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Drover

Drover

Drover

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Drover

Neridah McMullin

Sarah Anthony

Walker Books, 2021

32pp., hbk., RRP $A26.99

9781760652081

In 1889, A.B. ‘Banjo’ Paterson in his tribute to the iconic Clancy of the Overflow, wrote…

In my wild erratic fancy, visions come to me of Clancy
Gone a-droving “down the Cooper” where the Western drovers go;
As the stock are slowly stringing, Clancy rides behind them singing,
For the drover’s life has pleasures that the townsfolk never know.

And in this stunning book those pleasures are brought to life by the lyrical text and the evocative illustrations as the reader joins Drover on the trail as the herd of bullocks are moved over the vast interior of this country.  Even though each day seems to be a repeat of the routine of the one before it, the ever-changing land and sky scapes make each unique and enjoyable, even though they are bone-weary and saddle-sore and a tiny bandicoot spooks the flighty Shifty so the whole herd stampedes. 

But there is a twist in this tale – for it is only once they have wheeled the bullocks into Dajarra to the thrill of the gathered crowd, after thousands of kilometres and six months on the trail that the identity of “Drover” is revealed to be Edna Jessop, a real-life character and Australia’s first female boss drover who took this herd from WA to Queensland in 1950 after her father fell ill.  

Droving cattle is not just a part of this country’s history, but also its present as during recent droughts many farmers have been forced to send their stock out onto the long paddock,  the term given to the travelling stock routes that traverse outback Australia. Many has been the time when we have slowed to pass the herds as they graze the verges of the highway, drovers and dogs on high alert as the traffic passes within metres.  So as well as celebrating the remarkable story of Edna Jessop, it also opens up another avenue of exploration to explain where we have come from, perhaps even inspiring them to plan a family journey to discover those pleasures that Paterson, Clancy and Edna all experienced.   

The Astonishing Chronicles of Oscar from Elsewhere

The Astonishing Chronicles of Oscar from Elsewhere

The Astonishing Chronicles of Oscar from Elsewhere

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Astonishing Chronicles of Oscar from Elsewhere

Jaclyn Moriarty

Kelly Candy

A & U Children, 2021

432oo,, hbk., RRP $A22.99

9781760526368

Even though his stepdad was seen dropping him off at school each morning, Oscar didn’t seem to make it through the school gates and Deputy Principal Kugelhopf is demanding a written explanation.

But how can you explain that you were on a quest  to locate nine separate pieces of a key, held by nine separate people, in order to unlock a gluggy silver spell that had trapped the Elven city of Dun-sorey-lo-vay-lo-hey? That the quest was an urgent one because Friday at noon, the spell would become permanent, the Elves would be crushed to death and Oscar would be trapped in this magical world forever? That, even though you’re just a regular non-magical kid who likes to skateboard, your companions were Bronte, a girl who makes magical ‘Spellbinding’ rings, Alejandro, a former pirate/current prince who can shoot arrows and make fire from stones, Imogen, who can read broken maps and is a kickboxing master, Esther, who saved her entire world from some kind of ancient monster, Astrid, a smart ten year old who can read minds, and Gruffudd, a surprisingly speedy (and always hungry) Elf?

But, between himself and Imogen, Oscar manages to recount the adventures and from them emerges the fourth book in the Kingdoms and Empires series, a whimsical fantasy series for independent readers . While there are lots of illustrations, this is one for the older reader who enjoys fantasy and is perhaps looking for a new series to explore if they haven’t already discovered it. 

The Great Book-Swapping Machine

The Great Book-swapping Machine

The Great Book-swapping Machine

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Great Book-Swapping Machine

Emma Allen

Lisa Coutts

NLA Publishing, 2021

40pp., hbk., RRP $A24.99

9780642279736

 

Late one night, a thing appears in the paddock next to Fabio’s house, way out in the outback where people just drove past without stopping. .

His dad calls it ‘space junk’ and rang the Space Agency to come to take it away. But Fabio figures it is more than just junk and when he opens the hatch and climbs inside he discovers books. Books about the galaxy; big, fat books; books full of poems. On the pilot’s seat is a book called A Daydreamer’s Guide to the Galaxy and he can’t resist taking it home, staying up late into the night reading and learning. Next morning he feels he is ready to fly but when he pulls the big red lever, nothing happens and he throws the book out in disgust.  The next morning it is gone – but not too far.  The girl from next door is reading it and she hands him one of her books. It is the first of many swaps made among all sots of people, all of whom have to band together to stop the persistent people from the Space Agency from taking the “space junk” away.

