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The Boy in the Big Blue Glasses

The Boy in the Big Blue Glasses

The Boy in the Big Blue Glasses

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Boy in the Big Blue Glasses

Susanne Gervay

Marjorie Crosby-Fairall

EK Books, 2019

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

9781925335996

Superhero Sam has had to get glasses – big blue ones – but he doesn’t like them. They make his ears hurt and even though, his well-meaning parents and  grandparents and even his teacher say he looks handsome in them, he hates that.  It’s as though it’s all about his glasses and he, himself, is invisible. They make such a fuss about this new superhero, it’s as though they’ve forgotten the old superhero he was before.  

His best friend George still knows him and plays with him though, but then the day comes when George is not at school and the other children start to make fun of him…

Every now and then you pick up a story that really resonates with you and Sam was me 60+ years ago, my son 40 years ago and my granddaughter seven years ago.  Each of us had to go through the trauma of appearing in public wearing glasses, and despite the well-intended comments of others, it’s tricky to know who you are when you don’t recognise yourself in the mirror but you know you are still you inside.

Sam is just one of hundreds of other kids who face this situation, and author Susanne Gervay is well-known for taking those everyday but confronting situations and putting them into the spotlight so the extraordinary becomes ordinary, and inspiring hope for happiness ahead.  No one likes to be different when they are little and wearing glasses seems like a huge placard that tells others you are not 100% perfect and that somehow you are less than the other children in your class.  Yet inside you know you are just the same person you were the day before when you didn’t have glasses.

Superbly and sensitively illustrated, this is a book that not only belongs in any collection for young readers and which should be actively promoted because so many children will see it as a mirror and learn to love reading even more as they read about themselves. Others might see it as a window and begin to understand how self-conscious Sam and others feel and how they can be more empathetic, rather than unkind like the children in the story who call Sam “googly-eyes” and “pufferfish”. It might even be an opportunity to  explore other “disabilities” and the sorts of ways that science and technology can now assist in overcoming them comparing the advances to the days when no such help was available and life became a misery. 

Excellent, down-to-earth, and one for everyone, glasses or not!

Unicorn!

Unicorn!

Unicorn!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Unicorn!

Maggie Hutchings

Cheryl Orsini

Affirm Press, 2018 

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

9781925712506

Luka makes the world light up
Like a shooting star on a dark night.

But when Luka gets really sick and makes a wish for a unicorn, it is not so easy for her best friend to keep her promise of making it come true.  Even though she did lots of research about where to find one and how to catch it when she did, she couldn’t find the information she needed.  So she drew a picture of one but that didn’t satisfy Luka as she lay in her hospital bed. And neither did dressing up in a onesie.  Even borrowing a pony and putting a cardboard horn on it did not make a difference.  But sometimes every minute spent wishing and hoping and determined to keep a promise can pay off…

Unicorns and little girls currently go together like fish and chips – there is an inexorable pull between them – and so to discover a picture book that features them is all that will be needed to get your young readers clamouring for this one.  The double bonus is that it is a quality story that is about friendship and the lengths we go to for those we love which is accompanied  by exquisite illustrations.  And the ending is perfect – even I looked under my bed!

 

Lenny’s Book of Everything

Lenny's Book of Everything

Lenny’s Book of Everything

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lenny’s Book of Everything

Karen Foxlee

Allen & Unwin, 2018

352pp., pbk., RRP $A19.99

9781760528706

On July 26, 1969, six days after man walked on the moon, Cindy Spink caught the Number 28 bus to the hospital where she gave birth to Davey, a brother for three-year-old Lenny.  Right from the start she had a ‘dark heart feeling -as big as the sky but kept in a thimble” that something wasn’t right and so it proved to be.  For, although he was a normal sized baby, Davey kept growing and growing until by the time he was ready to start school he was already 4″5″ (135cm) tall and had been denied entry to preschool because of his height. 

Lenny loves her brother very much but it’s tough being a sister to someone who is a bit different, no matter how lovable, and when your dad has walked out and your mum has to work two jobs just to keep a roof over your head so your eccentric Hungarian neighbour looks after you for much of the time, life can be confusing and conflicting . 

