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Amira’s Suitcase

Amira's Suitcase

Amira’s Suitcase

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Amira’s Suitcase

Vikki Conley

Nicky Johnston

New Frontier, 2021

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

9781922326133

When Amira’s family arrive in their new home as refugees, it is clearly different from what Amira is used to and she is felling lost and alone.  But hiding in her suitcase is a tiny seedling struggling for life and it becomes her new best friend, thriving as she nurtures and nourishes it. Something warm starts to grow inside her  as she is reminded of happier times. 

As children do, Amira meets some of the other children in the camp who share their seeds with her and despite being surrounded by poverty, tin shacks, and not much else between them and the friendship that grows like their plants, they are able to bring a little beauty to the bleak environment and harsh life that is now their reality. And just as the seedlings climb and reach for the sun, so do the children build hopes and dreams.

This is a gentle text that tells an all-too common story of displacement but it is tempered by the friendships that are born and thrive like the seedling in Amira’s suitcase. It is a story of acceptance and hope as the children reach out to each other oblivious to race, colour, beliefs and backgrounds, seeing only someone to talk to, to play with and who understands the circumstances. Smiles appear on their faces again as families meet new families and a community begins to grow because a little girl felt lonely and found a seed.

There will be children in our care who will have their own stories to share about camps such as that Amira finds herself in, in a world very different to what they have now and that of the children who are their peers.  But just like Amira they will build new friendships and a new future buoyed by seeing themselves in a story book, learning that just like plants, friendships need to be nurtured to make them strong and healthy. 

 

 

Mo and Crow

Mo and Crow

Mo and Crow

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mo and Crow

Jo Kasch

Jonathan Bentley

A & U Children’s, 2021

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

9781760631758

Mo lives in a little house high on a hill, protected by a thick stone wall that is stronger than both the wind and the rain.  It keep out everything that Mo wants kept out and that is exactly how he wanted it.  The outside world was not welcome in Mo’s world.

But one day he hears a tap-tap-tap on his wall and even though he whistles loudly and pulls hit hat down over his ears, the noise continued.  Tappity-tappity-tappity-tappity until suddenly a crow pushes a stone out of the wall and pops its head through the hole.  Mo tells the crow to go and fills the breach, but next day the crow is back.  Each is as stubborn and persistent as the other, so who will wins this war of wills?

On the surface this is a charming story about a man and a bird each determined to get their own way, but for the more astute reader it is also an allegory for the walls we each build around ourselves to protect our innermost personal thoughts and feelings.   While one might speculate on what has happened to Mo to make him choose to live in such isolation, we might also reflect on those things that we, as individuals, hold deep and refuse to share.  Is there any truth in the old adage, “A problem shared is a problem halved”?

Bentley’s bold illustrations bring to life this clever story about breaking down barriers and discovering the joys that a strong friendship can bring. 

Maybe…

Maybe...

Maybe…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Maybe…

Chris Haughton

Walker Books, 2021

40pp., hbk., RRP $A27.99

9781406385526

As Mother Monkey leaves her three babies high in the tree, she warns them not to go to the mango tree because of the tigers that are lurking.  But the mangoes look delicious and the babies are very tempted.  
“Maybe we could just look at the mangoes…”

“Maybe we could just get that little one…”

“Maybe we could just go down there anyway…”

How far are they prepared to push the boundaries? Are there tigers lurking?  Do the babies learn their lesson?

In the dedication, Haughton quotes Aristotle …”For the things we have to learn before we can do, we learn by doing,” and he has encapsulated this perfectly in this cautionary tale that young readers will love because they will all remember a time when they have been warned but the temptation has proved too great.  With its repetitive text that little ones can join in with, there is a sense of suspense built up as well as a sense of urgency when they discover that their mother was right all along. Nevertheless, it also emphasises the need to be willing to take risks, perhaps not as dangerous as this, if we are to learn and move forward. 

With his signature illustrative style, and its bold colours, the creator of Don’t Worry, Little Crab has gifted our younger readers another engaging story that will become a firm favourite.  

