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Secret Sparrow

Secret Sparrow

Secret Sparrow

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Secret Sparrow

Jackie French

HarperCollins, 2023

256pp., pbk., RRP $A17.99

9781460760468

September 1978 and Arjun is walking to the local mall when he hears the roar of a flash flood approaching and sees the river become a turbulent mass of brown, white-flecked water with cars bobbing along like plastic bath toys.  Miraculously a motor bike appears and he is urged to climb on, as the rider heads to the only high part of this flat landscape that should never have been built on – a grassy knoll that boasts only a small carpark and a rubbish bin on a pedestal. 

As surprised as he is by the ferocity and the swiftness of the flood, he is even moreso when he discovers his rescuer is an elderly woman! And that she is  a woman with an amazing story to tell as the waters rise and she makes him climb in the rubbish bin and use old newspapers for warmth and has the wisdom to know his thoughts need diverting from both the  current situation and the fate of his mates trapped in the mall.  It is a story of going from growing up in an English village during World War I to being commandeered into serving her country despite being only 16;  to being torpedoed by a German U-boat while crossing the English Channel to living and working in the hell of the trenches of France… all because she learned Morse Code while competing with her older brothers and became so fast and accurate her skills had been noticed.

But this is not just Jean McLain’s story told to keep a young lad calm and distracted – this is the story of at least 3600 women who were used as signallers as she was during World War I who not only signed an oath that they would never divulge their role even decades after the war was over but whose service was never formerly recognised and so they received only their Post Office employee pay while they served and had to pay for their own medical treatment if they were injured, and whose army records were deliberately destroyed by the authorities because of their embarrassment at having to admit that they not only had to rely on women to serve, but the women had excelled. To have to admit that so many had been able to step up and cope in situations that required “physical strength, mechanical knowledge and the courage to work under fire” when such physical and emotional circumstances as war and its inevitable death were seen as “unwomanly”, was an anathema to many men and so not only were individual stories never told, they were lost altogether.

But, using her usual meticulous research, author Jackie French has brought it to light, as once again she winkles out those contributions of women to our history that seldom appear in the versions of history told by men.  So as well as Arjun being so intrigued by Jean McLain’s story as the night passes, dawn appears and she teaches him to use her long-ago skills to summon help, our more mature, independent readers (and their teachers) can also learn something of that which we were never told.  Because, apart from those in the roles like Jean McLain who could be prosecuted for sharing their wartime adventures even with their family, there was an unwritten code of the survivors of all wars that the horrors would not be shared because, apart from being horrific, unless you were there you would never understand.  But now at the age my grandfather was when he died, I have learned a smidgeon of what it must have been like for him on the notorious Somme and can only wonder at how he went on to become who he did.  

It is estimated that World War I claimed the lives of some 16 million people worldwide, 9.5 million of which were military deaths. It is also estimated that around 20 million were wounded, including 8 million left permanently disabled in some way. Of those lives lost, 54 000 were young Australian lads who were so eager to sign up for this grand new ‘adventure’ that they lied about their age and 18 000 young Kiwis who, like my grandfather, believed it was their duty to fight for “King and Country”. But only now, through stories like this and The Great Gallipoli Escape, are we learning the real story and through the questions she has her characters ask and answer are we being encouraged to question things for ourselves, not just about the war but also what we stand for. Often in the story Jean McLain is spurred on by her belief in her need to  “do her duty” and that her actions are saving lives, but then she poses the same situation to Arjun. “What are we worth if we don’t do our duty to each other? What kind of life is it if you don’t love someone or something enough to die for them? What matters to you, eh?’ 

As well as teaching us about the past, French inspires us to think about the future – and that is a gift that only writers if her calibre can give our students. 

  

The Cool Code

The Cool Code

The Cool Code

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Cool Code

Deidre Langeland

Sarah Mai

HarperCollins, 2023

224pp., graphic novel, $A22.99

9780358549314

When 12-year-old coding whiz Zoey goes from homeschooled by her software-programmer parents to real school where there are teachers and other students, in an attempt to fit in, she develops an app called the Cool Code with a cute pink llama avatar called C.C. that she hopes will tell her everything from what to say to what to wear based on pop culture algorithms she’s uploaded. But although C.C. may be cute, it’s also bossy and starts to give her ridiculous advice,  such as running against her new friend Daniel in the school election, things get awkward.  With a few upgrades and a bit of debugging from the coding club, the app actually works—Zoey gets really popular . . . and gets her pulled in all kinds of directions, including away from her real friends.

