Archive | January 14, 2016

New Year Surprise

New Year Surprise

New Year Surprise











New Year Surprise

Christopher Cheng

Di Wu

National Library of Australia, 2016

36pp., hbk., RRP $A24.99



The huge celebration that is Chinese New Year is fast approaching and Little Brother’s family are making all the traditional preparations. This Spring Festival is such a big occasion in Little Brother’s snowy, winter-bound village that it is impossible to sleep Little Brother is very excited because he has been told he has a special job this year.  But what could it be?  It seems he is too young to fly a kite, too short to hang the lanterns, too slow to choose the duck from the hawker and too small to carry the dragon through the village.  He’s already done things like serving tea and lighting crackers so what is there that is left for him to do?

Then he learns that he is to accompany his father in carrying the Pearl of Wisdom at the head on the dragon parade which entices good fortune to the village.  An honour indeed!

That night Little Brother and all his family sleep very well indeed.

Chris Cheng is the master of faction – the art of blending fact and fiction into a seamless story that both entertains and educates.  In New Year Surprise he draws on his own heritage to tell a tale that keeps the reader engaged while introducing many of the traditions that the Western world is now becoming familiar with while Di Wu’s amazing artwork reflecting the traditional Chinese techniques of brushes, watercolours and rice paper is the perfect accompaniment.  The story is followed by four pages of information about festivals in China drawn from the National Library of Australia’s extensive Chinese Collection, itself part of an even bigger Asian collection. If you’re looking for authority this writer-illustrator-publisher triumvirate could not be bettered.

As we approach the beginning of the Year of the Fire Monkey on February 8, 2016, the timing of the release of New Year Surprise is perfect.  Apart from acknowledging this important time in the lives of so many of our students, Chinese New Year is rich in investigations that span all areas of the Australian Curriculum.  From looking at the origins and meanings behind the traditions, to investigating the structure of the Chinese calendar with its stem-branch system, to making ang pow, to comparing the custom of inserting a lucky coin into the dumplings with similar practices throughout the world or even the development of fireworks which has become synonymous with new year celebrations around the world, there is much to draw on that will not only keep students engaged but will also promote an inclusive curriculum.

Extensive teachers’ notes are available that lead the reader on a “See, Think, Wonder” journey through the story encouraging a focus on the details of the illustrations and drawing out even greater understanding of Chinese culture. For example, the endpapers feature a cat and while it plays no visible part in the story, it clearly has a purpose.  What is it?  Similarly, the reader is encouraged to ponder about the choice of colour of the Little Brother’s clothes; the stories told in quilts and the wisdom in letting children light fireworks while all the while comparing what they are seeing with what they already know. Text-to-text, text-to-self and text-to-world connections abound.

With so few books for young readers on this subject available, Chris Cheng and Di Wu have created a must-have for both teachers and students and it’s a cracker!.  A superb way to start a year of investigations and displays.

A Chinese New Year display

A Chinese New Year display


Netball Gems (series)

Netball Gems

Netball Gems









Netball Gems: Pivot and Win



Netball Gems: Defend to the End


Lisa Gibbs and Bernadette Hellard

Penguin Random House, 2015,

144pp., pbk., RRP $A12.99


Written in association with Netball Australia by sisters Lisa Gibbs and Bernadette Hellard who have been involved in all aspects of netball for many years, these are the third and the fourth in this series which began with Hooked on Netball and Chase Your Goal with four more additions planned for publication this year.

Similar in format to several series featuring cricket and football that have proven to be really popular, each title focuses on one of the team members as they face personal and game challenges as they pursue their dream to play for the Diamonds, the Australian national team.  Throughout the stories the girls learn the intricacies of one of the fastest growing sports in Australia while, at the same time, learning how to deal with life itself.  Pivot and Win sees Lily trying to prove herself as a contender even though she is short – something she has no control over – while in Defend to the End, New Zealander Maia is homesick and feels that she doesn’t belong.  Even the way they play netball is Australia is different from the way she has mastered and she needs to almost start again.

Packed with tips and drills that budding netballers can try, this series will inspire all those young girls with dreams to work hard to achieve them.  Certainly Miss 9 said she can’t wait for her season to start again so she can try out some of the things, although if she ever achieves her dream of playing for the Diamonds there could be conversations with her grandmother about whether Australia or New Zealand are the world champions!  Regardless, this series has captured her imagination and provided her with some great reading for some time. I know it will be popular with readers from about Year 3 who enjoy netball and are ready for a longer story.