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Miimi Marraal, Mother Earth

Miimi Marraal, Mother Earth

Miimi Marraal, Mother Earth

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Miimi Marraal, Mother Earth

Melissa Greenwood

ABC Books, 2022

24pp., hbk., RRP $A24.99

9780733341632

Miimi Marraal, she created us,
you and me …

Using a palette as soft and gentle as the accompanying text,  Gumbaynggir storyteller, artist and designer Melissa Greenwood, has created an ode between mother and newborn that tells the baby of the deep connections of First Nations Peoples have to Miimi Marraal (Mother Earth) from the moment of conception. While it is a story that echoes the feeling between any mother and newborn. it is expressed in a way that shows the long, strong threads of family that reach far into the past of First Nations families and, indeed, Greenwood says it was “channelled through my beautiful Nanny” and “inspired by my late great grandmother… and my own beautiful mother”, thus spanning five generations into “this life we will weave”. And, as well as that strong female thread, there is another equally strong one that ties them to the land on which they live and the need for its protection, thus from birth the baby is learning about their cultural heritage and tradition that is so important to our First Nations peoples..

Children learn their mother ;language, whatever it is, through listening to it.  They learn its meaning, its rhythm, its expression, its nuances from the first words that they hear. So while the baby may not yet understand the words that its mother is sharing, there is much that they are absorbing during these personal, precious moments. Therefore, these sort of lullabies have a unique place in language learning and should not only be among the gifts given to any new mother but also be the first in the baby’s library. 

 

Old Fellow

Old Fellow

Old Fellow

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Old Fellow

Christopher Cheng

Liz Anelli

Walker Books, 2022

32pp., hbk., RRP $A25.99

9781760652395

The Swedish have a word for this story- fika [fee-ka]. It means “a moment to slow down and enjoy the good things in life”.  And that is exactly what the old man and his dog do from the moment they wake and stretch their creaky old bones, through their walk in the park meeting old friends and new and then home again for a well-earned cuppa. But is it the man or his dog that is the “old fellow”?

There are only a handful of authors who can take such an everyday occurrence as an old man and his dog taking their daily exercise and turn it into such a charming story that has so many possibilities.  Indeed, Chris Cheng has dedicated this story to the “Old fellows of Campderdown Memorial Park”, suggesting that he. himself, has spent an hour or more there just  practising fika as he watches all the meetings and greetings and connections that are made, for a walk in the park is as much mental and emotional exercise as it is physical.

While, in previous generations the old man might be represented by a grandfather, that stereotype has been replaced and so our children might not have as much contact with those whose birthdays start with a 7 and beyond and so this is an opportunity for them to engage with this age group and as programs such as Old People’s Home for 4 Year Olds showed so well, there are huge benefits for both sides. Teachers’ notes are available.

In the meantime, Liz Anelli’s illustrations are so rich in detail as she captures not only the community who enjoy the park but their connections and friendships that you can almost feel the camaraderie coming off the page. And the reader’s next walk in their park will be viewed through a different lens.

With titles such as Bear and Rat  and One Tree , among many others to his credit, Chris has once again shown his incredible ability to capture the emotional essence of a situation that can open up a whole new world for young readers as they learn to identify, express and manage their own feelings.  

In the meantime, here is that elusive fika in action!

The Lost Whale

The Lost Whale

The Lost Whale

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Lost Whale

Hannah Gold

Levi Pinfold

HarperCollins, 2022

320pp., hbk., RRP $A19.99

9780008412944

Rio is lost – both physically and emotionally.  

He has been sent from London to Los Angeles to stay with his grandmother while his mother is in hospital trying to recover from her chronic mental illness. But the tiny, quiet seaside town of Ocean Grove is so different from busy London; and so is his grandmother’s house – so much bigger than their tiny city flat, especially when he is to sleep in his mother’s childhood bedroom.

As if that weren’t enough, not only does he scarcely know his grandmother who is all shiny jumpsuits, sharp elbows and hard angles and whose hugs are not the deep, warm snuggly type he is used to, but he believes that if he had just tried harder and done more he could have prevented his mother’s downward slide into the psychiatric hospital.  At first,  Rio shuts everyone and everything out, unable to do anything but think about his mother and fears for her safety if he is not there.  After all, he’s been her carer for most of his 11 years. He is consumed by guilt if he relaxes or has fun, or even feels at peace. He is fixated of fixing here, despite being so far away, and when he discovers her childhood sketches of a grey whale named White Beak he hatches a plan that will surely save her, one made even more possible when he at last makes a friend in Marina who is passionate about the whales that migrate past Ocean Beach each year and whose dad happens to own a whale-watching business.  

