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Fabish: the horse that braved a bushfire

Fabish: the horse that braved a bushfire

Fabish: the horse that braved a bushfire

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fabish: the horse that braved a bushfire

Neridah McMullin

Andrew McLean

Allen & Unwin, 2016

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

9781925266863

Bushfires are part of the Australian landscape and psyche.  Even though we know they are a necessary part of the life cycle of the indigenous flora, we still brace ourselves each summer hoping that we won’t be affected by one that season.  When they do strike though, news reports are cluttered with statistics of acreage burnt, homes and buildings destroyed, and too often, lives lost.  Seldom do we hear of the wildlife that is caught up in them, those that can’t clamber into a car and head to safety, although occasionally there are tragic photos of fields of dead sheep or heart-warming ones of a firey giving a koala a drink from his water bottle.  

In this book, based on real events that emerged from the tragic Black Saturday fires in Victoria in 2009, we are taken to Tarnpirr Farm in Narbethong in north-east Victoria where trainer Alan Evett tried desperately to save the horses in his care. With expensive thoroughbreds to save, Evett had no choice but to set retired favourite Fabish and the seven young horses he led free from their paddock to fend for themselves while he cared for those he hustled into the stables.  All around the fire raged, Evett working tirelessly on spot fires and keeping the horse calm, while outside…

Thankfully, the fire dragon passed over the top of the building even though it ate everything else in its path and when morning came, Evett emerged to a scene of utter desolation.   Although he had saved the life of the racehorses. Evett feared he would never see his old mate Fabish again.  Climbing into an old ute that had somehow escaped too, he drove out through the paddocks to be met by more devastation and disaster.  Standing in the smoke-filled ruins of what had been his landscape and livelihood he mourned for Fabish and the yearlings until…

Together McMullin and McLean have brought to life not only the story of Fabish and all the other horses like him, but also the sights, sounds and the smells of a fire that once experienced can never be forgotten. Through carefully chosen vocabulary and evocative pictures the reader is drawn into the story hoping for a good outcome. The fire dragon is indiscriminate when it attacks and young children are often caught up in it just as grown-ups are, and their questions are often about the animals and how they survived.  In the aftermath when adults are busy doing the adult things they must, the children are often left wondering and so to have an uplifting story like this that not only demonstrates the determination and courage of those like Alan Evett who put their charges’ welfare before their own but also has a happy ending can go some way to alleviate their fear that everything is destroyed.

Sensitive in its approach, even those children who can remember the fires will relate to it although some discretion might be needed if there have been recent fires in your area because even though it is heart-warming we must be conscious of the memories it might evoke. For those who want to know more, Fabish was honoured a year later at the Healesville Picnic Races  and while Evett died not long after, his heroic story and that of Fabish are becoming more widely known as this book is shortlisted for the 2017 CBCA Eve Pownall Award.

A story for horse lovers as well as those exploring the impact of bushfires on the landscape.  

Fabish and his yearlings, picture courtesy Racing Victoria Ltd.

Fabish and his yearlings

Somewhere Else

Somewhere Else

Somewhere Else

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Somewhere Else

Gus Gordon

Viking, 2016

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

9780670078851

Some birds fly north; some birds fly south; some birds take the bus… but George Laurent doesn’t go anywhere.  It seems he is too busy baking his scrumptious pastries to be able to explore the world.  Even when his world-travelling customers try to tempt him with descriptions of a sunrise over the Andes, or Paris by night, even the Alaskan tundra in autumn, George always has an excuse – even the ironing is more important!!

But come the bleak, cold days when all his feathered friends have disappeared to warmer parts and George is left alone, his only remaining friend Pascal Lombard drops in looking for somewhere warm for winter.  He is puzzled that George has not gone with the others, and slowly he manages to eke out the truth – George Laurent, baker extraordinaire, does not know how to fly.  When it was flying lesson day all those years ago he had been doing something else and since then he had just made excuses not to – even though he really would have liked to have been able to go somewhere else.

