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Lyla

Lyla

Lyla

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lyla

(Through My Eyes-Natural Disasters  series)

Fleur Beale

A & U Childrens, 2018

208pp., pbk., RRP $A 16.99

9781760113780

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.

185 empty white chairs

185 empty white chairs surrounded by empty spaces, broken buildings and a gloomy sky – September 2015

 

 

Go Go and the Silver Shoes

GoGo and the Silver Shoes

Go Go and the Silver Shoes

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Go Go and the Silver Shoes

Jane Godwin

Anna Walker

Penguin Viking, 2018

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

9780143785521

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. 

A peek inside...

A peek inside…

Shout Out to the Girls: A Celebration of Awesome Australian Women

Shout Out to the Girls: A Celebration of Awesome Australian Women

Shout Out to the Girls: A Celebration of Awesome Australian Women

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Shout Out to the Girls: A Celebration of Awesome Australian Women

Random House Australia, 2018

210pp., hbk., RRP  $A29.99

9780143789420

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?”

Kate and The Thing

Kate and The Thing

Kate and The Thing

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Kate and The Thing

Heidi Cooper Smith

Wombat Books, 2018

32pp. hbk., RRP $A24.99

 9781925563290

Kate is about to start her first day at a new school, and like thousands of other kids who have to face the same experience, she is feeling anxious and reluctant.  But then a mysterious white Thing comes into her life and helps her set the fear aside temporarily as it shows her the beauty in the colour of the autumn leaves and the joy in the sound of the sidewalk buskers.  All through her first day and the days following, Kate has the Thing by her side, giving her courage and confidence to hang in there, take each new event one step at a time and gradually stepping back so she can go it alone.  

Then one day she spots a new boy, sitting forlornly and lonely on a bench, a Thing next to his side that he hasn’t yet seen…

Every child who has faced being new at somewhere or something will relate to and empathise with Kate.  The feelings of having to step into the unknown and even the uncomfortable will be familiar and they will relate to having The Thing, or Some Thing giving them invisible support to keep putting one foot in front of the other until the walk is mastered, giving great scope for exploring feelings and emotions and building vocabulary.

This story offers a couple of lines of investigation – before and after.  While Kate has The Thing to support her, it’s helpful to teach students how to prepare for new situations by having them envisage what might go wrong and having some strategies to deal with these if indeed they happen.  Knowing that even if the worst comes to the worst you have some action you can take can often give an added boost of confidence. 

At the other end of the spectrum, as teachers many of us will have had new students starting in our classes over the past couple of weeks as new terms start around the states.  So perhaps this is a time to check up on them and see how they are settling in, that no one is slipping through the cracks in the busyness that is the start of the school year.

Heidi Cooper Smith has written a story that everyone can relate to  and which can offer a springboard to more than just the story of Kate and her Thing.

 

First Day

First Day

First Day

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


First Day

Andrew Daddo

Jonathan Bentley

ABC Books, 2014

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

 9780733332715

It’s a day like no other – the first day of school.  Together mother and daughter get ready  – waking early, having a special breakfast of pancakes and fruit salad, getting dressed,  new shoes, washing and scrubbing, packing bags – all the routines that will become familiar as the novelty wears off and school becomes the place you go to every day.  

But while this is a theme that has been done in so many ways in so many stories, this one has a particular twist that will not only heighten its appeal to parents but also give pause for thought.  Is it only the child who is encountering new environments and experiences?

Daddo has a knack for taking the unusual within the usual and turning it into a story while Bentley’s illustrations are just perfect.  

One for both preschool and school libraries that can be used to provoke discussion on those transition days, encourage new friendships and perhaps even initiate a follow-up, catch-up, how-are-you-coping meeting that can help overcome anxiety and isolation in the community.

