Archives

When The Fog Rolls In

When The Fog Rolls In

When The Fog Rolls In

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When The Fog Rolls In

Pam Fong

Greenwillow, 2024

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

9780063136540

On a clear day, when the sea and the horizon stretch endlessly around, the flock of puffins takes flight from their rocky island home – except for one, who is a little tentative and anxious.  But, when he has the courage to follow his mates, the fog rolls in and things become murkier and murkier until it is so thick, he stumbles and can’t find his way forward.  Perhaps it would be safer to stay just where he is, but when a walrus looms in front of him, he realises that that can be dangerous.  And so, he summons his brave that let him leave his home in the first place, and goes forward learning that “the closer you get, the more you see. And the more you see, the clearer the path becomes.” And eventually, the fog lifts and the world and the horizons spread in front of you again.

On the surface this is a story about a little puffin separated from his flack, lost, afraid and bewildered until he finds them again, but it has been deliberately written as an allegory for helping young ones navigate uncertainty, open their minds and finding their way back to a place of safety and certainty. It helps them understand that, at times, we all face feeling lost and unsure, having to make decisions and having faith that what we decide will lead us to clarity.  

While there are lots of stories that celebrate being happy and positive, and others that deal with anger and sadness, there are few that confront confusion and uneasiness in such a way that makes it easy to start conversations and explore those emotions so that the child not only understands that there can be a pathway through without becoming too anxious, but others feel the same way at times.

An exceptional addition to your mindfulness collection for little ones, while useful for teaching older students about allegories and learning to read between and beyond the lines to what the author is really saying – an essential skill in being a critical reader.   

Dog Squad: The Race

Dog Squad: The Race

Dog Squad: The Race

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dog Squad: The Race

Clara Vulliamy

HarperCollins, 2024

128pp., pbk., RRP $A11.99

9780008565428

Eva has always wanted to be a journalist, and, together with her friends Simone and Ash, the she produces  the Newshound newspaper for her school readers.  Their first big story came when a whippet followed her home – so thin that she called him Wafer – and Eva set out to discover its owner, and found out more than she bargained on. 

Now she wants to help Wafer makes some doggy friends and so she takes him to the local whippet races,  And again, there is more to the story than meets the eye when she realises that there is some cheating going on.  Along with Simone and Ash, she decides to investigate because this might be their next big story, but can they crack the case and is it safe to do so?

This is the second in this new series for young independent readers that has broad appeal for those who love animals, those who love mysteries and those who like to write.  The diversity of characters, their relationships and interests makes for an engaging read, but it is interesting that many reviewers have pointed out that Ash is non binary.  While it is important for kids to see themselves represented in stories, it also demonstrates that we still have some way to go before gender diversity is accepted without comment, in the same way that nationalities are.  As illustrated in As Bright as a Rainbowthere are many ways to be a kid, and my experience is that they accept each other regardless of looks, clothes, gender, religion, language or any other barriers.  It is the adults who impose the labels. But the more there is inclusivity featured in stories the easier it will be for those who may be “outside the norm”. In this interview, the author, herself, speaks about why she includes diverse characters in her stories as she recognises the need for such diversity to be normalised, and, unsurprisingly, it is  adults who feel they have to vilify her.

Regardless, this is an engaging series that is being enjoyed by many and they will look forward to The Show in April.

Dingley the Dancing Dinosaur

Dingley the Dancing Dinosaur

Dingley the Dancing Dinosaur

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dingley the Dancing Dinosaur

Karleigh White

Aleksandra Szmidt

Little Steps, 2023

32pp., pbk., RRP $A16.95

9781922833709

With his razor-sharp teeth, blistering roar and height, Dingley’s parents want him to be the next leader of the dinosaur pack, but all Dingley wants to do is dance.  But it seems a Tyrannosaurus Rex is not built for dancing – he always trips over his feet or bumps his head on low-hanging branches – and so he sets off to find his dancing groove.  However, after trying tap dancing with Trixy the triceratops, break-dancing with Benny the brachiosaurus, and the salsa with Sally the stegosaurus, Dingley decides that dancing is not for him and despondently, he heads for home.  And then he meets Bella the brachyceratops on her way home from ballet practice…

There have been many stories written for young readers about believing in yourself and finding your unique place in the world, but the premise of a dancing dinosaur is one that will reel in all those with a love of these creatures. As well as the characters and theme, it could be fun to explore the alliteration as they try to think of a name and dance style for their particular favourite dinosaur while others might want to learn more about Bella the brachyceratops , a species they may not be familiar with.  

And to top it all off, imagine the impact of a mural made by the students of the dancing dinosaurs talent show as they retell the story and add their own characters.  Fun!!!