A peek inside...

A peek inside…

 

Fish Kid and the Turtle Torpedo

Fish Kid and the Turtle Torpedo

Fish Kid and the Turtle Torpedo

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fish Kid and the Turtle Torpedo

Kylie Howarth

Walker, 2021

160pp., pbk., RRP $A14.99

9781760652548

Originally, Bodhi did not share his parents’ love of the underwater world – his dad is a marine biologist and his mum an underwater photographer – and while they travelled the world together to explore what really happens beneath the surface, he preferred dry land until he discovered he had magical powers…

In the third in this series that introduces the reader to life beneath the waves and the hazards the inhabitants face,  the reader is taken to the Maldives where Fish Kid’s friendship with bestie, Emely, soon hits a snag during a tricky sea turtle rescue. Secretly wishing for powers of her own, Emely’s strange behaviour leaves Fish Kid wondering if their friendship and the super-sick turtle will survive. And if things weren’t bad enough, another turtle from the sanctuary goes missing. 

Full of action, adventure and humour, and all the techniques proven perfect for supporting those transitioning to longer novels, this series also includes fact boxes about the various creatures encountered and draws on the author’s personal knowledge of the world under the waves enriching the reader’s understanding and awakening an awareness to protect it. 

A powerful series that hopefully will inspire young readers to wonder and find out more, perhaps even be like Miss 14 who is currently studying oceanography and marine biology in Year 9 and undertaking her diver’s qualification!  The power of story to spark the “what if…” and while a mask and scuba tank aren’t quite the same as Bodhi’s powers, they work just fine!

 

Blue Flower

Blue Flower

Blue Flower

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Blue Flower

Sonya Hartnett

Gabriel Evans

 Puffin, 2021

36pp., hbk., RRP $A24.99

9781760894450

Each morning when she wakes up, the little girl doesn’t want to go to school. There are so many reasons why.  She doesn’t make friends as easily as you’re supposed to; she can’t run and jump and climb as well as she is supposed too; she’s not chatty or fast of funny; not bossy or loud or wild.  And she anguishes about answering questions in case she is wrong.  She constantly compares herself to her peers and finds herself wanting, so the anxiety builds and builds.  

But she gathers her courage and goes each day, although it’s at her mother’s insistence.  Finally, her mother asks her why she doesn’t want to go to school and they have a conversation that turns her life around.  With her new-found perspective she ventures outside with her cat Piccolo and begins to see that being different is what everyone is and that it is to be celebrated rather than shunned or feared.  “Things being different is what makes the world wonderful.”

So many children suffer anxiety because they view the world through the lens of what they think they should be, rather than who they are. They watch others do things, listen to adults admire looks and skills and achievements , feel the impact of peer pressure as others boast… and all the while they don’t realise that others are admiring them for their unique attributes.  This story is one for the mindfulness collection as it now only has the power to spark discussion but to promote self-acceptance and a change of mindset.  Anxiety amongst children is on the rise at an alarming rate  and the sooner we can teach them that life is not a competition, that who they are at this time is enough; that it our uniqueness that makes the tapestry richer,  the better,  . Hartnett has done this beautifully. 

The Valley of Lost Secrets

The Valley of Lost Secrets

The Valley of Lost Secrets

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Valley of Lost Secrets

Lesley Parr

Bloomsbury, 2021

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

9781526620521

September, 1939. Jimmy and his little brother Ronnie are “in another country that feels like another world [and] there’s a big scary war on that no one seems to be talking about.”  Evacuated from London to a small coal-mining village in Wales where the landscape is so different; the family they are billeted with are viewed with suspicion by the locals; and London friends are now enemies and vice versa it is no wonder that 12-year-old Jimmy finds it so much harder to fit in than 6-year-old Ronnie.  And on top of that, by accident he finds a human skull in the hollow at the base of an old tree.  What are the secrets it holds?