Pascal, who believes he has a knack for solving tricky problems, is determined to teach George how to fly but it is not until they see a picture in a newspaper…

This is an engaging tale which will resonate with many children – having a zillion reasons for not doing something you can’t but are expected to be able to do.  As a teacher I was a master at detecting avoidance behaviour because I lived it at home with my son, so as soon as I started reading I knew there was an underlying issue.  But astute readers may well pick it up in the clues in the amazing illustrations which use a variety of media, particularly collage.  From the carefully selected advertisements of old styles of luggage on the endpapers, Gus Gordon has skilfully used pieces of print from all sorts of sources to add depth, mystery and humour to the exquisite illustrations. Every time you read it there is more to peruse and ponder.

Time to get out the atlas and discover the places that George’s friends went and maybe even investigate the concept of animal (and human) migration.  Why are they always on the move? We can tell the seasons where I live by the variety of birdlife that is present so perhaps it’s time to do an inventory of the local birdlife over time – perfect real-life context for data collection and interpretation. Or perhaps a physiological investigation into how most birds fly but some can’t and how this has been translated into human flight. Then there is the philosophical question about “no place like home” as George and Pascal discover something familiar is missing from their travels. Some children might even learn from George and seek help to find pathways around their own difficulties.

I love picture books that seem to be written for one age group but with some consideration can transcend all ages, offering the prefect reason to return to them again and again apart from just being an absorbing story.  A CBCA Notable for 2017, I was surprised this did not make the shortlist.

 

Home in the Rain

Home in the Rain

Home in the Rain

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Home in the Rain

Bob Graham

Walker Books, 2016

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

9781406368239

It is time for Mum and Francie to head home from Grandma’s. Despite the fact that it is bucketing down rain and the highway is crowded with buses, oil tankers, trucks and other cars they feel safe and secure in their little red car – as safe and secure as the baby tucked away in mum’s womb.

As the rain continues to tumble soaking everything in its path – good for the mouse obscured from the kestrel’s view but not so good for Marcus out fishing with his dad with the water dribbling down his neck- Mum pulls into the picnic spot to have the lunch Grandma has prepared. As they sit their breaths fog up the window, and, cloistered in this intimate environment, like all children, Francie cannot resist writing her name on the window.  After she writes her own, she writes Mum and Daddy but there is a window left, waiting for the name of the new sister due soon.  But what will it be?

With his gentle, detailed, watercolour-wash illustrations and carefully chosen text, once again Bob Graham has taken the most ordinary of situations and crafted a touching, memorable story that brings beauty to the mundane, something from very little. The climax of the story where Mum chooses the baby’s name comes in a dirty, busy petrol station – the antithesis of where such a memorable moment is likely to occur, although Graham finds the beauty as Francie splashes in the rainbows of the oil-water puddles.

Our names are our most personal possession and children are always curious to find out why their parents chose the names they did so this is the perfect opportunity for them to investigate how they came to be called what they are.  It is also an opportunity to compare the various reasons as well as investigate popular names, collect data and share what they learn.

At the same time there is much to talk about being caught in the rain. where the rain comes from, how it makes you feel and why windows clog up. Further afield, they can look to the impact of the rain on the landscape – why has Graham introduced the rabbit, the mouse, the kestrel, the ducks, the fishermen, Marcus, even the two men who have had a bingle in the car?  

As is typical in his books, Graham has included so much with more to be discovered and considered each time it is shared.  Shortlisted for the 2017 CBCA Picture Book of the Year award, this is one that will be hard to beat.

Little Chicken Chickabee

Little Chicken Chickabee

Little Chicken Chickabee

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Little Chicken Chickabee

Janeen Brian

Danny Snell

Raising Literacy Australia, 2016

32pp., pbk., RRP $A14.90

9780994385338

Crickle, scratch, crackle, hatch – four little chicks pop from their eggs of proud Mother Hen.  Each one cheeps as expected except for Number 4 who says, “Chickabee.”  This startles Mother Hen and the other chicks who insist that “Cheep” is right and “Chickabee” is not.  But Little Chicken is not deterred and goes off to see the world.  However, she finds that even the other farm animals insist that chickens say “Cheep” not “Chickabee” although when Little Chicken challenges them, they have no real reason why not.  