 

The Battle

The Battle

The Battle

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Battle

Ashling Kwok

Cara King

EK Books, 2020

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

9781925820409

It is Edward’s first day at knight school and to protect himself from the battles he expects to face, he puts on his full suit of armour. Sitting in the back of the Great Hall surrounded by unfriendly creatures , he is mortified when the king asks him to tell the others about himself. Even though at home he likes to fight giants and ogres, here at knight school he seems to be surrounded by them and he is not so brave. And when one sits beside him on the bench as he starts to eat his lunch, things are r-e-a-l-l-y scary…

It is that time of the year again when the prospect of Big School is looming closer and closer and some of our little ones are getting really apprehensive. There is a mixture and nerves that can become overwhelming.. So stories like these that not only show that fears are shared but they can be overcome are welcome as they offer such reassurance. Cleverly illustrated showing the ogres and dragons as ordinary boys and girls and the concept of the physical armour holding him back in the same way that mental armour does, Edward comes to some new understandings and discovers this school-thing isn’t as frightening after all.

This is one to add to your collection to share to give an added dose of confidence and show that even the bravest can feel nervous. 

Proud Mouse

Proud Mouse

Proud Mouse

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Proud Mouse

Cara Menzel & Idina Menzel

Disney Publishing, 2023

48pp., hbk., RRP $29.99

9781368080996

Cara Lee is a proud mouse. She is proud of her big sister Dee. She is proud of her specially decorated journal. And now she’s proud to become what she’s always wanted to be: a student. But her first day of school is different than she imagined. Everyone keeps comparing her to Dee. But who is Cara Lee? 

Faced with an issue that many young children will encounter in the next few weeks as they start school and find themselves in the shadows of their brothers and sisters who have gone before,  this is a touching tale of a little mouse who has to learn who she is, rather than just being Dee’s sister.  Using her mother’s advice that often you see yourself more clearly if you stand alone, Cara Lee sets out to discover just who she is and what her unique talents are. 

 A sequel to Loud Mouse, in which Dee, herself finds her voice, this is one to share with little ones starting school to give them the confidence to shine in their own way, as well as showing those around them that being siblings doesn’t mean you are the same. 

Three Tasks for a Dragon

Three Tasks for a Dragon

Three Tasks for a Dragon

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Three Tasks for a Dragon

Eoin Colfer

P. J. Lynch

Walker Books, 2023

32pp., hbk., RRP $A32.99

9781529505825

After his father’s ‘accidental’ death at sea, his stepmother Queen Nimh and stepbrother Prince Delbayne invoke ancient Lagin law that only those who can summon the mysterious wolfhounds can become king, and Prince Lir is to be banished from his beloved homeland forever. The prince is a scholar not a warrior and acquiesces to his fate, but in an apparent act of generosity, Prince Delbayne pleads his stepbrother’s case and it is agreed that if Prince Lir can complete an ancient quest he will be able to return. 

Thus Prince Lir finds himself on a mission to rescue a young maiden being held captive by the dragon Lasvarg on his island, not realising that it is all part of a devious, malicious plan and dark magic concocted by his not-so-nice brother to ensure that Lir never returns to assume his place on the throne… But then, Delbayne does not realise that brains can overcome brawn… 

Created by two who have each been the Irish children’s laureate, this is a story reminiscent of the quests of old, drawing the reader into the fantasy of kings and queens and dragons and maidens needing to be rescued  with its twists and turns in the plot while its superb illustrations bring times gone by to life.  You can almost envisage this as a Lord of the Rings-esque movie, and while it has the traditional good versus evil as its underlying theme, because Prince Lir keeps his father’s words “The trick to it… is to work with what is around you,” it has a refreshing new perspective because rather than trying to trick the dragon and kill it to save Cethlenn, Lir uses his brains to cure the dragon’s ailments caused by the mould in his damp cave, mend his broken wing, and restore his fire-breathing powers,

, forming a partnership that eventually outwits and outlasts Nimh, Delbayne and even Lagin itself..

This is an illustrated novella that would make an ideal introduction to this genre as a read-aloud merging the traditional elements and feel of the classic quest with more modern themes.  

 

Silver Linings

Silver Linings

Silver Linings

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Silver Linings

Katrina Nannestad

ABC Books, 2023

304pp., hbk., RRP $A19.99

9780733342257

Rural New South Wales in 1952 – a new monarch is about to be crowned and for five-year-old Nettie Sweeney life is almost perfect.  She has a dad, three big sisters, a farm full of cows and a cat called Mittens, can read and write and even does spelling with Second Class because she is so clever.  But Nettie longs for a mother.  Her own passed away when she was born (leaving her with all sorts of misconceptions about babies and storks) and she would love to have one who has a gentle touch, sparkles in her eyes and lots of love and hugs to give.  But instead she has cranky Aunty Edith who is quick with her hands and even quicker with her tongue as she clings to the old ways.  