 

Bobby the Plain-Faced Cattle Dog

Bobby the Plain-Faced Cattle Dog

Bobby the Plain-Faced Cattle Dog

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bobby the Plain-Faced Cattle Dog

Amy Curran

Pink Coffee Publishing, 2018

48pp., pbk., RRP $A14.95

9780646239307

Bobby was the last of Peggy’s litter of Australian cattle dogs to find a new home – some of his brothers and sisters had  already moved to new homes – but he was OK with that because he was just a puppy.  His mother consoled him and told him not to worry because he would find friends and “be accepted by others.”  Because Booby was different.  Instead of having the regular markings and patches of his breed, his face was plain.

He didn’t know he was a bit different until the other cattle dogs at his new home, when a farmer finally came to claim him, wouldn’t play with him and this saddened him  In fact it wasn’t until he befriended Mother Duck and she had him look in a pool of still water that he noticed the difference.  Was he going to spend his life being different and alone? It would seem so until something happens that makes Bobby a hero and finally he is accepted for who he is inside rather than what he looks like.

Based on a real dog and his experiences with other dogs, this story has a strong message of being accepted for who we are rather than what we look like.

Bullying, in all its facets, is certainly at the top of the agenda in these weeks following the suicide of Amy “Dolly’ Everett and there are calls from all quarters for it to be addressed, with the brunt of the expectations falling squarely on the shoulders of schools.  While the other dogs don’t nip or bite or otherwise abuse Bobby in what is the overt form of bullying, excluding him because of his looks is just as damaging and it makes a good discussion starter to raise the issue with young children so they can understand that bullying can take many forms and each can have unforeseen and unseen consequences.

Written for young, almost independent readers, this is the first in a proposed series that is designed to teach young children to look beyond exteriors because “It’s what on the inside that counts.”  There are teachers’ notes available as well as a plush toy that will give the story extra meaning.

 

 

 

 

Mr Bambuckle’s Remarkables Fight Back

Mr Bambuckle's Remarkables Fight Back

Mr Bambuckle’s Remarkables Fight Back

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mr Bambuckle’s Remarkables Fight Back

Tim Harris

James Hart

Random House Australia, 2018

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

9780143785873

The 15 students in Room 12B are not happy.  As they walk into class, they discover the aptly-named Miss frost writing a list of rules on the board, none of which inspire positive behaviour but promise dire consequences for the opposite.  “Discipline is the new order” is her mantra and she further inspires their love and co-operation (not) by handing out 11 pages of handwriting exercises, and then walks around criticising everyone’s efforts. 

The class that had been labelled misfits and miserables who were just beginning to blossom and bloom with their quirky but beloved Mr Bambuckle, fired by Principal Sternblast, started to shrink back as though they had been sprayed with weedkiller. 

But Vex Vron has a plan and it’s time to put it into action… but he will need the help of his classmates and their particular and peculiar powers.

Readers who took a shine to Mr Bambuckle in the first of this new series will be glad to see him making a quick comeback – is there anything worse than having to wait a year for a sequel?- while others might be comparing their new year’s teacher with him and wishing they could be in 12B too! Ideal for independent readers with its humour, identifiable characters, short chapters, copious illustrations and other inserts that break up the text, this series is a perfect read-aloud to break the ice of the new school year and to encourage even reluctant readers that there is much fun to be had between the covers of books – they just have to open them!

Great thing that the ending of this one sets things up perfectly for yet another sequel.

 

Freaks on the Loose

Freaks on the Loose

Freaks on the Loose

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Freaks on the Loose

Leigh Hobbs

Allen & Unwin, 2018

240pp., pbk., RRP $A16.99

9781760294311

When you pick up a book that not only has Leigh Hobbs’ name on the front cover but also a warning to the reader that if they see the characters within they should report them to the Education Department and run, as well as another to prospective teachers to reconsider their career choice, then you know you have a gem in your hands – one that your students are going to love.

Populated with the most amazing and diverse Year 4 students that a teacher could ever dread to have, Freaks on the Loose is a combination of 4F for Freaks and Freaks Ahoy! In typical Hobbs’ style with compelling line drawings and minimal text he sets out to portray the class from hell, drawing on people he has met over time to create a novel that will appeal to all those who share his quirky sense of humour and like a bit of subversion.  He admits that he likes to go into bat for the underdog and while his characters may be somewhat extreme in their portrayal, underneath there is something that we can all relate to, all having felt freakish at some stage in our lives.

