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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.  

The Ballad of Melodie Rose

The Ballad of Melodie Rose

The Ballad of Melodie Rose

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Ballad of Melodie Rose

Kate Gordon

UQP, 2021

224pp., pbk., RRP $A14.99

9780702263217

When Melodie Rose is abandoned on the doorstep of Direleafe Hall with just a note pinned to her coat, she realises she must be a ghost. Her memories have vanished and her past is dim, but strangely, she is not sad. With the three other ghostly girls Florence, Lucy and Nell who also haunt the school and Hollowbeak, the gloomy crow on her shoulder, Melodie has never felt more at peace. Finally, she has a place to call home.

But just as she is finding her place and coming to terms with the past, a Lady in White arrives with plans to flatten the beloved school  Melodie Rose must act fast to save all she holds dear. But what can one powerless ghost do? How can her new friends and Hollowbeak help? 

This is the second in this series for younger independent readers, a companion to The Heartsong of Wonder Quinna CBCA 2021 Notable, yet, at the same time, it is a stand-alone story. Like its predecessor, it is a gentle ghost story, sensitive and poignant and beautifully written with a focus on being true to oneself, and having the courage to do what you know must be done even if it is scary. 

Again Gordon has selected vocabulary and painted pictures superbly so  that the story becomes alive in the mind, even for those who are only just venturing into this genre. Rather than being scary, it celebrates kindness, love and friendship, and grief becomes just another one of the normal human emotions. For those who are in its midst, there is understanding and hope embedded in Melodie’s continued optimism and strength to keep on trying.  The use of the word “ballad” in the title is entirely appropriate.

One to recommend for those who want something that wraps around them.

 

Bear and Rat

Bear and Rat

Bear and Rat

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bear and Rat

Christopher Cheng

Stephen Michael King

Puffin, 2020

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

9781760896287

Bear and Rat are the very best of friends, there for each other no matter what.  But even though Bear has proven his devotion to his friend, Rat is feeling concerned about the future.

“Bear,” said Rat, “I’ve been wondering. Will we always hold hands like this, even when we are old and wrinkly…and tottering up this hill?”

“Of course we will,” said Bear. “As long as you hold mine when my fur turns grey and starts to fall out.”

But something is clearly troubling Rat because despite all Bear’s reassurance she still feels unsettled and unsure, until she finally asks, “What if I have to leave and go somewhere you can’t come?” And Bear offers her the perfect answer, one that comforts and assures her that no matter what, they will be together one way or another forever.

This has been one of the most difficult books for me to read and review because even though it is the most delicate love story, it is based on a real story and sadly, because the author and his wife have been friends of mine for years, I knew its truth and its outcome.  Also, having experienced my own Bear and Rat episodes twice in 18 months, it was all the more poignant, and to be honest, it took me some time to put on my big girl pants and read it. 

But often our children need the sort of reassurance that Rat does – that regardless of what they do or say or experience, someone will be there for them through everything because real love is unconditional and enduring. Chris has captured this special, incredible relationship perfectly because he has lived it and Stephen’s illustrations with their gentle palette and lines are the perfect accompaniment, suggesting he too, knows what it is to love in this way.  And as a reader, with tissues in hand, so do I. 

A remarkable picture book that shows that regardless of what else we might have, to have that sort of love of another is everything.  

The Heartsong of Wonder Quinn

The Heartsong of Wonder Quinn

The Heartsong of Wonder Quinn

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Heartsong of Wonder Quinn

Kate Gordon

UQP, 2020

184pp., pbk., RRP $A14.99

9780702262821

Lonely orphan Wonder Quinn lives in the attic of Direleafe Hall with only a gloomy crow for company. Every year she hopes to make a true friend and every year her heart breaks when she doesn’t.

But when a spirited new student, Mabel Clattersham, befriends her in class, Wonder’s dreams seem to be coming true. As the girls grow closer, Wonder discovers her friend has a list of strange wishes: Throw a pie, leap into the sky, break someone’s heart…

What is Mabel’s big secret? Can Wonder protect her heart from being broken all over again?

This is a beautifully written ghost story with a difference.  Rather than being scary, this is a gentle ghost who craves a friend and becomes one, celebrating friendship, love, acceptance and belonging while embracing grief as a natural emotion that we all experience. This is a sensitive story, and despite its larger font, illustrations and short chapters, probably more suited to more mature readers who are able to read between the lines as well as along them.  The reader is not told that Wonder is a ghost, although there are clues from the get-go that perhaps she is not an ordinary schoolgirl for the astute reader to pick up – that fact that she is watching the girls arrive at school from her perch on the roof yet is unseen and undetected by either the students or the staff is one such indicator. It is also what I would have told my students is a tissue book – be prepared to shed some tears.

Normally, this is not my preferred genre but its evocative title, superb selection of vocabulary and imagery, its sensitivity and its uniqueness kept me engaged till the end.  One to look for and put into the hands of just the right reader.

