined camel named Mustara. Every day Mustara and Taj look out “onto a sea of yellow-red dust and stones. The sand rolls and shifts. Taj’s father says it is like the waves of the ocean and the spinifex bushes are little boats blown about by the wind.” Taj really wants to go with his father on the expedition and is determined to prove that both he and Mustara are capable of undertaking the arduous trip across the desert. However when a sandstorm blows up, he finds himself drawing on all his resources to keep Emmeline and himself safe.
An Internet search will yield both background and teachers’ notes for this new paperback edition of the original published in 2006 that will introduce a whole new audience to the remarkable stories of the Afghans and their camels and their place in Australian history. Perfectly illustrated by the masterful Robert Ingpen, it has to be included in your collection for this year’s Book Week theme Australia: Story Country because it is part of the story of our country.
Adelaide lives alone in a large city, sitting quietly at her window recalling the bustling life and the friendships that once were when people lived and worked in the neighbourhood, but now strangely silent as each individual hurries off after their own pursuits. Hidden behind her red curtain, Adelaide is invisible to those scurrying along the streets, lonely and isolated despite being in the midst of so much movement and motion. It is indeed, a secret world. She amuses herself by turning her observations into artworks, making up stories to go with each character- those like her who are “the still ones, the quiet ones, those who dance and dream alone”. Capturing each in the clean, clear glass bubble of a terrarium, each discrete and disconnected from the other just as they are in real life. But one day she is restless and she goes out – only to be caught in a thunderstorm which changes not only her life forever, but also those of those she sees each day. The red curtain that has hidden her starts to unravel and becomes the thread that binds…
This is an enchanting, almost mystical story about being alone and lonely and having the courage to act when the opportunity arises to find the kindred spirit that each of us is looking for. It matters not that, in this case, Adelaide is a rabbit and her soulmate is a fox – that just strengthens the message that opposites attract and the one we thought we could not be friends with, is actually the right one for us.
The beautiful illustrations mirror the mood of the story perfectly – they are subdued and misty with soft-edges that suggest that blurry look of times past and times future as they lack clarity, but are sharp, bright and in focus in the here and now. Calm and turmoil are juxtaposed in colour, line and movement and are the perfect complement to the text, both the physical and internal storms that Adelaide has to weather.
On the surface this is a picture book about being lonely and then not, but it is such a universal story that contains so many metaphors both within and without that every reading reveals new layers. Hurst writes, “The rain soaked windows glittered like a jewellery box.” In my opinion, this is a treasure chest with so many hidden gems waiting to be discovered.
Imagine having to make the choice between swimming naked because your swimmers have come off or stopping to save your modesty but lose your chance to get to the national championships. Or riding the best wave of your life because your life depends on it. Or having the spotlight on you as you, the master of the miss-hit, have to play the best handball player of all time in the duel for court rights for a week…
These are all scenarios from this book of twelve exciting short stories focusing on a range of sports that teach the characters about themselves as well as their sports. Each story is action-packed with high stakes, over and done with in a few pages, but leaving the reader feeling satisfied that they have just read a quality story. With sport such a focus of life during the Australian summer, this is a great new release by the author of both the Billy Slater and Glenn Maxwell series that will appeal to both boys and girls. The final story about an everlasting football match in heaven is unique, showing the power of Loughlin’s imagination to make this collection different, to move it away from other more mainstream short story collections and keep even the non-sporty reading. He really has scored a goal with this one.
From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs Basil E. Frankweiler
From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs Basil E. Frankweiler
E. L. Konigsburg
Faber Factory, 2015
192pp. pbk., RRP $A16.99
Mrs Basil E. Frankweiler wishes to change her will and is writing to her lawyer Saxenberg to explain her changes and the reasons for them. To make things perfectly clear, she then writes the story of Claudia and James Kincaid, two children from Greenwich who are never going to enjoy the sort of wealth she has but who cross her path after a series of intriguing adventures.
