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The Rabbit’s Magician

The Rabbit’s Magician

The Rabbit’s Magician

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Rabbit’s Magician 

Shae Millward

Andy Fackrell

Ford Street, 2022

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

9781922696083

When Koala, Echidna and Quokka each invite the newcomer rabbit to play with them, Rabbit continues to gaze at the moon and politely declines explaining that he is waiting. When Owl asks what Rabbit is waiting for,  Rabbit explains that he is waiting for his magician friend The Great Albertino who used to perform all sorts of magic tricks, and while he would practise new tricks for days at a time to perfect them, he also told Rabbit that everything was just an illusion, a trick of the eye. 

But this time, when Albertine disappeared into his room he didn’t return and now Rabbit is waiting… 

It is up to Owl to explain the concept of death to Rabbit but to show him that even though Albertino might not return in the way Rabbit expects, nevertheless he is always there.

Given the focus on dying these last few days with the death and funeral of Queen Elizabeth II, and today’s National Day of Mourning, this is a gentle and exquisite way to help our youngest understand the concept for whom it may well have sparked many questions.   It was mentioned during broadcasts that 17 000 people had died in the UK alone, since Her Majesty’s death, and so this is something that our children face in their families even though it is not on such a grand scale, something that can be bewildering, can be guilt-inducing, and definitely something that stirs unknown emotions. 

To be able to answer the questions through such a sensitive, beautifully illustrated story,  will be welcomed by both teachers and parents at this time and help our little ones understand and accept things just that little bit better.   

 

The calling of Jackdaw Hollow

The calling of Jackdaw Hollow

The Calling of Jackdaw Hollow

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Calling of Jackdaw Hollow

Kate Gordon

UQP, 2022

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

9780702263484

When Jackdaw Crow is found underneath an apple tree, orphaned as a tiny baby by a lightning strike, he is taken to Direleafe Hall, where its principal Mrs Beekman, raises him as her own son.  But for all that he is loved and cherished, Jackdaw, as the only boy in that school for girls,  never feels quite content as he feels there is something missing in his life, comfortable though it is.  

Then he overhears a conversation between two of the kitchen girls, one saying that he was responsible for the death of his parents for if he hadn’t been such a crier, they would never have taken him outside to see the storm that killed them; but it is the words of Angharad that ‘clung to his soul’ – “How can a baby, brand new and pure, be blamed for anything? A baby ain’t done nothing yet. A baby has no dreams or calling…” 

And so he sets out to find his calling, the reason he was spared when his parents weren’t.  But when he befriends Angeline, a wildling girl who knows her destiny lies with the circus, he ignores the wisdom of the ghosts of Nell, Florence and Lucy and tries to save her from the brutal Mrs Bristleroad, even though Angeline is determined to save herself – that is her calling- he goes too far and loses sight of what’s most important.

This is the third  in this intriguing trilogy which includes The Heartsong of Wonder Quinn and The Ballad of Melodie Rose both of which also incorporate the themes of lost, lonely souls seeking friendships, struggling with who they are and their reason for being but learning to remain true to themselves regardless, (familiar themes for the readers who face the same issues), but whether it is the beginning or the end of the sequence depends on how you interpret the powerful epilogue which draws the circle together. 

As with its companions, Gordon’s evocative language and phrasing draws the reader in to this other-worldly experience, even those like me who are not particular fans of this genre, and there is much wisdom and food for thought between and beyond the lines, as well as along them.  I loved Wonder Quinn so much that I kept it and now I have all three to pass on to both Miss Almost 16 and Miss Just 11 because I think that each of them, despite being different in both age and taste, will thoroughly enjoy them.  Just as it is a timeless piece of writing, so it is a timeless read.  

Gangsta Granny Strikes Again!

Gangsta Granny Strikes Again!

Gangsta Granny Strikes Again!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Gangsta Granny Strikes Again!

David Walliams

Tony Ross

HarperCollins, 2022

368pp., pbk., RRP $A22.99

9780008530259

Ten years ago, we first met 11-year-old Ben in Gangsta Granny  who was bored beyond belief when he was made to stay with his grandmother because he thought she was the boringest grandma ever: all she wanted to do was to play Scrabble, and eat cabbage soup. But there are two things Ben didn’t know about his grandma.

1) She was once an international jewel thief known as The Black Cat.

2) All her life, she had been plotting to steal the Crown Jewels, and now she needed Ben’s help…

Now, in this long-awaited sequel, it is a year since Ben lost his Granny and his days as an international jewel thief are over, only the memories live on and he is now dreaming of becoming a plumber. But then something inexplicable happens. World-famous treasures are stolen in the dead of night and the clues point to none other than The Black Cat? But that’s impossible…?