This is an intriguing read that kept me absorbed from beginning to end as it will any young independent reader who likes a mystery that twists and turns but ends up just as it should. Taking them to a real period in history when the children were sent to stay with strangers in strange places to keep them safe from the expected bombs that would fall on London, the characters, although unfamiliar, are very relatable and the whole thing epitomised this year’s CBCA Book Week theme of Old Worlds, New Worlds, Other Worlds opening up a different but real way of life.  While it’s not the green lush countryside his Dad promised him, and he can’t read the sign at the train station, to Jimmy nothing feels right  and everything feels wrong. Although Ronnie quickly settles in and embraces his new life with Aunty Gwen and Uncle Alun, Jimmy is reluctant, resentful. and, at time, rude. Confused by the circumstances, and convinced the war will be over by Christmas, he doesn’t want to accept their kindness feeling like it would be a betrayal to his family. Despite being surrounded by people, he feels alone. His best friend has changed and there’s no one he can confide in. Even though he knows that when he finds the skull it is a discovery that is too big to bear alone, and his imagination goes wild, he still keeps the secret close in a town where everyone seems to know everyone’s business and have an opinion about it.

While this is a debut novel, it has the power to send readers on a new reading journey as they seek to find out more about this period and the stories of children who endured so much more than they will ever know. Both Jimmy and Florence learn a lot about themselves and each other as the story evolves, encouraging the reader to perhaps look beyond the surface of their peers and be more compassionate and considerate in the future.

Added to that, the author has embedded another mystery in the pages for the reader to solve, making this a must-have read that deserves all the praise it is getting.

 

Courageous Lucy

Courageous Lucy

Courageous Lucy

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Courageous Lucy

Paul Russell

Cara King

EK Books, 2021

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

9781925820775

Lucy is a child who worries constantly, and because she has such a vivid imagination she worries about the most incredible things such as one day her shadow turning into an enormous black hole and swallowing her up or that she might be the person who discovers Bigfoot on the day he stubs his toe… She didn’t like going first because she worried that she would mess things up, but she didn’t want to go last either in case she missed out.

But when her teacher Mrs Hunt starts auditions for the cast of the school musical, Lucy is either going to have to speak up or there will be no parts left.  Does she have the courage?

Many of our students are like Lucy, full of worry and anxiety about getting things right, not messing up and being laughed at and it is becoming a huge concern as not only does it impact their mental health, it also reduces their willingness to take those risks that allow us to learn.  Sometime, somewhere, somehow, someone has instilled in them that they are meant to be perfect first time and all the time, and thus their lack of faith in their own ability hampers their freedom to do something as simple as predicting what will happen in a story – an essential element of early reading.  This is a situation that needs more than a “Don’t worry…” and so this book could be really useful in opening up discussions about fear of failure and all that’s associated with that.  Because Lucy’s fears are so extreme and unlikely, readers will feel safer because it puts them at arm’s length, but they will relate to missing out on something they really want because they didn’t speak up. Providing students with strategies to cope if they do have to face their fears, or even a more general one when those uncalled for clouds start to loom in their heads are the ultimate goal but if sharing this so others understand that worry is natural and common, but it shouldn’t be overwhelming  may lead to less anxiety and thus the book has done its job. 

The Last Bear

The Last Bear

The Last Bear

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Last Bear

Hannah Gold

Levi Penfold

HarperCollins, 2021

304pp.,  hbk., RRP $A18.17

9780008411282

When her mother is killed in a car crash, April’s scientist father retreats onto himself as he tries to deal with his grief and becomes the epitome of the absent-minded professor, leaving11-year-pld April to pretty much fend for herself.  So when he tells her he has applied to man the weather station on remote Bear Island in the Arctic Circle and they will be there alone for six months over the northern summer, April sees it as a chance to reconnect with her dad and start to build a new relationship with him.