Claudia is tired of being the eldest of four and decides she will run away to make her parents take more notice of her and she chooses her middle brother Jamie to go with her, not only because she likes him the best but he is the one with the money – mostly gained from cheating at a card game with his school mates. They complemented each other perfectly. She was cautious about everything but money; he was adventurous about everything but money. Deciding that hiding in plain sight is probably the best option Claudia chooses the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and armed with $28.61 they set off on their life changing adventure.
All goes well for them until Claudia is struck by the mystery surrounding a new statue that is drawing huge crowds to the Museum. Is it really by Michelangelo? Determined to solve the mystery while still maintaining their daily routines like putting on clean underwear, Claudia and Jamie have to use all their wits, intelligence and money-sense to remain undiscovered until Claudia decides to visit the statue’s previous owner Mrs Basil E. Frankweiler, a somewhat eccentric old lady who seems to understand both children very well.
Originally published in 1967, it won the Newbery Medal the following year for the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children and has become a modern classic for independent readers. Not only that, the Museum gets so many questions about the book that they have devoted a whole issue of the Museum Kids newsletter to it; there is a movie made of it and the Internet is sprinkled with lesson plans, reviews and other guides. Regardless of if perhaps appearing to be a little old-fashioned for today’s readers, nevertheless it is an engaging story that those who are ready for and wanting a solid read. I’m glad I left it till I had time to give it its due.
Young female readers will be delighted to know that the adventures of Clementine Rose, the sassy young girl who was delivered not in the usual way at a hospital but in the back of a mini-van in a basket of dinner rolls. Living in the magnificent mansion in Penberthy Floss with her mother, her Aunt Violet, Digby Pertwhistle the butler and pet teacup pig, Lavender, Clementine Rose has had many adventures that her readers can really relate to, making her a favourite with newly independent readers.
This time, in The Birthday Emergency, she is counting the days to her birthday but before that she has to participate in the sports carnival and with Lavender not her usual self, there’s no guarantee her party will go ahead as planned. And many changes are afoot in The Special Promise as she deals with specials friends leaving and suspicious new ones arriving.
When I first introduced this series in 2012 to Miss 6, she was entranced and could not wait for the next episode. Even though she is now Miss 9, she still enjoys them and is reading them to Miss Nearly 5 who is already a fan. Jacqueline Harvey has certainly created a character who resonates with her readers and I know there will be a whole new group of students wanting to make her acquaintance when I promote this series in the new school year. As my friend Sue Warren says on her Just So Stories blog, “Jacqueline Harvey continually strikes just the right note with her books for younger girls. The mix of adventure, mischief, humour and excitement has great appeal for the intended age group and each book contains much with which these readers can easily identify – even though they don’t live in a big old house or own a teacup pig!” Exactly what I would have said (and have, in previous reviews.)
It is Christmas Eve in Victorian England and Pearl Granger has just got into trouble for using her sister’s beautiful red and gold paisley shawl to adorn the “snow sister” she has made to honour and remember her sister Agnes who died from fever three years ago. Since her death, Christmas has meant little to the family so Pearl is more concerned about the scolding she is going to get but it will be worth it because each year she builds herself a snow sister and each year she misses Agnes a little less. Living in poverty means there is not a lot of extras for Christmas – even taking the two pieces of coal for her snow sister’s eyes means that the fire will burn a little lower that night despite the blizzard that is approaching.
As she trudges inside to face her due, she is met by the postman whose sack is weighed down by “these new Christmas cards” and he gives her a letter that she is to give her father immediately. It is a letter that would seem to change the Grangers’ lives forever as Pa has been summoned to a solicitor’s office in Bath to hear the reading of his rich brother’s will – a will of which he is the ‘main beneficiary”. Imagining new wealth beyond their dreams, Pearl is sent to beg some more credit from Nobel’s Grocery so the family can have the ingredients for their first Christmas pudding since Agnes died but a series of circumstances see her getting to see the rich side of life that she fantasises about and helps her understand that all may not be what it seems. Life is not necessarily about how many sugar plums you can eat.
