Visiting You – a journey of love
Rebecka Sharpe Shelberg
EK Books, 2018
32pp., hbk., RRP $A24.99
Visiting You – a journey of love
Rebecka Sharpe Shelberg
EK Books, 2018
32pp., hbk., RRP $A24.99
Ash dresses her friends
New Frontier, 2018
32pp., hbk., RRP $A24.99
Ash, the azure-winged magpie is feeling lonely. Unlike the brash. bold magpies that Australian children are familiar with, she lacks confidence amongst her feathered friends who assume she is shy and so is left out of conversations at bird gatherings. She desperately wishes she had someone to play with.
When a sad elephant comes along who wants a new shirt, Ash has an idea that will cheer him up. Producing an almost unending blot of fabric she makes him a bold red and white shirt that is so admired by other creatures that they also want new clothes. Suddenly she has all sorts of friends, not just those like her. But when the fabric runs out after she makes a quilt for a snail, she is alone again. Were her new “friends” just there for what she as to give them?
Set against a background of fifty shades of grey, bold red is the only contrast colour used in the illustrations symbolising the luck, joy and happiness that the Chinese believe it to hold, acknowledging the heritage of the author.
Young children who may feel overwhelmed in the presence of those older and bolder than they are may well draw some comfort from this story which shows that we can find friends everywhere, even in unexpected ways, and that true friends are those who give as well as take.
Teachers’ notes are available
(Through My Eyes-Natural Disasters series)
A & U Childrens, 2018
208pp., pbk., RRP $A 16.99
DISCLAIMER: This will be neither an impartial nor an unemotional review. For one who called Christchurch home for many years, particularly those formative years of my schooling and teacher education, and for whom so much that was so familiar is now gone, it is impossible to be objective when the places and events are so well-known. Although I was not there during the earthquake I have made trips back and I still can’t get my head around it.
February 22, 2011 and life has returned to normal for Lyla and her friends Katie and Shona after the 7.1 magnitude earthquake struck – that’s if having the earth move under your feet several times a day and making a game of guessing the magnitude can be considered normal. Even the daily reminder of the main block of their school, Avonside Girls’ High, being damaged and unusable has been set aside as they try to do the things that 13 and 14 year olds students do. Caught in town at 12.51pm when ‘the big one’ hit, their lives are plunged into chaos as buildings collapse and people panic as the air fills with dust making visibility almost impossible.
While it is possible to watch endless news coverage, read articles and information it is impossible to know what a natural disaster such as this is really like unless you are part of it and experience it for yourself. So while I had watched and read and listened and learned, spoken to family and friends who were in the thick of it and even returned home and visited the backyard of such a major part of my life, it was not until reading Lyla that I got a real understanding of what it was to be in the moment. Beale has drawn on stories of the events of the day and the months following and woven them into a narrative that is both scary and un-put-downable that illustrates not just individual heroism but that sense of community among strangers that seems to emerge when humans are put under such duress – made all the more haunting when you can picture the reality of the setting which is a well-known as the face in the mirror.
In the beginning, there is the fear for family and friends as both Lyla’s mother, a police officer and her father, a trauma nurse at Christchurch Hospital are unaccounted for and she is separated from Shona and Katie in the chaos as the SMS service goes into meltdown, and while they are eventually found to be OK that need to know family is safe means that all families have an earthquake plan much the same as Australians have a bushfire plan. The theme of needing to be with others is strong throughout as neighbours have a need to eat and sleep and be together even if they have a habitable home to go to, and enduring and unusual friendships and bonds are formed.
There is also a strong thread of Lyla feeling powerless because of her age but finding things she can do that make a difference such as babysitting her neighbour’s children so their mother can return to the medical centre where she works; helping shovel the oozing, stinking liquefaction for elderly neighbours; setting up a charging station for those still without electricity… seemingly minor things within the big picture but nevertheless critical to her mental health at the time.
But like so many then and now, the situation becomes overwhelming. Despite hearing the harrowing tales of others and the rising death toll, and the news of the Japanese earthquake and tsunami and telling herself that compared to them she is in great shape, Lyla succumbs and needs qualified medical intervention. This is another strength of the story – given that seven years on the city still has not recovered it was never going to have a happy, all-is-fine ending, so having Lyla denying help because the common thinking is that the people of Christchurch are somehow more resilient than others, that because her home isn’t munted she should be okay, but nevertheless accepting it and going some way towards recovery shines a light on the okay-ness of needing assistance to get things back in balance. This particularly poignant in light of the subsequent increase in suicides, unprecedented demand for psychological help and the continuing need for support as there has been a 73% increase in the number of children who need support for mental health issues in Christchurch.