With a bevy of characters from the original as well as some new ones, ranging from a suspicious librarian (who is a relative of Mr Parker, the leader of the neighbourhood watch group who all think that Ben is connected to the robberies) to the Queen (who needs no introduction), Walliams has created his first ever sequel which will not only embrace a new generation of readers, but delight those who remember and loved the original.  There is a great message that reminds us that just because somebody has died, it doesn’t mean that they’ve disappeared from your life and your heart. There are all sorts of settings and signs that recall happy times shared and memories are recalled. Despite being 368 pages, it is perfect for young readers as it is liberally illustrated and the typical Walliams’ humour carries the story along at a fast clip.  Maps and diagrams help the reader understand the setting and the circumstances and all in all, this is a perfect read for the upcoming holidays… 

Daddy’s Rainbow

Daddy's Rainbow

Daddy’s Rainbow

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Daddy’s Rainbow

Lucy Rowland

Becky Cameron

Bloomsbury, 2022

32pp., pbk., RRP $A12.99

9781526615787

Erin’s daddy sees the colour in everything. Even on the greyest days, they put on their wellies and go splashing in puddles because, Daddy says, We can’t see rainbows without rain!’

But what happens when the greyest day of all comes, and Daddy isn’t there any more? Can Erin learn to find colour in the world again?

Even though we wish it didn’t happen, there are a number of our students who are going to suffer profound  loss during their time with us, and are going to have to move through their grief.  This is a moving , poignant story that might help them understand that the grey days are normal an natural but, in time, they too will begin to see rainbows again.  But it takes time… 

Saving the Butterfly

Saving the Butterfly

Saving the Butterfly

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Saving the Butterfly

Helen Cooper

Gill Smith

Walker, 2022

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

9781406397208

Older sister and younger brother have fled their homeland, the only two to survive the perilous boat trip to safer waters, where helping hands gave them sanctuary. And even though they had nothing from before, except each other, older sister said they were lucky because they could have lost so much more. 

But while younger brother didn’t think about that for long and began to make new friends and learn new things, older sister dwelt in the past – she felt she shouldn’t forget and gradually a shadow fell over her mind, as dark and gloomy as their meagre surrounds.  Until one day, younger brother captures a butterfly and brings it home. “Set it free!” cries the older sister, but in its panic it bashes into the walls… Eventually it tires and settles on her hand and doesn’t leave, as though it senses her pain.  Older sister knows what she must do but does she have the courage…

This is a poignant story, sadly a repeat of so many times when people have had to flee their homes, and even today, it is happening again… It reminds us that there is so much more to starting again than the relief of reaching a safe harbour.  Matching the lyrical text are stunning illustrations whose palette mirrors the mood perfectly, contrasting the darkness of older sister’s thoughts and feelings with the hope offered by the bright butterfly.

With so many of our students having found themselves in the predicament of both older sister and younger brother, this is an insight into that long period of adjustment, the grief and fear that must be worked through, and the changes that must be made so we can be more sensitive to the needs of these children.  It is so much more than just a story about refugees. 

Grandad’s Camper

Grandad's Camper

Grandad’s Camper

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Grandad’s Camper

Harry Woodgate

Andersen Press , 2022 

32pp., pbk., RRP $A16.99

 9781783449927

There’s nothing she loves more than to visit her Grandad, snuggle up on the sofa and listen as he tells all about the amazing places he and Gramps would explore in their camper.  But these days, Grandad’s camper van is hidden away in the garage – now Gramps isn’t around any more, the adventures they shared travelling in it just wouldn’t be the same. As she listens to his wonderful stories, Grandad’s granddaughter has an idea to cheer him up…

This is a delightful story of a little girl’s relationship with her grandfather, a bond that those of us who have been fortunate to experience it never forget.  But this story has a twist because there is no grandma – rather there is Gramps, her grandfather’s much loved partner. And while it is a reminder that there are many definitions and designs of “family” – the rainbow flag on the camper on the cover is an indicator- it is the little girl’s complete acceptance of the situation that is heart-warming because it shows we have come a long way, albeit there is still a way to go.  So while gender diversity is not the obvious in-your-face focus of the story, it is the memories that are so inextricably bound together by Grandad’s and Gramps’ relationship that are at its heart. 

Family diversity is so widespread and little ones need to see theirs in stories, so this is another opportunity to share and celebrate. 

An Eagle in the Snow

An Eagle in the Snow

An Eagle in the Snow

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

An Eagle in the Snow

Michael Morpurgo

Michael Foreman

HarperCollins, 2016

272pp., pbk., RRP $A14.99

780008134174

November, 1940. Coventry has been bombed by the Germans and Barney and his mother have been left with nothing so they are on the train to London on their way to family and shelter in Cornwall.   But just as a neatly-dressed stranger enters their compartment, a lone Messerschmitt 109 begins strafing the train.  The engine driver makes a desperate dash to an upcoming tunnel, eventually stopping the train safely inside. 

But Barney is terrified of darkness and with no lights he can feel his panic rising.  The stranger has a box of matches but there are just five in it, and so, to distract Barney he lights one and begins to tell him a story…

There are two taglines on the front cover of this book, the first being “One moment that could have saved the world from war.”  And that is the story that the stranger tells Barney and his Ma.  An extraordinary tale based on the true story of Henry James Tandey, VC, DCM, MM, the most highly decorated private in the British Army in World War I, Morpurgo wrote the story after hearing of Tandey’s exploits and, like most of his stories, was compelled to  write it so that the unimaginable courage shown by those who have gone before becomes real for those of us who come after.