This is one of the most enjoyable stories I’ve read and reviewed this year – but then, given its focus, that’s hardly surprising.  With its  funny, original and imaginative story, whimsical illustrations and an informative fact section, it’s a book about the joys of reading and the importance of community, both of which are dear to my heart.  While the usual fact pages at the back of any NLA publication give information about the National Library itself ( a familiar, favourite stomping ground for me) and little street libraries it opens the door to investigating the many different libraries in the world such as The Library of Ashurbanipal, the oldest known in the world, to the packhorse librarians of the Appalachians to their local children’s library and all stops in between.

I adore stories that send me down rabbit holes of discovery and this one has all the elements to do just that.

The Curse of the Vampire Robot

The Curse of the Vampire Robot

The Curse of the Vampire Robot

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Curse of the Vampire Robot

Graeme Base

HarperCollins, 2021

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

9781460754696

Deep in the Scottish Highlands, many years from now …

Gertie Gif, a lowly cleaning droid from the village of Loch Lan, sets out on an heroic quest to liberate her fellow robo-folk from the curse of a legendary, battery-draining laptop who lives in the castle on the hill.

Will Gertie and her little software-wolf companion succeed in cleaning out the vampire’s corrupted heart?

Or will the Curse of Voltoid remain forever hanging over the valley?

In this new release from the amazing Base, he combines an old-fashioned tale of good versus evil with 21st century techno-speak to produce an intriguing, clever story that marries the very old with the very latest.   In a castle high on a hill overlooking the valley dwells the dreaded Voltoid , “a giant laptop, black as night, with wings and pointy teeth” who sweeps down into the village to drain the resident robots of their power in order to recharge his own. Then, as in true tales of old, an unlikely hero volunteers to confront the enemy and in in clever rhyming text, an epic encounter ensues.

“In time, the tale become a myth and finally a meme

with feature films and merchandise…

A total data stream. 

Deviating from his familiar full-colour illustrations, this time Base has kept to black and white but with the typical exquisite detail that make his illustrations as rich as both the concept and the text.  This is one for more mature readers who can appreciate the subtlety of the words and the connections between them and the pictures. 

So much food for thought…                              

Tilda Tries Again

Tilda Tries Again

Tilda Tries Again

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tilda Tries Again

Tom Percival

Bloomsbury, 2021

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

9781526612991

Tilda’s world is just the way she likes it.  She has her toys, books and friends.  But then something happens that turns everything upside down and nothing is the way it was.  Nothing seems to be right and gradually Tilda retreats into herself, into a dark place where she doesn’t want to do or try anything.  What’s the point?  

Toys, books and friends are abandoned and she is swallowed by the darkness.  Until one day she sees a ladybird on its back, struggling to get back on her feet again…

This is another in this series  which includes Perfectly NormanRuby’s Worry,   Ravi’s Roar, and Meesha Makes Friends , that examines the big feelings that are a natural part of a child’s life, feelings that they might not yet be able to articulate and don’t have the strategies to deal with.  It gives the reader some guidance into coping with tricky situations that threaten to overwhelm,  to help them build resilience and embrace a ‘can do’ approach to life. It offers affirmation that everyone has to confront those times when nothing works out quite as they wished, usually because there are factors beyond our control, and that we have to deal with the altered circumstances rather than what we dreamt of.  That even though the clouds may surround us in gloom, they move on to show the sun is still shining and the birds still singing, if we put our brave on and stare them down. 

This is a series that is going to be particularly important in the weeks ahead as children return from weeks of isolation and all the negative feelings and events that that has entailed and emerge to be with friends again, navigating and negotiating the new boundaries -emotional, mental, social and physical – that separation has altered and shaped who we now are. By starting with a story and inviting others to share theirs, little ones can start to understand that their big feelings are normal and can be managed. 