Showing amazing resilience, Little Chicken knows that while “Chickabee” might be different, it is right for her and regardless of the sound she makes, she is still a chicken.  Even when her brothers and sisters reject her again, she has the courage to go back into the world and this time she meets different things that make different sounds which bring her joy,  And then she meets a pig…

This is a charming story about difference, resilience, courage and perseverance and how these can lead to friendships, even unexpected ones. Beautifully illustrated by Danny Snell, this story works on so many levels.  It would be a great read for classes early in this 2017 school year as new groups of children come together and learn about each other while even younger ones will enjoy joining in with the fabulous noises like rankety tankety, sticketty-stackety and flippety-flappity as they learn the sorts of things that are found on a farm.

Given the trend throughout the world towards convention and conservatism and an expectation that everyone will fit the same mould and be legislated or bullied into doing so, Little Chicken could be a role model for little people that it is OK to be different and that no one is alone in their difference.  

 

Artie and the Grime Wave

Artie and the Grime Wave

Artie and the Grime Wave

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Artie and the Grime Wave

Richard Roxburgh

Allen & Unwin 2016

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

9781760292140

When bully Nate Grime and his sidekick Wart throw Artie’s only pair of shoes over the overhead wires, they start off a chain of events that not only brings down the Mayor of the town but also provides for a hair-raising crazy adventure that will appeal to boys in those mid-late primary years.

Artie only has one pair of shoes because after his dad, a trapeze artist, died a few years previously, his mother has been so deep on grief that she has confined herself to the couch all but abandoning Artie and his angry older sister, Lola.  His best mate Bumshoe – (real name Alex Baumschule) suggests that they find paperbark trees to make new shoes from so Artie not only avoids his mother’s anger but can also go to school.  It is while they are searching for the trees that they discover a cave full of possibly-stolen-stuff and its sinister guardians Mary, Funnel Web and Mr Budgie.

Populated with a number of eccentric characters who all become part of Artie and Bumshoe’s attempts to get the truth out as they search for Gladys Unpronounceable-enko’s tortoise Gareth which has disappeared and desperately avoid the clutches of the ruthless gang, Roxburgh has written and illustrated a rambunctious romp that pits the skinny, awkward kid and his overweight mate against bullies, mean teachers and desperate gangsters that many readers will put themselves in the hero’s shoes.  In fact Roxburgh says, “”My oldest boy started to hit an age where I was conscious I was finding the books I was reading him as entertaining and amusing as he was,” … ”I thought I could write to that world, I could locate myself in that neck of woods and deal with that immature adventurous sense of play.

Because of his public profile, Roxburgh and his book received a lot of publicity when it was released in October 2016 and I was keen to see if the writing actually lived up to the hype.  Pleased to record that it kept me reading to the end and that I could ‘see’ young boys particularly enjoying it and recommending it to their peers.  A great start to the 2017 reading seasons.

Little Dog and the Christmas Wish

christmas_countdown_2016

 

 

 

 

Little Dog and the Christmas Wish

Little Dog and the Christmas Wish

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Little Dog and the Christmas Wish

Corinne Fenton

Robin Cowcher

Black Dog Books, 2014

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

9781742032368

Little Dog and Jonathan are the best of friends.  But trouble strikes when a massive thunderstorm hits while Jonathan and his mother go shopping on Christmas Eve leaving Little Dog at home, alone.  Even though he does not like thunder and lightning, Little Dog need to protect Jonathan so he squeezes under the gate to find him.  