Which leads to the second tagline, this one from Jackie French- “Brilliant. Historical fiction at its most magnificent.” Because if there is an historical fiction novel with either Jackie French’s or Michael Morpurgo’s name on it then you know that not only are you in for a meticulously researched, intriguing read but that you will be changed for having read. And so it is  with this story.  Tagged as “the man who could have stopped World War II” Tandey’s story is woven into a narrative that reaches deep into the soul of anyone with direct ties to the carnage of the 39-45 conflict and makes them wonder how their own life might have been different if their father/uncle/brother/friend had not had to spend their youth in the hell that was Europe at the time. 

But this is not a facts-and-figures biography, although there is a brief synopsis of Tandey’s life included as a postscript – Morpurgo has taken the facts as they are known and woven them into a narrative that is as compelling for the reader as it is for Barney and his Ma.  Is there ever a time when doing the right thing could be the worst mistake you ever made?

This is a story for independent readers who enjoy real historical fiction (as opposed to a story set in another time) and who are ready to be entertained and educated at the same time.  It’s an easy read technically, but I, for one, wanted to know more and so new avenues have been opened for me to explore.  Not the least of which is once again, considering how my dad’s experiences as a POW in Stalag VIIIB and being force-marched across Poland as part of the German’s human shield shaped him and consequently, me.  

Pax, Journey Home

Pax, Journey Home

Pax, Journey Home

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pax, Journey Home

Sara Pennypacker

Jon Klassen

HarperCollins, 2021

256pp., hbk., RRP $A19.99

9780008470289

A year has passed since Peter and Pax have seen each other, since the separation of a once inseparable pair.

The war is over but the land has been left desecrated and deserted as the water supplies have been poisoned by heavy metals. Peter’s father has died in questionable circumstances and although Peter is back living with Vola, and his grandfather visits regularly, he believes that everything he loves he hurts and they leave him so he is determined to shut the world out and live alone.  After all, he is nearly 14.  

And so, the boy-man sets out on a journey to reclaim his old home; to join the Water Warriors, a band of people painstakingly cleaning up the polluted waterways to restore life -flora, fauna and human – to it;  and to keep the world at arm’s length and out of his heart forever. That way he can keep those he might love, safe. But is that possible?  He certainly didn’t count on meeting Jade, let alone her insight and wisdom. 

Meanwhile, Pax has adapted to the wild he did not seek; and has become father to a litter of kits, one of whom is an inquisitive, feisty female whom he must protect at all costs, particularly after she drinks deeply of the contaminated water. And as they continue their long journey home, Pax continually picks up the scent of the boy who abandoned him…

This is one of those stories that stays with you long after you reluctantly turn the final page, not just because of the power of the surface story but because the layers and  currents that run through it,just like those of the river that is at its heart – the river that put Peter back into old territory and provides Pax with safe passage from humans and predators. Although Pennypacker believed that she would not write another novel after Pax, clearly deep within her she knew there was more of this story to be told and this is the compelling sequel, one that kept me up well past my bedtime as I immersed myself in it, wanting to finish but knowing that when I did I would be left with that feeling that comes when an absorbing plot and great writing come together.

If you have mature, independent readers who can appreciate the nuances and parallels of what is between and beyond the words  then this is the duo for them.  Less sophisticated readers will enjoy the story for what it is, but it is those who are able to reach down to the deeper waters below the surface who will most appreciate it. 

Outstanding. 

 

Pax

Pax

Pax

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pax

Sara Pennepacker

Jon Klassen

HarperCollins, 2017

298pp., pbk., RRP $A14.99

9780008158286

War is coming and Peter’s father is answering the call to arms. But first he must deliver Peter to his grandfather’s care 300 miles away and before that, they must return the fox that has been Peter’s pet since it was a kit to the wild.

Pax and Peter have been inseparable since Peter found him, his mother killed by a car (as was Peter’s and their friendship has helped him come to terms with his anger and grief as his father dealt with his) and  his siblings having starved to death, so to abandon Pax to the wild  is heart-breaking.  But while Peter sort of understands why, Pax is bewildered when the car roars off while he is searching for a beloved toy Peter has thrown…

And so begins one of the most heart-warming, heart-wrenching stories of the love between human and animal that I’ve read for a long time. Told in alternating chapters between them, we follow Pax’s gradual adaptation to his new surroundings as he slowly comes to accept that Peter is not coming back, at the same time as we follow Peter’s journey back from his grandfather’s home determined to find him and reunite.  Neither feels whole without the other.  The author worked closely with an expert in fox behaviour, and as well as celebrating that limitless affinity that a child can have with an animal, tame or wild, she uses the two-voice perspective to explore and explain the issues in the story.

This is one for independent readers, or even a class read-aloud, with much to consider and discuss.  At the end of it, Pennepacker was not going to write another novel but eventually she did.  That book is  a sequel to this one – Pax: the Journey Home  – and it was receiving that to review that had me requesting Pax.  I am so glad I did. 

 

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.