The What on Earth Institute of Wonder

The What on Earth Institute of Wonder

The What on Earth Institute of Wonder

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The What on Earth Institute of Wonder

Lisa Nicol

Puffin, 2021

288pp., pbk., RRP $A16.99

9781761041556

In the dead of night, the full moon blazing and with their mum double-dosed on sleepy-time tea, 12 year-old Sal (who can talk to birds and animals) and 8 year-old Roy (who’s ready for the apocalypse) quietly climb into a 1975 VW Kombi campervan already filled with an adolescent African elephant and driven by 14 year-old Bartholomew (who is yet to get his drivers’ licence),  This unusual crew, accompanied by Hector the kakapo, set off on a strange expedition which the reader is warned about in the prologue, deep into the Animal Kingdom.  

Despite its quirkiness, there is much the independent reader will relate to in this story including being in single-parent families where the remaining parent is barely coping; the small-minded community members of a small town whose slogan is “Don’t Get Your Hopes Up”; the feeling that animals are more trust-worthy and reliable than adults; and the desire to save the entire animal kingdom from the ravages humans inflict on it.

Nicol has a proven record of turning the ordinary into the extraordinary through her amazing imagination and her desire to empower the children who are her heroes through books like Vincent and the Grandest Hotel on Earth and Dr Boogaloo and the Girl who Lost her Laughter  but still embodying those critical themes of family, friendship, self-belief and loyalty throughout.

Whether this is a read-alone or a read-together, it will appeal to those ready to take flight on an extraordinary adventure, accept strange things really do happen and just enjoy the ride. 

The Song of Lewis Carmichael

The Song of Lewis Carmichael

The Song of Lewis Carmichael

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Song of Lewis Carmichael

Sofie Lsguna

Marc McBride

Allen & Unwin, 2021

192pp., pbk., RRP $A16.99

9781760878573

Matthew has dreamed and read and thought about the North Pole for as long as he can remember. And he has done it secretly. It is a place that cannot be tarnished by the world in which he lives – a world in which he struggles to find answers and make friends, while everything seems to come easily to other children.

But one day, while reading in the park, Matthew befriends a crow with a broken wing and that night  Lewis Carmichael taps on Matthew’s window – a crow who believes in Matthew in the most simple and ordinary ways. Soon, the unexpected voyage of a lifetime begins, and it will change everything… A hot-air balloon ride to the Arctic and now Matthew stood on the snowy peak and stared out at the world spread before him. Every picture in his books had been limited by the size of the page, contained within frames. Here, there was no frame. Here, the picture didn’t end. Beyond those icy plains, the sea, and beyond the sea, a land that floated on the ice, drifting northwards. Matthew put the binoculars to his eyes and saw valleys and cliffs and rivers all made of snow. Everywhere was white.

Parents looking for quality stories to slip into their child’s Christmas stocking this year are spoiled for choice – and this new one from Sofie Laguna is no exception.  Matthew is that quiet child, withdrawn, unable to make friends who prefers to read and make friends with the characters in his books because he feels like he doesn’t belong that so many parents and teachers will recognise. But, to my knowledge, none of those I know have befriended a crow, particularly one that can talk, and get taken on such an extraordinary adventure… Yet, this is so well-written and so delicately illustrated (the Aurora Borealis spread is exquisite) that it is utterly believable and the reader is swept up in the adventure. And while he is away, this child of helicopter parents has to learn to be resilient, independent, decisive, courageous and confident – all those things that we want for our children but are sometimes too afraid to let them develop. 

Presented entirely in a blue monochromatic scheme, including the text, this is one that is either a read-alone for independent readers, a read-together between parent and child as the perfect bedtime story or a read-aloud with a class and the opportunity to explore a mysterious land with Matthew. 

 

The School between Winter and Fairyland

The School between Winter and Fairyland

The School between Winter and Fairyland

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The School between Winter and Fairyland

Heather Fawcett

Allen & Unwin, 2021

352pp., pbk., RRP $A16.99

9781760526542

“Twelve-year-old Autumn is a beastkeeper at Inglenook School for Magicians, which she secretly dreams of attending as a student. Instead, she must care for Inglenook’s menagerie of dangerous creatures so the king’s future monster hunters can study them. But when she isn’t mucking out the griffin stalls, Autumn searches for clues about her twin brother’s mysterious disappearance. Everyone else thinks that he was devoured by the terrifying Hollow Dragon, but Autumn isn’t so sure.