After his own incredible encounter with White Beak, Rio is even more determined but then the reports of her being sighted as she journey s south to the lagoons of Mexico stop. Rio is determined to find her  because White Beak and his mother become one and the same person in his mind, and he and Marina hatch an audacious plan…

As with Gold’s debut novel, The Last Bear  this is a story  that stays in the mind long after the final page has been turned, and as with that story, it is a journey of discovery for the child as much as the focus animal. Rio is so used to being the grown-up, the responsible one, that he has to learn to forge relationships with his grandmother, Marina and her father and to be able to trust others to have his mother’s interests at heart, accepting that he can’t fix everything by himself. But the parallel story about the life and times of the world’s whales, whatever species, and the perils they face as their habitat is threatened is equally important.  It could easily have been set in coastal New South Wales about the humpback highway.  

This is one for independent readers who are seeking a well-written story that has substance and authenticity, but it would also make an excellent class read-aloud.  

 

The Bravest Word

The Bravest Word

The Bravest Word

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Bravest Word

Kate Foster

Walker Books, 2022

240pp., pbk., RRP $A17.99

9781760654719

Last year Matt did really well at school, loved being a star football player, hanging out with his friends Kai and Ted and playing jungle Warfare, while avoiding bully-boy Joseph. But this year things are very different – and it’s much more than the changes that being at high school bring. 

Instead of enjoying football, he has a panic attack when he steps on the field; he avoids Kai and Ted; he’s not paying attention in class or doing his homework – in fact, he feels like he is so worthless that he is ruining the lives of those around him, including his loving parents and is beginning to wonder whether he should really be here at all. He is always tired and wanting to sleep and the tears come all the time, especially when he doesn’t want them…

While his mother dismisses his issues as “growing pains”, his father has a suspicion that there is something deeper going on and he takes Matt on a walk to see if Matt will open up.  But before he gets the chance, they hear a whimper in the bushes and discover a severely neglected and abused dog tied to a tree.  Together they release it and take it to a vet where Matt promises Cliff, whom he has named after his recently passed, dearly loved grandfather, that life will get better. But is that a promise he can keep when he is in such a dark place and his mother has said no to having a dog so many times before… And when it all boils down, who helps whom the most?

While this is a story probably more suited to the upper end of the target audience of this blog, nevertheless it is a poignant, compelling story for both teachers and parents as it gives such an insight into childhood anxiety and depression demonstrating that these are real illnesses for our kids, and also for the students themselves, because there will be some who will see themselves in Matt and who may, through him, build the courage to utter that bravest word.  Although the story is written very positively, the characters are very real and there were times when I was close to tears as I read. Why is there still such a stigma attached to having a mental illness but not-so when it’s a physical illness?  Why is it OK to take medication long-term to have a healthy heart but not to have a healthy brain?

However, shared as a classroom read-aloud in conjunction with the teachers’ notes  and other authoritative resources,  this could have a positive outcome for someone, especially when suicide is the leading cause of death in Australians aged 15-24 and “for every youth suicide, there are 100 to 200 more attempts.”  At the very least it will raise awareness and understanding and even if the sick child doesn’t or can’t open up, one of their classmates might trigger a conversation.

Kate Foster is also the author of Pawsin which she drew on her own son’s experience to give us a look into the world of the autistic child and this book is every bit as eye-opening as that.  If we are to acknowledge and recognise the struggles that some of those we know are experiencing, then this is a must-read in my opinion.  

 

 

Bored: Milo Finds $105

Bored

Bored

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bored: Milo Finds $105

Matt Stanton

ABC Books, 2022

224pp., pbk., RRP $A14.99

9780733342035

Milo is so bored that he is having a conversation with an ant, when suddenly he spies money lying in the middle of jis cul-de-sac.  There’s $105 to be exact and he ha s no idea who it belongs to or what he should do about it.  His stepmum, Liz, tells him it is “finders keepers” but his mum, a law student, says he must try to find the owner.

Being somewhat shy, introverted  and anxious, this causes issues for Milo who is afraid of Rocco the bully; would love to know Evie better but she’s always got her headphones on, and is somewhat overawed by the confidence of Frog; the new kid who has invented his own brand of martial arts.  Suddenly, having so much money becomes a nightmare, particularly when Frog and Rocco look like they’re going to get into a fight about it t the bus stop. “Some kids just have power and other kids don’t, and I don’t understand it. Where do you get power from? Because if I knew, I’d happily spend a hundred and five dollars to buy some.