Even though the new school year is some months away, nevertheless enrolments are open and for many students about to make the transition from primary to high school. the anxiety is starting to grow as they grapple with the changes involved, particularly the aspect of meeting and making new friends at a time in their lives when social acceptance and peer pressure is starting to dominate relationships.  So while this is a path well-trod in many stories by numerous authors,  nevertheless each one has a place to help reassure those about to embark on a similar journey.  It’s graphic novel format means it is one to be read individually, but that same format could be the hook that gets the reluctant reader in. 

One to add to a display on the theme, including the CBCA shortlisted August and Jones, that might allay the fears of some and also spark conversations about what is concerning them most and how to prepare to overcome that.  At the very least,  it will demonstrate that their worries are common and shared, and that, in itself, can help. 

Social Media Survival Guide

Social Media Survival Guide

Social Media Survival Guide

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Social Media Survival Guide

Holly Bathie

Usborne, 2022

304pp., pbk., RRP $A14.99

9781474999267

Like it or not, use it or not, social media is an integral of today’s life and despite it being illegal for those under 13 to have accounts because the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act of 1998 (COPPA), which prevents collection and storage of personal information from children under 13 years of age which originated in the US but which is pretty much universal, many of our young students still access sites and apps daily. 

For many parents, the world of social media and instant connectivity is not one in which they grew up – it’s all happened in the last 20 years –  and so helping their children navigate where they never went when they were children can be tricky.  Perhaps the recent hacking of Optus and Medicare and the exposure of personal date gathered legitimately can have a silver lining if it alerts parents to the spread of their digital footprint and propels them to start considering what they are sharing, and thus, their children. 

For even though way back in 1996 my school had a huge focus on safe surfing of the web and the kids, most of whom did not have access to computers and the internet at home, had the basics drummed into them from the get-go, the issues caused by the use of these instant, anonymous platforms continue to rise as our young people seek attention, fame, and in some cases, notoriety. Who can forget the death of 14 year old Dolly Everett who took her own life because of online bullying.?

Thus this book which enables our young readers, even those under the required 13 years) to manage their life, relationships and mental health on social media platforms and empowers them to stay safe online is an important read for all.  With the usual engaging layout we associate with Usborne, but in monochrome rather than colour, it offers in-depth coverage of a range of important a difficult issues young people face including body image, appearance-enhancing filters, influencers, sexual content and mental health. It uses recognisable themes rather than platform specifics, making the content relevant long-term, and tips on how to set up accounts safely and best manage privacy and messaging settings. It also addresses the user’s online persona, online reputation, and relationships; helps them understand  fake news and information and how to handle online bullying, as well as avoiding trolls.

While social media can have a really positive side – many would have been very isolated without during COVID lockdowns – and it would be wonderful if we could instil such a sense of confidence and well-being in the younger generation that they never feel the need for anonymous, meaningless affirmation, nevertheless there is a dark side and users must be aware of the potential for harm as well as good.  Once it’s out there, it’s out of your control. 

As well as being an important guide for the kids, it is also really useful for parents themselves as they learn what it is their child needs to know and do, understand and value as what was once just “peer pressure” from your immediate social circle is now a universal phenomenon right there in their hand. It goes hand-in hand with the excellent site and work of the E-Safety Commissioner established by the Australian government which has information for everyone from parents to teachers to kids to women to seniors and even a host of diverse groups who may be targeted or marginalised. 

Despite the care we take, every keystroke or finger tap can unknowingly add to our digital footprint, and so the better informed we are the safer we will be. Thus this is one to recommend to parents, to teachers and for yourself if you have responsibility for students or your own children online. 

 

E-Boy (series)

E-Boy (series)

E-Boy (series)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

E-Boy (series)

Anh Do

Chris Wahl, Tim McEwen

Allen & Unwin, 2020-2022

200+ pp., pbk., RRP $A15.99

 

Ethan is supposed to be doing regular teenage things – like playing sports and hanging out with friends.
He is not supposed to be in hospital getting a brain tumour removed by Gemini, a high-tech android doctor. But just as the operation begins, the medical facility is hit by an unusual bolt of lightning …

When Ethan wakes up he discovers that things are different. He’s always been good with computers, but now his skills are next-level. Ethan almost feels like he’s … part of the machine because now he has powers to hack into any electronic device.. And what about the android Gemini? If Ethan is now part robot, does that make the robot part human?  It seems so,  and the government wants him to themselves to try to catch Ethan because they fear what these powers might mean for their security. And so Gemini is now in pursuit of Ethan but what is his purpose if he catches him?