When Dad marries Alice, all Nettie’s dreams come true and the Sweeney home overflows with laughter, love and a new philosophy of looking for the silver linings in everything rather than the dark clouds.  When her baby brother. Billy, is born he becomes  the light of Nettie’s life and her world is perfect.  Until it isn’t…

Those who are familiar with five-year-olds, and even those who aren’t , will laugh out loud all through the beginning of this book as we see life through the unfiltered lens of Nettie and her doll Fancy Nancy.  And they will empathise with the unsophisticated five-year-old who has to handle the family tragedy in her own way because she just isn’t mature enough to know of any other. Her naivety endears her from the beginning and her resilience and courage as events play out inspire. While the big issues of PTSD, loss and depression that are confronted could be anywhere, anytime,  by placing them in the early 50s Nannestad distances them enough from the reader’s here and now for them to be acknowledged but not necessarily absorbed. And for those of us old enough to know better, how will we ever think of Queen Elizabeth II as anything but “the mongoose of the British Umpire” again? 

It’s a rare author who can write a story for young children in a way that has adult readers turning page after page because there has to be a solution, and Nannestad is one of those.  As with The Girl who brought Mischief, this one had me reading past my bedtime because I was so enamoured of Nettie and needed to know there was a happy ending.     

This is one for independent readers who like real-life stories (it is based on family happenings) and if you are preparing a list of books for Christmas stockings, this should be on it.         

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. 

  

Ruby’s Repair Cafe

Ruby's Repair Cafe

Ruby’s Repair Café

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ruby’s Repair Café

Michelle Worthington

Zoe Bennett

New Frontier, 2023

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

9781922326805

If you broke something, tore something or just needed something to go again, then you (and everyone else in town) went to The Repair Café and Ruby would mend it for you.  It was the busiest shop in town, long before the phrase “reduce, reuse and recycle” was mentioned.  That was until the new department store opened next door and suddenly everyone wanted new and shiny and, instead of going to Ruby’s, the local tip filled with ditched and discarded stuff.  Sadly Ruby’s Repair Café  had to close down even though the stink from the tip wafted over the town and the piles pf garbage threatened to bury it! 

But one night a huge storm sweeps through the town causing immense damage – even though it destroys so much, can it be the thing that saves it?

This is a captivating and original  story that not only focuses on the environmental message but also has a touch of David and Goliath about it as the big chain store swallows up small business. a story playing out in rural towns like mine almost every week.  (We’ve just seen our beloved pet shop close its doors because of one of the arrival of one of the chains.)  So, as well as consolidating the message about our impact on the planet through our incessant demands for new and shiny, it has the potential to introduce students to that old biblical story and start them thinking about shopping locally and supporting all those mum-and-dad businesses in their neighbourhood. Just as they are aware of their environmental choices, can they also be more-informed consumers?  Is price necessarily the most important factor? 

Young children will appreciate the solution of how both Mr Bigg and Ruby resolve their dilemma but they might also start to look at their own habits, particularly as Christmas draws near and there is going to be another wave of stuff to swamp them.  

Under the Red Shawl

Under the Red Shawl

Under the Red Shawl

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Under the Red Shawl

Vikki Conley

Martina Heiduczek

New Frontier, 2023

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

9781922326829

On the day that Salim was born everyone was leaving town, looking for a safer place, and so Mama wrapped him tightly in her red shawl and, with a few precious things packed onto the donkey, joined the exodus…

Based on many stories told by children in Africa and the Middle East to the author during her work with World Vision, sadly this is more than just Salim’s story and as we watched the families fleeing Gaza, it is one that is common and continuous.  While the reasons for leaving may differ, nevertheless there are several constants regardless of the people involved – there is the love of parents for their children that protects the little ones regardless of the hardships that the adults might encounter and endure; the friendliness of strangers and the willingness to open their doors; and the belief that there is a better, safer place somewhere.

So while this is Salim’s story of a journey, it is also the story of so many – including that of many of our students.  

While there will be those with anxiety about starting a new school in the new year, or moving to another town and having to leave and then build friendships, that can be put onto perspective somewhat by imagining what it would be like to have to leave and have no idea where you’re going or what you might face.  How do you keep your dreams alive?

As with Amira’s Suitcase, Vikki Conley has brought the reality of the world of the refugee child right into the realm of more fortunate children, but has tempered it with layers of love and friendship and hope for they are the elements that connect us regardless of belief or circumstance.