While this has been an emotional read for me, it and the others in both this series and its twin focusing on children living in conflict are essential elements of both the curriculum and the collection as they offer the ‘colour and detail’ to the stark monochrome sketches of news reports, websites and other information-only sources. They are the blend of imagination and information that such fiction can offer that leads to insight and understanding.
Seven years on, long after the event has disappeared from the news headlines and faded from the memories of those not directly involved, the reality of that time is still in-your-face on every corner of Christchurch and will be for many years to come – Lyla and her friends will be 20 now, confronted by images and memories of that day still, just as anyone who has lived and loved Christchurch is. For now Ruaumoko, the Maori god of earthquakes has settled a little (even though there were 25 quakes in the week preceding the anniversary, albeit peanuts compared to the 15669 on that day in 2011) but like her friends, family and all those who chose to remain in Christchurch to rebuild their lives and their city one wonders when he will wake again.
A Boat of Stars: New poems to inspire and enchant
Margaret Connolly & Natalie Jane Prior (eds)
128pp., hbk., RRP $A29.99
A boat of stars came down tonight
and sailed around my bed –
it sprinkled stardust on my eyes,
put dreams inside my head…
Poetry, with its vocabulary, rhythm and sometimes rhyme, and its nuances that are the sounds of our spoken language is a critical part of helping our young readers not only learn to speak but also to fire their imaginations and create dreams. Sadly, though, it has been a long time since we have had a new anthology of children’s poems that is appealing enough to attract the eyes and ears of our younger generation and so, to them, poems have become something you dissect for structure and syllables and struggle to emulate, missing the magic and meaning in the poet’s words.
In this new collection put together by Margaret Connolly & Natalie Jane Prior because,like many parents and teachers, they struggled to find something that would engage, many of Australia’s renowned writers and illustrators have plied their craft with words and media to bring a joyful, diverse, and thoroughly engaging posse of poems that will re-ignite the beauty of the format and have children feeling satisfied that despite the brevity, they have visited a new place, thought new thoughts and heard a story.
With topics ranging from zucchinis to giraffes to balls and beyond, each one is different in topic and structure and each reaches out to the everyday lives of our children, drawing them into something they are familiar with but told in a brand new way. Something as common as a new baby coming into the family is given a whole new spin by Sophie Masson and Julie Vivas; as ordinary as getting a new hat (Alexa Moses and Matt Shanks) or even just digging a hole (Kate Mayes and Matt Shanks) are brought to life in a way that inspires the imagination and suggests that poetry really does have a special place in their reading menu. Being able to tell a story in just a few words and even fewer lines is a gift that few have but to the listener/reader it highlights the beauty of our language and shows how it is possible to make every word work hard to stir the brain and the heart.
This really is “a boat of stars” for the imagination and dreams, one that is accessible to all as a shared experience and a welcome addition to a critical area of literature and language that has been neglected for too long.
I love you, Stick Insect
32pp., pbk., RRP A12.99
How much fun can two stick insects have in one day? When one meets another, he immediately falls in love and describes the magical day they will have – joining a band, going to the beach, surfing, skating, kiting… But all the while the butterfly is trying to tell him he is romancing a stick! But is he???
A year or so ago a friend’s granddaughter (who has been described as a mini David Attenborough) went through a stick-insect-as-a-pet stage, apparently more common that we might think with specimens easily purchased from various sources. She chose a Goliath (or two or three) and while not everyone’s idea of a pet, she took great care of them ensuring they had the right leaves and humidity and so on to maximise their lifespan.
So while a humorous book with a stick insect as its focus might seem strange, nevertheless there will be those who will pick it up because of that. Others will just love it for its fun and the twist in the end. Those who enjoyed I’m Going to Eat this Ant will be familiar with the creator’s way of telling a story and will be pleased to see a new release from him.
Sarah Jane Wright
Bloomsbury USA, 2018
40pp., hbk., RRP $A24.99
Sometimes Lola Dutch is a little bit much! Each morning she wakes up brimming with ideas about how to have an AMAZING day and then, with her animal friends, goes about doing so.