But then Frog hatches a plan…

Told by 11 year old Milo, this is a new series from the author of Funny Kids and The Odds in which Stanton again demonstrates his ability to turn everyday situations and authentic characters that readers will recognise into stories that engage even the most reluctant readers.  While there is a strong sense of family because Milo misses his older brother Henry who has joined the army, rather than his having two mums, (which is just accepted by kids if not by adults) it is the evolving and changing friendships between the children that carry the story along, just as they do in real life.

When Milo muses, “Some kids just have power and other kids don’t, and I don’t understand it. Where do you get power from? Because if I knew, I’d happily spend a hundred and five dollars to buy some, ” some readers will be urging him to find his voice while others will be feeling just as concerned as he is.  Being able to evoke such opposite emotions is the sign of a writer who knows kids well and how to relate to them through story, and achieves his goal of creating stories with “emotional guts”, with “truth and understanding” and allow the reader “to feel a little less alone.”

The second in the series, due in September, is told from Frog’s perspective as he tries to fit into this new neighbourhood and one suspects that the other children in the street will also get their say in the future.

 

The House at the Edge of Magic

The House at the Edge of Magic

The House at the Edge of Magic

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The House at the Edge of Magic 

9781406395310

The Tower at the End of Time

9781406395327

Walker Books, 2021-2022

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

Crouched behind the stacked crates of the fishmonger’s stall in the market, Nine’s muscles are tensed, her senses alert waiting for just the right moment to snatch the lady’s handbag… For the streets are her world and stealing treasures for Pockets, the leader of the gang, is her life and she knows all the tricks of pickpocketing and all the twists and turns of the alleys and lanes  back to the Nest of a Thousand Treasures. He’s called her Nine because she in the ninth member of the gang, offering her a place to sleep and the odd meal in exchange for the things she steals.  

But Nine dreams of bigger things, a better life and when she steals a house-shaped ornament from a mysterious woman’s purse, things begin to change… She knocks on its tiny door and watches in wonder as it grows into a huge, higgledy-piggledy house squeezes between its neighbours. Inside are characters as strange as the house – Eric the housekeeper troll who is lost without his feather duster; a Scottish wooden spoon who wields a sword and Flabberghast , a young wizard who’s particularly competitive at hopscotch… But they have all been put under a spell by a wicked witch, a spell that only Nine can help them break before the clock winds down and which, while offering her a better life means she will have to sacrifice the thing that is dearest to her…

While the time and place of this new three-part series aren’t identified, it is reminiscent of the Dickensian world of Oliver Twist and Fagin but with magic and fantasy thrown in. But there the similarities end for Nine is not Oliver – she is clever, smart and thanks to her visits to the local library where she is actually welcomed, very well-read, and her willingness to save her new “friends” is more about giving herself a prosperous future than any altruistic concerns for them. She is determined to find the strawberries that Pockets says don’t exist… But then, given her life so far she has never known friendship and kindness and her defensiveness and self-interest have been built on the walls of self-protection. So, if she succeeds in breaking the spell, will she be able to just walk away with her prize?  

There is a plethora of fantasy books in the children’s book market at the moment with characters and plots whose limits know only the bounds of their authors’ imaginations, but this one stands out because of Nine and her emotional growth as she begins to understand that there is more to life than the untold wealth promised by the glowing jewels imprisoned by the witch’s spell.  The characters are not scary and unimaginable – we can all picture a troll, a wizard and a wicked witch and what can be confronting about a game of hopscotch?

As soon as she saw them on my desk, Miss 11 claimed these for herself and had her nose in them – now she must wait patiently for the third and final, although its title and release date remain as mysterious as Flabberghast’s house.  

Welcome to Your World

Welcome to Your World

Welcome to Your World

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Welcome to Your World

Smriti Halls

Jaime Kim

Walker, 2022

30pp., board book, RRP $A17.99

9781536224115

As a new baby is welcomed to the world, the mother cradles it and invites it to take notice of this wonderful place it has entered, journeying across the day and the world to introduce lots of mothers and babies of the animal kingdom.  

Very much viewed through the rose-coloured glasses of a new mother who extols the beauty and harmonious nature of the world, this is the board book version of a story that has been published for some time.  It celebrates the joy of being a new mother regardless of the species, with both lyrical language and stunning illustrations, with a lullaby-like rhythm and repetition that offers a special moment between mother and child as it is shared. 

It is personal, sentimental, painting a perfect, if unrealistic, picture that those wrapped in the bubble of a first baby will treasure.  