As it cover hints, this is a poignant, heart-warming short story, beautifully written and illustrated with monochrome pictures evocative of the period, that not only paints a picture of the poor in Victorian England but also teaches lessons about the true meaning of Christmas and the power and importance of family love. The rich–poor, upstairs-downstairs nature of society where wealth determines status is very apparent and readers will engage with Pearl’s almost Cinderella-like character in comparison to the snooty, spoiled Lockwood girls.
This would be a wonderful choice for a family read-aloud over a few nights or for the newly independent reader who is looking for more than a picture book story about Christmas. Reviews of other books by Emma Carroll have suggested that she is an author on the rise and if The Snow Sister is a sample of the quality of her writing, she is one I will look for again. Definitely one for the Christmas collection.
Australia to Z is Armin Greder at his uncompromising, most confronting best. From the creator who brought us The Island which really turned a spotlight on our treatment of newcomers, comes this totally different alphabetical look at Australia which is just perfect for getting students to have a look at what it means to be Australian. While ‘soft’ investigations focus on icons, anthems, heroes and food, Australia to Z takes a much tougher look starting with the A for Aborigine looking out and seeing a First Fleet ship on the horizon to the deliberately juxtaposed B for Boat People showing more recent arrivals.
This is political commentary brought into the lives of children so they need to think and investigate…why has Greder chosen ‘calories’ for C, Ikea for I, and R for Rupert? But there are flashes of humour to lighten it too, with K being for the kangaroo that springs from nowhere in the night to take out the front of your car, and the ominously raised finger of the umpire for O for Out! And finally, there is Z for Zoo but the illustration is not what you would expect – but is perhaps the most poignant of all. This really is Australia under the microscope as the title page image suggests.
The choices make us think about how others see us, and with Greder being a Swiss immigrant, his perception may be sharper than others. But the inclusion of Advance Australia Fair almost as an appendix is a masterstroke – how different are the words we sing to the life we live?
Often in an ‘alphabet book’ the illustrations are more important than the text itself, but in this one the two are interdependent. Yes the text is biting but it is the powerful illustrations that accompany it that add the extra punch. Why are Rupert’s eyes blank? What does the picture of the Digger represent? With bold black strokes and a minimal palette, each image says all it needs to say and leaves a lasting impression long after the page has been turned.
Working in a highly multicultural school which has a significant population of children who come to learn English for the first time so they can work comfortably in their neighbourhood schools later, it never ceases to amaze me how these kids get along and understand each other so well without a common language let alone skin colour. There are many quotes and memes online that state “Children are not born racist –they learn to hate” and that is certainly my experience. Using Australia to Z in a focus on identity and belonging would be a most powerful way to raise issues, investigate and discuss them because knowledge leads to understanding, understanding leads to tolerance and tolerance leads to acceptance. Maybe this year’s Year 5 and 6 students will be a turning point as they create their own with the theme “what could be”..
Squishy McFluff is so sweet, you’ll be smitten. Such a clever and funny invisible kitten!
Imagine the fun of having a cat that only you can see, especially when it is really good at inventing great things to do like playing hide-and-seek at which he is world champion. This is Ava’s luck. She has a big imagination and is happiest when she’s playing with her cat, even though it can lead to trouble – which is exactly what happens in this latest addition to this series.
It’s nearly Christmas and Ava and Squishy are very excited. But there are still preparations to be made, like buying the last minute things which means going into town where all is decorations and celebrations. The trouble begins when Ava spots the wonky star at the top of the Christmas tree… The next day it is time to wrap the presents and when Mum says to wrap EVERYTHING, she is taken at her word… For someone who was trying to be good through all of December, this might not have a pretty ending for Ava, but she has one special thing she wants so she writes Santa a letter.
Young children will love this series from this English author as it holds many laughs and just a little bit of naughty. Written in rhyme it bounces along and Ella Okstad’s limited-palette illustrations are charming, capturing the essence of the text perfectly.
For those who can’t get enough of him, there’s a website with extra information and more fun and games at http://squishymcfluff.com/
This is something a little bit different to offer those just getting started on their independent reading journey who need a bit of support through short chapters, larger font and uncomplicated vocabulary – I think they will be eagerly awaiting the next adventure. Perfect for putting aside for this year’s Christmas Countdown.