Ethan will need all his new skills just to stay alive… but just because he can hack into computers, should he actually do so?  Anh Do sets up an ethical dilemma that the reader has to grapple with. 

This is an interesting series because while its hero is a teenager, its format is more like that for those who are newly independent readers, including plenty of illustrations, so it is perfect for those older boys who are looking for something age-appropriate but still needing that support.  It also means they can be seen reading a book by one of the most popular authors at the moment, so that is also important for their self-esteem. Added to that, within this story are references to some of Do’s other series including Skydragon, and Rise of the Mythix  so it might just open up other reading horizons for them.  

So far, there are four in the series and they are best read in order so there is continuity of both plot and characters, but the early episodes are still readily available if this is not yet in your collection. 

Max Booth Future Sleuth – Map Trap

Max Booth Future Sleuth - Map Trap

Max Booth Future Sleuth – Map Trap

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Max Booth Future Sleuth – Map Trap

Cameron Macintosh

Dave Atze 

Big Sky, 2021

125pp., pbk., RRP $A12.99

9781922265906

If you have a map, you must know where you’re going… but Max isn’t so sure. 

It’s 2424. Super Sleuth Max Booth is uncovering the secrets of 20th century gadgets with his faithful but slightly neurotic robodog, Oscar. There are sinister characters and challenges along the way.  So, when Max and his brainy beagle-bot, Oscar, find a 400-year-old navigation unit, they’re shocked to discover that it still seems to work. They trace its owner’s last journey and find themselves on the road to very big trouble!

Far from home, Max and Oscar cross paths with a bunch of bungling burglars, trying to zip away with a precious piece of old-tech art. Max and Oscar will need to map out a rapid plan to catch the thieves and navigate their way out of danger!

This is the 6th in this series that follow the adventures of 25th-century detective, Max, and his robo-dog, Oscar, as they investigate objects from the ancient past – the long-lost 20th and 21st centuries.  Written for younger capable readers who enjoy sci-fi, but appreciate the connection to their own world to keep the story and their understanding grounded., it also offers opportunities for reflection about how we live and the things we use and do and how these might be viewed in the future. Fast-paced, it offers something different that might open up the world and genre of sci-fi for young readers who aren’t yet ready for the plethora of post-apocalypse literature that is becoming so prevalent in YA lit these days. 

A series to recommend to those who enjoy adventure mixed with science.

Super Geeks 2: Planet Pancake

Super Geeks 2: Planet Pancake

Super Geeks 2: Planet Pancake

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Super Geeks 2: Planet Pancake

James Hart

Puffin. 2021

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

 9781760895143

Zeek and Arnie are best friends. They do everything together. They love solving problems, inventing, playing video games, coding, reading comics, cooking (mostly Arnie) and planning WORLD DOMINATION (mostly Zeek). 

In the second in this series,  Zeek and Arnie hear about a heap of TREASURE at the edge of the world, so they decide to investigate. Zeek wants to use the treasure to fund his quest for WORLD DOMINATION! But how will they get there? After using their inventing skills to build a ship, the Enchilada, they sail off with Eleanor. But there’s trouble brewing on the horizon . . . What will Zeek and Arnie find at the edge of the world? Will it be TREASURE or TROUBLE? And . . . are they really alone?

The graphic novel format of this book with a minimum of text carrying the story along at a fast pace will appeal to those who prefer screen to print and who, themselves, relate to the geekiness of the boys.  Those who enjoyed the first in the series will appreciate not having had to wait too long to meet their friends again and join in another madcap adventure. 

Bots and Bods

Bots and Bods

Bots and Bods

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bots and Bods : How Robots and Humans Work, from the Inside Out 

John Andrews

CSIRO Publishing, 2021

96pp., pbk., RRP $A27.99

9781486314690

This is a fascinating book which explores the similarities and differences between humans and robots, particularly how the basic features of the human body, such as movement, the senses and thinking,  are copied in bots. 