 

 

Finding François

Finding François

Finding François

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Finding François

Gus Gordon

Puffin, 2020

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

9780143794141

Alice Bonnet lived with her grandmother on a hill in the middle of town and together they made a very good team as they did all sorts of things together, particularly cooking. But while Alice adored her grandmother and loved their time together, especially Fridays, there were times when she really longed for someone of her own size to talk to.  And so one day she wrote a message, put it in a bottle and threw it in the river…

Set in France, with all sorts of French things to capture the reader embedded in the illustrations, this is a gentle, charming story of the power of healing that a special friendship can bring, particularly when dark clouds seem to hang around forever and the sun is hiding. Both Alice and Francois need each other because each is lonely and by using the randomness of messages in a bottle finding each other, and continuing to do so, illustrates the concept that we never know just when and where we find a special someone that we will connect with for the long term. 

Adding to the charm of the story are the anthropomorphic characters who are completely unaware of their differences, and Gordon’s clever insertion of French elements that encourage the reader to use the illustrations to discover their meaning. 

Every time you read this book, there is another layer to discover and because it’s theme is one that will resonate with readers of all ages, it is one that will be read over and over again.

 

Azaria: A True History

Azaria: A True History

Azaria: A True History

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Azaria: A True History

Maree Coote

Melbournestyle Books, 2020

44pp., hbk., RRP $A29.99

9780648568407

On a cool August night 40 years ago, in the shadow of Uluru, a mother laid her baby to sleep in a tent while she and her husband and her other two children sat under the stars outside – and unknowingly began a scandal that even today, still divides opinion. For that baby was Azaria Chamberlain and before the night was over, a story that made world headlines had begun.  Because when the mother heard a rustling in the tent she turned and saw a dingo making off with the baby and called out… sparking one of the most controversial episodes in modern Australian history.

For despite the baby’s jumpsuit being found by the Anangu trackers the very next day, people had not heard of a dingo taking a baby before and so the rumours and gossip started. Fuelled by media reports of a baby with an unconventional name, a family from a different religion and a mother in such deep grief she couldn’t cry, everyone had an opinion and so the story of Azaria Chamberlain captured the world’s imagination.  It would be 32 years before the truth was known and even then, many didn’t believe it. Still don’t.

At first when I received this book I wondered why this story would need to be known by our young readers, many of whom would have parents too young to remember the events. But as I read it it became clear – just as Uluru is “ten times bigger underground than it is above”, the message that we must look further and deeper for the truth than the surface headlines is very powerful, particularly in these days of fake news and deliberate manipulation and misinterpretation of facts. Azaria’s story, widely identified as Australia’s first modern trial-by-media, is just the vehicle that carries the more important concept that our older students need to bring to their research.  Look at sources for purpose, perspective, accuracy and  authority before accepting them  and relying on them as truth; that everyone brings something to a situation depending on their beliefs, values, attitudes and motives and that the truth can soon be lost under a myriad of layers.

The story of Azaria became “like a fairytale from long ago , with a wolf in the forest, a cruel king and angry townsfolk” and just like fairytales, a kernel of truth gets overlaid with embellishments and changes with every new teller. However in this beautifully illustrated picture book for older readers who now, more than ever, need to learn about the need to be critical thinkers and to not take things on face value Coote has demonstrated the evidence of every character in a story having its own perspective – even the dingo, often now maligned and vilified by humans, was just doing what dingoes do.

For those of you wanting to demonstrate why our students need to walk the extra mile, this would be the perfect introduction. 

 

 

 

Tree: A Gentle Story of Love and Loss

Tree: A Gentle Story of Love and Loss

Tree: A Gentle Story of Love and Loss

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tree: A Gentle Story of Love and Loss

Lynn Jenkins

Kirrili Lonergan

EK Books, 2020

32pp., pbk., RRP $A19.99

9781925820126

Loppy the LAC  loves the feeling of sanctuary and serenity that the old tree in the park gives him whenever he is feeling anxious.  But when it starts to lose its leaves long before it is supposed to, his friend Curly points out that Tree’s days are numbered.  This makes Loppy very unsettled – how will he calm himself if it dies and disappears? But death is an inevitable conclusion to living and Loppy has to learn and accept that ‘his’ tree will soon be gone.

This is the fifth book in the  ‘Lessons of a LAC’ series, this one created to help children accept loss and process grief. Given the summer holidays that many of our students have experienced where all that was familiar is now blackened and gone, this is an important book to add to your mindfulness collection and share with the children.  While building a seat with a special photo might not be the option for them, nevertheless there are ways we can commemorate things that are important to us so that peace and connection return.  Because it might be in a different way for each person, it’s also an opportunity to acknowledge that we each value different things and how and when we remember this is unique to the individual.  There is no right way or wrong way – just different.