At first the smells and sights are familiar but it is not long before Little Dog is in new territory.  But even so and even though the thunderstorm is still raging, he continues on  his search.  When he sees the open door of the baker’s cart he jumps in and the old Clydesdale clip clops along, taking Little Dog into town where everything, everywhere and everyone is strange.  As hard as he looks he cannot find Jonathan. And still the rain and thunder and lightning continue. Even when he finds shelter and the busker invites him to go home with him, Little Dog knows he needs to find Jonathan. And so his search continues…

This is a most poignant story about that special bond between a dog and its human friend that will resonate with every child and adult who has one.  There is something about the loyalty and love that is so strong. Set in Melbourne in the 1950s, it is nostalgic, even sentimental, as the soft palette, watercolour illustrations take the reader back into a gentler, slower time where Christmas is not so frenetic.  Illustrator Robin Cowcher was shortlisted for the CBCA Crichton Award for New Illustrators in 2015.

In 2014 this book was the focus of the Christmas window display in Myer, Melbourne, the 60th anniversary of this much loved, Melbourne tradition, a rare honour afforded to only the best of books! (And the author’s new book, One Christmas Eve, is the focus of the 2016 windows.)

Something a little different, a little more like the Christmas stories of yesteryear for the Christmas Countdown.

Credit: Kids' Book Review

Credit: Kids’ Book Review

 

 

All I Want for Christmas is Rain

christmas_countdown_2016

 

 

 

 

All I want for Christmas is Rain

All I want for Christmas is Rain

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

All I Want for Christmas is Rain

Cori Brooke

Megan Forward

New Frontier, 2016

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

9781925059717

It is a sight so familiar to many Australian children.  Brown, cracked, dried earth as far as the eye can see, and even if it could see further, the landscape wouldn’t change. Drought.  The farmer’s curse is this sunburnt country where it can be a long time between drinks for the land and paddocks are empty as livestock is trucked off to the saleyards because it costs more to feed them than they are worth. 

It takes its toll on farmers and their families and in a desperate bid to change things, Jane takes the long shiny train into her nearest town because Santa is coming and he is the one person who can grant children’s wishes.  Standing in the queue in the hot sun, patiently waiting her turn, Jane has only one request from Santa.  “My wish is for rain.”

Set against a backdrop of the most stunning and powerful illustrations that depict the desolation of the Australian landscape in drought, this story-in-rhyme brings alive the reality of summer and Christmas for so many and gives the reader pause to think about what life can be like at this time for our country cousins and what are the true gifts that we can hope for.  While we cling to the English traditions of our ancestors with snow-clad scenes, hot dinners and Santas in red furry suits, there are those who see an entirely different side to this festive time that may not be so joyful. An excellent opportunity for the children to express their interpretation of an Australian Christmas in art and perhaps a change from the more traditional pictures and crafts.

I wish it had been available in 2002 when the news was dominated by the dreadful drought gripping so much of the country and my library’s focus was on gathering gifts for the children of Charleville. It would have been the perfect starter to show the people behind the landscapes of the news in a way that spoke directly to my students.  But, in the meantime, it’s winging its way to Wales to show some children there what Christmas can be like for the children here.

 Another worthy addition to Australia: Story Country.

Gifts for Charlevile

Gifts for Charleville

Gifts for Charleville

Gifts for Charleville

 

Blue Sky, Yellow Kite

Blue Sky, Yellow Kite

Blue Sky, Yellow Kite

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Blue Sky, Yellow Kite

Janet A. Holmes

Jonathan Bentley

Little Hare Books, 2016

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

9781760124229

High above a bright yellow kite soars in the bright blue sky and as it dips and dives, flits and flies with its tail feathers flying it catches the eye of Daisy.  Intrigued she follows its string to see who is flying such a magnificent thing.  Up the hill, down the hill and across the field she finds William in a big house on the edge of town.  As she watches longingly through the fence, he invites her in and teaches her how to fly it. But then she does the unthinkable – she runs away with the kite all the way back to her house.  Knowing she has done the wrong thing she hides it and doesn’t fly it – but where is the joy in a kite sitting on top of a wardrobe instead of soaring through the sky?  At last she cannot stand it and she just has to fly the kite – but William sees her and just walks away.  Again the kite is placed on the top of the wardrobe but the next day, Daisy takes it down again…

Sometimes little people are just so tempted by someone else’s things that they just have to take them, even though, like Daisy, they know it is wrong to do so.  And with Christmas coming on and lots of children having lots of things to show off, there are going to be a lot of children fighting temptation.  Thus this is a timely story about wanting, needing, guilt and honesty which has a heart-warming ending that  lends itself to all sorts of discussions in the home and in the classroom.  