It starts with breakfast where Gator gets grits and gravy, Pig gets pastries with hot chocolate and marshmallows, Crane orders crepes and cream and all the while her friend Bear watches on with trepidation because he knows who gets to wash the dishes and clean up. On their morning walk, Lola decides to go to the library and while the others read about great inventors, chemists and writers, Lola reads about great artists – which sets her imagination running…
And so the day goes on, with Lola’s imagination knowing no bounds and Bear trying to rein it in a little. Even bedtime is not calming and peaceful until Lola discovers that despite the frenetic day, there is really only one thing she needs.
Inspired by the antics of their four children, this husband and wife team have created a book that not only is full of big ideas but also leaves the reader a bit breathless. Parents choosing to read this to their children at bedtime need to be ready for their suggestions for how their next day can be AMAZING – and then hope it’s all forgotten about come morning, unless they want an AMAZING day too! If they do, there’s more here.
Go Go and the Silver Shoes
Penguin Viking, 2018
32pp., hbk., RRP $A24.99
When all your clothes are the hand-me-downs from your three wild brothers, it is important to make the most of what you have. Even though they were fourth-hand, Go Go had a knack for making them interesting and wore them proudly even if “friends” like Annabelle made unkind comments.
And when the only new things you get are your knickers and sneakers, then it is especially important to choose the most beautiful you can find. So when Go Go chose a pair of silver sneakers that sparkled in the sun she wore them everywhere. She loved them and was so proud of them, even if they were a bit big to last longer. But disaster struck the day the family went on a picnic and while Go Go and her brothers were having an adventure down through the rocks in the river, one of the precious shoes is lost. Go Go is heartbroken and very cross as her mum points out that perhaps she should have worn older shoes that day.
But undeterred and despite her brothers’ suggestions for what she could do with the remaining shoe, Go Go is determined to wear it still – even if it means teaming it with an odd shoe and facing the jeers of Annabelle. This is a decision that leads to an unexpected friendship as both Go Go and the lost shoe have their own journeys to make…
There is so much to love about this story… as the grandmother of one who never wears matching socks and is so unaffected by a need to be trendy, I love Go Go’s independence and confidence in creating her own style and being a bit different; as one who grew up in the middle of eight boys (all but one cousins), I love that she is me 50+ years ago and all the memories that evokes; and I love Anna Walker’s illustrations that are so subtle and detailed and tell a story of their own. And I love the ending… you just never know where or how lasting friendships are going to happen. From its sparkly cover to its stunning endpages, this is a unique story that had me enthralled to the end.
So many will identify with Go Go and draw strength and confidence from her independence and ability to get to the nub of what being a child is about without all the frills and fripperies.
Shout Out to the Girls: A Celebration of Awesome Australian Women
Random House Australia, 2018
210pp., hbk., RRP $A29.99
In recent reviews such as Barney and the Secret of the French Spies, Women in Science and Three Cheers for Women I have challenged readers to consider a woman whose story, they believe, needs telling. The problem is that when it comes to uncovering these stories few have been revealed and so it is those of the “usual suspects” that are told and retold.
But now, this new publication from Random House Australia opens a whole new range of women whose lives and work need to be given “a public expression of thanks”. Although we find people like Cathy Freeman, Germaine Greer and Mary Mackillop featured, there are dozens of new names like Yassmin Abdel-Magied, Rachel Perkins, and Felicity Wishart whose names might only be known to those in that particular field of endeavour. There are also those of more recent heroes like Sia, Carrie Bickmore and Turia Pitt making this an exploration of significant women in our girls’ lives, not just women in history with whom they may feel no connection.
All in all over 50 women have a brief one-page biography accompanied by an illustration from a range of illustrators. However, the book also acknowledges all those who have made a contribution to the field, not just the “poster person” for it. For example, while Magda Szubanski is celebrated for “helping us laugh and speaking the truth”, there is a shout out “Brava for the women who make their own roles on stage, on screen and in life”; Rosie Batty for “her compassion and bravery” but also to “the courageous and strong women who speak out for the vulnerable”; and Mum Shirl for “unwavering dedication and generosity” as well as thanks to all “the advocates and activists who give so much of themselves to help others in need”. There is a feeling of inclusivity that we are drawn into as though someone, somewhere is acknowledging that which we do as we go about our daily lives.
There is even a shout-out to the reader for picking up the book wanting to learn about awesome Australian women while the very last entry is a shout-out to the Smith Family to whom all royalties will be donated so they can continue helping Australian kids get the most from their education.
From the front cover depicting a range of Australian native flowers because like Australian women, its flowers “aren’t wilting violets; they are strong and tough, and have evolved to endure extreme environments” this is an intriguing book in its design and content that must be in every library’s collection if we are to continue to reveal and tell the stories of our women and how they have contributed so much to the life that we enjoy today, holding up mirrors, staring through windows, marching through doors and breaking down barriers.