The author is a clinical psychologist whose specialty is early intervention in the social and emotional development of children and the previous books in this series have demonstrated that her words are wise and her stories resonate with their audience. 

The Tiny Star

The Tiny Star

The Tiny Star

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Tiny Star

Mem Fox

Freya Blackwood

Puffin, 2019

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

9780670078127

Once upon a time, although this happens all the time, a tiny star fell to earth . . . and turned into a baby!  The people who found it loved it immediately…

And as the tiny star grew and flourished others loved it too, and as it grew up to be caring and kind and loving and wise, it was adored in return.  The older it grew the more it was loved even though it was gradually getting smaller and smaller, and even when it was so small it disappeared, the love was immense and palpable. Hearts were broken.  Until one day it appeared again, and at last the hearts began to mend.

Anyone who has ever had the privilege to hear Mem Fox read aloud will hear her voice reading this to you, wrapping itself around you like a snuggly quilt and making you see yourself as that tiny star, or at least hoping that this is your life story too.   Tender, gentle, charming it explores the journey of a life begun and ended in love and accompanied, surprisingly for the first time by Freya Blackwood‘s stunning artistry, it is just perfect for helping little people understand that while we all have a physical beginning and end, we live on in the memories and hearts of those whom we touch along the way. 

As a young teacher I was lucky enough to hear Mem speak a number of times, especially about the importance of the bedtime story and how it “draws the curtains on the day” – a phrase I have repeated often.  The Tiny Star is the perfect book to draw the curtains on a life, to help a young child understand the loss of a loved grandparent or great-grandparent and to look each night to the stars to spot the new one shining down on them.  I wish I’d had it five years ago to help Miss Then-8 and Miss Then-3 to cope with the passing of their beloved Great Gran.

This is one for families to share, to seek comfort and to remember the love and the laughs in a warm story that just embraces you.

For those of you who haven’t heard Mem read aloud, listen here – it will stay with you for a very long time. For those of you who want to know more, fellow TL Sue Warren has a Q&A with Mem here.

The Immortal Jellyfish

The Immortal Jellyfish

The Immortal Jellyfish

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Immortal Jellyfish

Sang Miao

Flying Eye Books, 2019 

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

9781911171799

Grandpa is explaining about the immortal jellyfish to his grandson, a creature that begins its life again when it is about to die.  When the boy asks his grandfather if humans are immortal, he is told that there are other ways humans can live on but sadly the old man dies before he can explain.  While the boy is devastated, one night his grandpa appears in a dream and takes him on a journey to the Life Transfer City where those that have died can choose a new identity.  But before he discovers his grandfather’s choice he is taken back to the real world on the back of a beautiful white bird…. Will he ever recognise his grandfather again?

At first glance, this seems a rather morbid book with its dark palette, but it really is a most beautiful way to help young children deal with the passing of a loved one as sadly, so many have to. Helping them understand that those who die live on in our memories and thoughts, the things we see, do and smell or taste, even when they are no longer physically here is a way that we can help with the grieving process, particularly if there is no religious belief of an afterlife. It offers a way for the bereaved child to think about those memories and what their loved one might choose to be, as well as being able to share those thoughts rather than not talk at all, which is so often the case. Grown-ups often want to protect little ones by not talking, but often that’s just what the child needs to do. 

Sensitive and heart-warming, but not sickly-sentimental, this is something special for one of the most difficult parts of growing up. 

The Runaways

The Runaways

The Runaways

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Runaways

Ulf Stark

Kitty Crowther

Gecko Press, 2019

144pp., pbk., RRP $A18.99

9781776572342

Grandpa is stuck in hospital with a broken leg and a heart that is coming to the end of its working life.  Used to being an engineer on the great ships of the seas,  being confined to a bed is making him cranky and cantankerous and he swears at everyone, continually pushes the alarm buzzes because he is bored and complains about the food.  “Not even the water tastes any good.” Only young Gottfried, his grandson, finds pleasure in visiting him and understands the reason for his moods.

And so he hatches a plan to get Grandad out of there, on one last adventure…

This is a heart-warming family story that captures the frustration of the elderly who know their end is coming and want to be anywhere but in a hospital as well as the ideality of youth whose imaginations are not constrained by the realities of what is safest – they think of ‘what if” and deal with ‘what now ‘ and ‘what next’ if and when it arises. Gottfried’s plan to give his grandfather one last simple pleasure has to be complex and he does worry about whether sometimes it’s OK to lie and the consequences, but his love for Grandpa is stronger than any obstacles.

Written by a renowned Swedish author and set in Stockholm, this is, nevertheless, a universal story, one that many of us with ageing parents and grandparents will relate to. The unusual illustrations done with coloured pencil bring colour into what is otherwise a drab life for Grandpa but Gottfried’s love for him shines through, making it an uplifting story about how both deal with end-of-life issues. Something special.