As the Australian Children’s Laureate for 2016-2017, Hobbs did a magnificent job of spreading the word about the critical importance of reading, of reaching out to those for whom stories might not be entertaining or accessible, of showing that print is just as entertaining as the screen, and in this collection of two of his funniest books, he is spreading his message to even the most reluctant readers in our classes.

 

Don’t Leap, Larry

Don't Leap, Larry

Don’t Leap, Larry

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Don’t Leap, Larry

John Briggs

Nicola Slater

Pavilion, 2017

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

9781843653387

Lemmings are small rodents that live in the Arctic regions and are best known popularly known for the misconception that they commit mass suicide by jumping off cliffs, So when one little lemming decides to stand out from the crowd and not do as they do, there is great confusion and consternation.

This little lemming, who wants to be known as Larry, does not want to look like, sound like or act like his peers. When he is asked if he would jump over a cliff, he says, “No, ” but fronting up wearing a mask and fins just in case he has to.  Instead of digging a tunnel to keep warm, Larry goes sledging with the puffins; while the others squeak and squeal be plays bongos with the seals; and while they nibble moss from under a rock he prefers pepperoni pizza with extra cheese and hot sauce!  He is certainly a very different lemming who stands out from the crowd.

So when the other lemmings call a meeting and unanimously decide that all lemmings should be the same, Larry knows it is time for him to move on.  But he finds life with his other friends a little different from his expectations – sometimes the grass is not always greener.  Is there a new and better life for Larry or is he doomed to join them on that inevitable, fatal leap over the cliff?

Humour and appealing illustrations which begin with the front cover with Larry firmly attached to a parachute as he leaps off the cliff make for a quirky tale that nevertheless has a strong message about remaining true to yourself and encouraging others to question, interpret and think for themselves too.   A great discussion starter about being individuals even in a culture that has children dressing alike, looking alike and learning alike. 

 

Friday Barnes: Never Fear (series)

Friday Barnes: Never Fear

Friday Barnes: Never Fear

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Friday Barnes: Never Fear

R.A. Spratt

Random House, 2018

256pp., pbk., RRP $A15.99

9780143784203

A new school term and Friday is dismayed to discover all her stuff is being moved out of the room she shares with best friend Melanie.  There is another surprise when she goes to investigate why with the Headmaster and instead of curmudgeonly old man she is expecting, she is greeted by a “woman in the mid-thirties, not much taller than Friday, wearing a smart fashionable suit”. To Friday’s dismay, Dr Belcredi has ordered that she be promoted to Year 12, away from Melanie and Ian and into a clique that doesn’t like the status quo being threatened by a young upstart, and a seriously intelligent one at that. She is concerned that she is one step away from being ousted from the one place she regards as home and where, despite her social awkwardness, she is nevertheless now liked and admired.

Sneaking out of school with Melanie to visit the old headmaster in hospital where he is in the cardiac ward, Friday gets the first hint that all is not as it should be but he has been paid off by the School Council and cannot afford to say any more. Solving a mystery for the nurses while she is there, Friday’s detective antennae are bristling and she knows that there is something afoot.

Combined with strange men in grey suits and a government car, dodgy builders who blow up a barn full of asbestos, a new headmistress who is not what she appears on paper and the underlying mystery/legend of the gold of Sebastian Dowell the founder of Highcrest Academy, this is an intriguing finale to this popular series – one that Miss 11 was delighted to find in its entirety in her Santa Sack and then to discover #8 sitting in the review pile was too much.  I was given 48 hours to read and review it!!

With Friday being so much like Miss 11 and so many other young ladies -intelligent, quirky, and a bit different from her peers but very comfortable in her own skin, yet deep down wanting to be just like them – she will be missed by her legion of followers but the beauty of this series is that it is one that can be read and read again, each time offering something new. Spratt has hit the mark with her target audience in this series and we eagerly await the new one, The Peski Kids.