Again I ask, “Whose story will you tell?”
How to Be a Fashion Designer
96pp., pbk., RRP $A16.99
The world of fashion, with its perceived glamour and glitz, always appeals to a certain number of students who care about what they wear and have the ability to make the proverbial sack look good. Sadly though, enduring emphasis on body image continues despite all that is done to combat it and many soon realise they don’t have “the look” to be a top model and turn away. But in this easy-to-read manual other avenues in fashion are explored, particularly those of the designer and the stylist. “While designers create their clothes, stylists know how to put them together.”
Using themed double-spreads students are taken through the basic steps with typical DK layout pizzazz, illustrations galore, tips and challenges that encourage them to start designing now. The last 20 pages offer opportunities to design a t-shirt, trousers, skirt, hat, shoes and accessories with outlines already provided so new knowledge can be applied immediately as the reader learns about colour, texture, patterns and shape while being encouraged to be inspired by the event and the environment. Recycling and upstyling are explored so not only is waste minimised but even those with few dollars do not need to be deterred.
Ware believes that those who can “speak up with fashion” have the courage to speak up in other ways too so as teachers we should look to those who dare to be different as being more than clothes horses. A close-to-home example is a student I taught a few years ago who always made the compulsory school uniform a personal statement, who was a whizz at design puzzles like tangrams and who, at 17, starred in a local show in a country town and six months later in 2017, had her designs on the catwalk in Vancouver and more recently, Nassau in the Bahamas! Her story alone should give students confidence to continue.
Written to support a STEAM curriculum, the suggestions in this book offer an entire term’s curriculum for those with this sort of interest but even those who aren’t particularly interested in fashion can learn how to step out with a bit more style to give themselves a confidence boost.
Barney and the Secret of the French Spies
128pp., pbk., RRP $A14.99
Barney first met the mysterious Elsie hiding under a rock and, like him, eking out an existence on the shores of Port Jackson in 1791 where he was an orphaned child, son of a convict and with no one and nowhere to call home. Like Barney, she was eventually taken under the wing of the Reverend and Mrs Johnson but she remained an enigma for she never spoke. On one or two very rare occasions, Barney did hear her utter something but it was so fleeting he thought he was hearing things.
Now, in this 4th in this series that features Barney telling of his life while uncovering some of the secrets of this country’s early beginnings, Elsie’s story is told at last. While Barney is beginning to prosper on his farm on the Parramatta River, Elsie has stayed in Sydney Town with the Johnsons and become a sought-after cook by the colony’s elite like Mrs Macarthur. But when word comes that she is desperately ill, perhaps with typhus, Barney hastens to her side in the isolation hut at the hospital and while she doesn’t have typhus it soon becomes clear why she has been put in isolation. For in her delirium she cries out and while to Barney’s ear she is speaking gobbledygook, both Mrs Johnson and Mrs Macarthur recognise it as French! They also recognise the dire consequences if Elsie’s nationality is discovered for once again, England and France are at war.
Acknowledging his enduring love for Elsie and his intention to marry her, Barney stays by her side as she recuperates, encouraged by both women for they believe that he is the only one one that Elsie is likely to divulge her secrets to. And what a secret it is….
The very best historical fiction weaves fact and fiction so closely together that the reader is left not only wondering what is true and what is imagined, but also wanting to discover more. And so it is again with Jackie French’s masterful storytelling only this time the secret that Elsie discloses opens up so many pathways to wander down and explore that it is almost overwhelming. Traditionally history has been told by men because only men were listened to and only the things men did were deemed important and so women and their achievements have been all but invisible.
But they were there – often in disguise as Elsie’s great-aunt was – and making their mark in life if not in the history books! In the prologue the reader is warned that there are two secrets in this book – not just the story of Elsie but another one “every person needs to yell out loud” – the stories of the women in history that have been kept secret for centuries and generations; secrets that are slowly being uncovered and secrets that will never be discovered. For it is only in this generation of women alive now that so many barriers have been battered down – even my own mother was expected to give up her hard-fought for job in journalism so a man returning from war could have employment – that we can learn about the role of the women in our past and acknowledge and celebrate it. Through Elsie’s story and her author’s notes, Jackie not only builds awareness that the role of women goes far beyond anything we can imagine but also challenges us to expose it!
Whose secret will you share?