However, things don’t work out that way with her dad becoming more and more withdrawn, leaving April to explore the island and entertain herself all day and all night as the sun does not set at this time of the year. Although she has been told that once polar bears roamed the island freely, because of climate change and the melting of the sea ice, there are now no bears left,  one evening, on the horizon, silhouetted against the sun , something moves. Something big and loping and gone in the blink of an eye but a polar bear, nonetheless. He is starving, lonely and a long way from home. Determined to save him, April begins the most important journey of her life…

This is one of those stories that stays in the mind long after the final page has been turned – indeed, Michael Morpurgo labelled it “unforgettable”. A modern story that brings the real effect of climate change home it is ideal for introducing children to the concept through their natural affinity with nature as few will be untouched by Bear’s plight and they begin to realise  that small, individual actions can have cumulative consequences. Perhaps, like April, the reader will find their own voice and their own passion and despite the obstacles, roar as April does. 

But it is more than another story about the environment and its vulnerability, albeit one with such a setting and such a storyline.  It is about April finding her voice and her passion as Bear teaches her how to roar from deep-down within as well as learning about that deep grief her father has been experiencing when she has to leave Bear. It’s about hope for families that are permanently changed finding a way to become whole again, if different, and going forward.  The most important thing in this world is the relationships we form with others, that shape our knowledge, understanding and values, and this book explores these to the fullest – between April and her dad, April and the bear, and the impact of the island and its isolation has on everyone and everything. 

Whether offered as a read-aloud or a read-alone, this is a book so well-written it will be a highlight of the reading year. 

The Daring Princess

The Daring Princess

The Daring Princess

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Daring Princess

Susanna Davidson

Alessandra Santelli

Usborne, 2021

48pp., hbk., RRP $A9.99

9781474969796

This is a re-telling of the Grimm fairytale, ‘The Iron Stove’, in which a princess frees a prince from an iron stove, after he was trapped there by a wicked witch. But no sooner has she freed him, than the witch appears and snatches the prince away. Now the princess must climb a glass mountain, cross a lake and a field of swirling spikes to save him.

When the collectors of traditional tales started writing them to preserve them, they focused on those which reflected the ideas and ideals of the time, so we have stories like Snow White and Sleeping Beauty in which the princesses were patient and polite, and there was a strong message that encouraged children to do the right thing or else….  Those stories featuring feisty, girls able to fight their own battles were ignored, but as times change new collectors are searching for and recovering other stories.  Many of these have been included in Forgotten Fairy Tales of Brave and Brilliant Girls and now Usborne is releasing a new series of single stories especially written for the newly independent reader.  Featuring short chapters, larger font and plenty of illustrations, they are ideal for supporting a fairytale focus enabling young readers to be able to access something different that supports their needs.

 With this year’s CBCA Book Week theme of Old Worlds, New Worlds, Other Worlds, now might be the time to visit the old stories but view them through a new lens. 

My Favorite Memories

My Favorite Memories

My Favorite Memories

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My Favorite Memories

Sepdeh Sarihi

Julie Völk

Blue Dot, 2020

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

9781733121248

When her parents tell her that the family is moving to another country, the little girl is quite excited particularly as she is allowed to take her favorite things.  But she changes her mind when she discovers that she cannot fit her aquarium, her wooden chair that her grandpa made, the pear tree that was the exact same age as she is, her bus driver and her best friend into the small suitcase her parents give her.

“In that case, I cannot come,” she tells her mother and wanders down to the ocean, another of her favourite things.  But there, she has an idea and discovers a way that perhaps she can go with her family and have her favourite things. And it takes sharp eyes to see her solution!

Moving to a new place, even if it is not a new country, can be a tough time for children as they don’t yet have the knowledge and wisdom to understand that while it may mean leaving the old and familiar, it is also an opportunity to explore the new and unknown so this touching story, translated from the original German is one that will resonate with many of our students. It will also help them understand that while we may have to leave some things behind physically, there is always the memory that we can revisit when we want to remember them.

With illustrations as gentle as the text and its message, this is something new and different to share and talk about.  If they were asked to pack their favourite things, what would they be? what would they do with those things that are too big for the suitcase?