Enter Cai Morrigan, the famous young magician prophesied to one day destroy the Hollow Dragon. When Cai comes to Autumn with a secret problem, Autumn agrees to help on one condition: that the ‘Chosen One’ join her quest to find her brother. Together they uncover the dark truth that lies at the heart of Inglenook School – because every school has its secrets…”

This is one for independent readers who are established readers of fantasy, like Miss 10, but who still like to straddle the worlds of reality and magic.  Autumn is one who Miss 10 can relate to, perhaps even put herself in her shoes, and the familiar themes of adventure, family, friendship and self-discovery blend seamlessly with the magical creatures who inhabit a world as cleverly constructed as Hogwarts.  While the foundations of the story are shared with other stories – the traditional tropes on which fantasy for this age is based and why they are so popular- this is a solid read that will have readers looking for a sequel.  In the meantime they could indulge themselves in Fawcett’s other books, Ember and the Ice Dragons , a story about a young dragon turned into a human girl to save her life, or The Language of Ghosts about a young princess in exile who rediscovers a forgotten magic. All three may appear in Miss 10’s Christmas stocking. 

The Shark Caller

The Shark Caller

The Shark Caller

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Shark Caller

Zillah Bethel

Usborne, 2021

368pp., pbk., RRP $A14.99

9781474966849

Blue Wing is desperate to become a shark caller like her waspapi Siringen. 

“I want to be able to call the sharks. Teach me the magic and show me the ways,” she begs him for the hundredth thousandth taim but he refuses, telling her she knows why he will not. 

Instead she must befriend infuriating newcomer Maple, who arrives unexpectedly on Blue Wing’s island. At first, the girls are too angry to share their secrets and become friends. But when the tide breathes the promise of treasure, they must journey together to the bottom of the ocean to brave the deadliest shark of them all… and it’s not a great white.

Papua New Guinea is just as a mysterious land now as it was when I lived there 50 years ago, steeped in history, legends and traditions going back to the earliest civilisations and when the author moved from there to the UK (and had to wear three jumpers even in summer) she was peppered with so many questions about her life there that she wrote this book to help answer them.  And in doing so, she has woven an intriguing tale of adventure, friendship, forgiveness and bravery with such a real-life background that I was taken back to the days when I was there with all sorts of memories that I thought were forgotten, including the pidgin phrases.  

Even though physically it is at the upper end of the readership for this blog, competent independent readers of all ages will immerse themselves in the story which, even though it has such a diverse backdrop, still has a universal theme threaded through it. For those interested in finding out more there are the usual Usborne Quicklinks, as well as a most informative note from the author and some questions for book clubs that delve deeper.  One for those who are ready to venture into something a little different.  

Devils in Danger

Devils in Danger

Devils in Danger

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Devils in Danger

Samantha Wheeler

UQP, 2021

216pp., pbk., RRP $A14.99

9780702263293

Eleven-year-old Killarney thinks school is boring. She’d rather be exploring the wilderness around her Tasmanian hometown or helping her hairdresser mum. When strange things start to happen – ear-splitting screams in the dead of night and missing items found under the house – Killarney is too busy solving the mystery to do schoolwork.

Before long, she discovers the culprit: a wild Tasmanian devil, denning under the house! When rumours about dangerous devils begin spreading, Killarney is determined to protect her precious visitor. But can she convince an entire town these wild creatures are worth saving?

Being married to one who is affectionately known as a Tasmanian Devil because of his birthplace, the plight of Tasmanian Devils in recent years as they battle Devil Facial Tumour Disease has been on my radar for some time so a book which brings these little creatures into the limelight was always going to appeal. And it had me from that murderous scream in the first sentence!! With characters who are instantly recognisable, Wheeler has crafted an engaging story that keeps the reader engrossed while subtly educating them about these fascinating marsupials which despite their small size have jaws powerful enough to crush bones easily, particularly as they are now officially on the endangered list.  And while readers may not have the opportunities that Killarney has, nevertheless there are programs in place to save the Tassie Devil in various states that they can become involved with as attempts are made to re-establish the creature on the Australian mainland.

Most appropriate for independent readers, this would also be a grand read-aloud to accompany any study into Australia’s endangered species and is a worth companion to others in the series including Wombat Warrior,  Mister Cassowary ,Turtle Trackers and Smooch and Rose.

Teachers’ notes are available.