 

Penny and the Little Lost Puppy

Penny and the Little Lost Puppy

Penny and the Little Lost Puppy

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Penny and the Little Lost Puppy

Emily Sutton

Walker Books, 2022

32pp., hbk., RRP $A27.99

9781406382761

Moving home can feel a bit lonely, and even though Penny has all her familiar things around her, it’s her friends not her things that Penny misses. So she can’t believe her luck when she finds a new friend right in her garden: a puppy who wants to play all day long! But the next morning, Penny’s playmate is nowhere to be seen … wherever can she have gone? To find out, Penny and Dad will have to get to know their new town a little better.

This is a feel good story that will appeal to and resonate with any young readers who have had to move home, neighbourhoods, schools,,, particularly as there appears to be no mother in the picture so the reasons for moving may be complex. 

Set in a traditional English village with its high street shops, terraced houses with lush gardens and busy community park, the illustrations are highly detailed offering much to discover and discuss as young readers compare Penny’s new home to their own, as well as considering what makes a place a home rather than a house and offering them an opportunity to share their own experiences about moving, particularly the fear of having no friends and having to make new ones. .  

 

 

Marmalade – the Orange Panda

Marmalade - the Orange Panda

Marmalade – the Orange Panda

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Marmalade – the Orange Panda

David Walliams

Adam Stower

HarperCollins, 2022

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

 9780008305758

One morning, deep in the forest, a beautiful baby panda was born. The panda was different to all the others, as he had dazzling orange fur.

“I will call you Marmalade,” his mummy whispered. . .

But when the other pandas see him they are not impressed – rather this embarrassment of pandas is embarrassed.  And so, Marmalade sets out on a perilous adventure through the jungle to find out  just where he belongs….

Setting aside the fact that pandas are solitary animals and that the creatures Marmalade meets would not be found anywhere near his natural home, this is a story about family love, being yourself and finding your place in the world – a message our youngest readers need to hear often as they begin to develop their own identity and be comfortable with it.  And while they would have or will hear the theme in many stories, it is the ending that makes this one different.  For it doesn’t come to a cosy conclusion with Marmalade snuggling in close to his Mama again – they get up to some hilarious mischief that lightens the message and leaves the reader with a smile.  

Using a series of framed illustrations, Walliams and Stower have packed a lot into this story as Marmalade discovers that he is not the only orange creature in the jungle and that not everyone is as friendly as they look, making it seem much longer than the traditional 32-page read. The humour, vocabulary and layout carry it along at a fast pace with much to discover on every page and every read. 

 

The calling of Jackdaw Hollow

The calling of Jackdaw Hollow

The Calling of Jackdaw Hollow

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Calling of Jackdaw Hollow

Kate Gordon

UQP, 2022

208pp., pbk., RRP $A14.99

9780702263484

When Jackdaw Crow is found underneath an apple tree, orphaned as a tiny baby by a lightning strike, he is taken to Direleafe Hall, where its principal Mrs Beekman, raises him as her own son.  But for all that he is loved and cherished, Jackdaw, as the only boy in that school for girls,  never feels quite content as he feels there is something missing in his life, comfortable though it is.  

Then he overhears a conversation between two of the kitchen girls, one saying that he was responsible for the death of his parents for if he hadn’t been such a crier, they would never have taken him outside to see the storm that killed them; but it is the words of Angharad that ‘clung to his soul’ – “How can a baby, brand new and pure, be blamed for anything? A baby ain’t done nothing yet. A baby has no dreams or calling…” 

And so he sets out to find his calling, the reason he was spared when his parents weren’t.  But when he befriends Angeline, a wildling girl who knows her destiny lies with the circus, he ignores the wisdom of the ghosts of Nell, Florence and Lucy and tries to save her from the brutal Mrs Bristleroad, even though Angeline is determined to save herself – that is her calling- he goes too far and loses sight of what’s most important.

This is the third  in this intriguing trilogy which includes The Heartsong of Wonder Quinn and The Ballad of Melodie Rose both of which also incorporate the themes of lost, lonely souls seeking friendships, struggling with who they are and their reason for being but learning to remain true to themselves regardless, (familiar themes for the readers who face the same issues), but whether it is the beginning or the end of the sequence depends on how you interpret the powerful epilogue which draws the circle together. 

As with its companions, Gordon’s evocative language and phrasing draws the reader in to this other-worldly experience, even those like me who are not particular fans of this genre, and there is much wisdom and food for thought between and beyond the lines, as well as along them.  I loved Wonder Quinn so much that I kept it and now I have all three to pass on to both Miss Almost 16 and Miss Just 11 because I think that each of them, despite being different in both age and taste, will thoroughly enjoy them.  Just as it is a timeless piece of writing, so it is a timeless read.