As more and more of our lives are assisted by what were once the stuff of futuristic cartoon series like The Jetsons, performing everything from mundane chores to intricate surgery, this is an intriguing insight into just how one is translated into the other.  

A peek inside...

A peek inside…

With its appealing layout and straightforward text, this is one that will appeal to anyone with a deeper interest in this technology (and thus is going straight to Miss Year 9) while there are extensive teachers’ notes   focusing on science and digital technologies for those in tears 4-8.

Publications from CSIRO are always original, fascinating and worthwhile and this is no exception. 

Super Geeks 1: Fish and Chips

Super Geeks 1: Fish and Chips

Super Geeks 1: Fish and Chips

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Super Geeks 1: Fish and Chips

James Hart

Puffin, 2021

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

9781760895129

Zeek and Arnie are best friends. They do everything together. They love solving problems, inventing, playing video games, coding, reading comics, cooking (mostly Arnie) and planning WORLD DOMINATION (mostly Zeek).

But when Zeek puts a microchip in Arnie’s pet fish, Eleanor, things go horribly wrong . . . A super-intelligent Eleanor decides she’s going to become the supreme ruler of the world.

How will Zeek and Arnie stop Eleanor’s fish-bot army and prevent this power-hungry fish from achieving WORLD DOMINATION?

This is a new series likely to appeal to those who prefer screens and coding to print because it crosses both borders.  James Hart is the illustrator behind a number of popular series including Mr Bambuckle’s Remarkables but this is debut as an author. The graphic novel format is ideal for the intended audience and the story moves along at a fast clip that has characters readers can identify with and lots of humour.

Something to offer those boys you are trying to reach out to. 

 

Puffin Littles (series)

Puffin Littles

Puffin Littles

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Puffin Littles

Snacks

9781760897000

Composting

9781760897017

The Solar System

9781760897031

The ANZACs 

9781760897024 (Sept 2020)

Robotics

9781760897680 (Sept 2020)

The Ocean

9781760897666 (Sept 2020)

96pp., pbk., RRP $A12.99

 

A familiar symbol in and on children’s literature for 80 years, Puffin introduces our young readers to a whole range of interesting information in this new series of non fiction titles, the perfect size for little hands. In them, he talks directly to the reader sharing information in manageable chunks in a layout that not only appeals but also supports their reading skills and their interests.

Little Cook: Snacks focuses on the fundamentals of cooking and preparing food; Little Environmentalist: Composting teaches them about composting and recycling to make a difference while Little Scientist: The Solar System takes them on a journey around the planets. Planned for September are three more which explore the ocean, robotics and the ANZACs. 

Not all children like to read fiction and so this series caters for both the newly independent reader and those who are almost there using its narrative style voiced by that iconic character to offer more than just a book of facts and figures. The contents page to help them navigate to a specific page and the glossary to build and explain vocabulary help develop those early information literacy skills while the quiz on the final page consolidates what has been learned.

Young readers will appreciate this series because there has clearly been a lot of thought put into addressing their unique needs as emerging readers as well as tapping into subjects that appeal. 

 

Max Booth Future Sleuth – Chip Blip

Max Booth Future Sleuth - Chip Blip

Max Booth Future Sleuth – Chip Blip

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Max Booth Future Sleuth – Chip Blip

Cameron Macintosh

Dave Atze

Big Sky, 2020

130pp., pbk., RRP $A12.99

9781922265685

The Max Booth Future Sleuth books follow the adventures of 25th-century detective, Max, and his slightly neurotic robo-dog, Oscar, as they investigate objects from the ancient past – the long-lost 20th and 21st centuries. In this one, the fifth in the series, Max and Oscar discover a tiny device about the size of a grain of rice – an ID chip from 400 years previously in the 21st century. But, as in all their adventures investigating items from that distant past (and the reader’s present) there are those who are also interested and their presence looms. 

This is a series for younger capable readers who enjoy sci-fi, but appreciate the connection to their own world to keep the story and their understanding grounded. It also offers opportunities for reflection about how we live and the things we use and do and how these might be viewed in the future. Fast-paced, it offers something different that might open up the world and genre of sci-fi for young readers who aren’t yet ready for the plethora of post-apocalypse literature that is becoming so prevalent in YA lit these days.