The visual contrast, both physically and metaphorically, of the bright yellow kite against the deep blue sky, juxtaposes Daisy and William’s positions and Jonathan Bentley’s illustrations add much to the text with   their movement and colour.

This is a charming story about friendship and forgiveness and the dilemma of whether a thing is more important than a friend.  

Molly & Mae

Molly & Mae

Molly & Mae

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Molly & Mae

Danny Parker

Freya Blackwood

Hardie Grant Egmont, 2016

32pp. hbk., RRP $A24.99

9781742975276

 

A railway station in rural Anywhere, Australia and Molly and Mae are looking forward to their journey to the city.  On the platform there is fun to be had like hide and seek to play as they and the other passengers wait for the train to arrive and their friendship is full of laughter and giggles as the excitement builds.  Even being stuck in the bubblegum doesn’t dampen their delight.  And even as the waiting goes on and on, there is fun to be had as they enjoy each other’s company.  When at last the train comes the fun continues as they colour in, dress up their dolls, experience the dining car, and even do crazy stuff like hanging upside down from the seats!  

But slowly as the trip seems interminable cracks start to appear as boredom sets in.  Molly thinks Mae is silly and tells her so and Mae doesn’t like it and before long the girls are not speaking to each other, turning away and spending their time peering through the window at the wet, smeary countryside.  The whole world looks murky, echoing their feelings.  Will they resolve their spat or is this the end of something special?

This is a story about so much more than a long train journey as it mirrors real-life friendships – the excitement of new shared interests, the pleasure in just being together and doing everyday stuff and the anticipation of adventures to come.  But there are also times when it is boring, when difficulties happen and there is a choice of building bridges and continuing on the main track or branching off onto another one.

This is a true marriage of text and graphics.  Blackwood’s soft palette and somewhat retro feel and clever headings of platform, timetable, journey, signal failure, destination that replicate both the stages of the journey and the development of the friendship express Parker’s concept and text perfectly and the reader is drawn deeper and deeper into the story from the early morning endpaper  through the title page to the explosion of the big city station and as night falls over the city.  Blackwood has explained her thought processes and choices here showing just how much goes into such a project.

If teachers were ever looking for a book to explain metaphor, this is it!

Would not be surprised to see this among the CBCA shortlisted titles in 2017.

 

 

Ellyse Perry (series)

Ellyse Perry (series)

Ellyse Perry (series)

 

 

 

 

 

Pocket Rocket
9780143781240

Magic Feet
9780143781264

Winning Touch
9780143781288

Double Time
9780143781301

Sherryl Clark with Ellyse Perry

Random House Australia, 2016

145pp., pbk., RRP $A14.99

With the Southern Stars and the Women’s Big Bash League now getting greater coverage on prime time, mainstream television, the name of Ellyse Perry is becoming one that is widely known and recognised.  So it is pleasing to see a series of stories that focuses on her sporting career from the choices she had to make at high school through to her current success becoming a part of the literature available to newly independent readers.  While there have been other series of this ilk such as Glenn Maxwell and Billy Slater there have been very few focusing on the prowess of Australia’s female sports stars.  Ellyse who plays both soccer and cricket at the elite level is a wonderful focal point for inspiring young girls to continue their sport after they leave primary school and she shows that with care and good choices, you can do all that you want. Boys will also enjoy reading about one of Australia’s leading lights.

Pocket Rocket and Magic Feet are available now just in time for the Christmas stocking and Winning Touch and Double Time will be available in early January ready for the long January days after the excitement of Christmas is over and our children are looking for something new.