The bright spot every week is the arrival of the latest issue of the Burrell’s Build-It-at-Home Encyclopedia, which their mum won in a competition. Through the encyclopedia, Lenny and Davey experience the wonders of the world – beetles, birds, quasars, quartz – and dream about a life of freedom and adventure. Davey loves the articles about birds of prey while Lenny becomes fixated on beetles and dreams of being a coleopterist.  Together they dream of a life in a log cabin in Great Bear Lake, away from the away from the noisy city and the busy bus station across the road, their strange neighbours and the creepy Mr King. And when the instalments don’t arrive fast enough and the company keeps trying to tempt them to spend money to get issues faster and with the special volume covers, Mrs Spink takes the time to take on the publishers with the letters becoming a side story that shows her persistence and determination to do the best for her kids, regardless of the challenge. 

But as Davey’s health deteriorates, Lenny realises that some wonders can’t be named, but they can be diagnosed and when Davey’s gigantism is traced to tumours in his pituitary gland, in a time when cancer and its treatment were still referred to as “the C word”, the reader knows that there is probably not going to be a happy outcome. 

This is both a heart-warming and heart-wrenching book for older, independent readers, one they can relate to because Lenny’s life is so ordinary and like theirs, yet one that will engender compassion as she struggles to come to terms with what is happening to Davey, not wanting to burden her mother who is “made almost entirely of worries and magic” and who does not realise just how desperately she is missing her dad until she thinks she has found his family. For those who have siblings with significant health issues it may even be cathartic as they realise that the feelings of resentment, even shame, that they sometimes have are natural, common and understandable and they are not evil or undeserving for having them. 

Lenny’s Book of Everything doesn’t just refer to the encyclopedia that opens up the world for her and Davey; it refers to all her thoughts and emotions, reactions and responses of a childhood spent with a sick sibling in a sole-parent family in a poorer neighbourhood of a moon-rock drab town with very little money for everyday things let alone treats. It is raw in places but eminently understandable.  

Written when the author herself was going through a time of momentous grief . it is beautifully written, a compelling read and one that adults will also appreciate. It is a story of joy and heartbreak, humour and honesty, but mostly it’s just about the immense, immeasurable love among families.

 

 

 

 

Finding Granny

Finding Granny

Finding Granny

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Finding Granny

Kate Simpson

Gwynneth Jones

EK Books, 2018

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

 9781925335699

Edie’s Granny is a playtime Granny, a bedtime, story-time pantomime granny, as I’m not afraid of some slime Granny.” She loves Edie and Edie loves her.  But when she has a stroke and has to spend a long time in hospital, Edie is confused by her ‘new’ Granny. Her Granny doesn’t need help eating her dinner!

Gradually, Edie discovers that even though this Granny is a bit different in some ways, at her heart she is still the same – a love as fierce as a lion Granny.

With stroke being the third leading cause of death in Australia and one of the top 10 leading causes of death among people aged 45 and over, Edie’s predicament is one that is faced by so many of the children in our care and so this is a really important book that has to be in the collection.  It’s superbly chosen text describes Edie’s and Granny’s relationship perfectly in a unique way so that the reader automatically sees that this is a close and loving relationship; the wordless page that just shows the ambulance with its lights flashing; and the simple explanation by the doctor that Granny’s “brain isn’t working the way it used to” are all that is needed to set the scenario for the big changes and challenges Edie is going to have to face.  Coupled with illustrations that show the emotions that don’t need words, this could be any child who is confronted by this situation – any one of them could be Edie. 

I know from recent experience how confronting and difficult it is to see the impact of age and illness on a loved one and to come to terms with this ‘different’ person, establish a new relationship and burrow down to the love that is still there albeit not so evident at times – and that is as a mature adult.  So it is even trickier for a child, although, again from experience, they seem so much more able to cut to the chase and work with what they are presented with, just as Edie does.  Nevertheless, there can be some confusion about feelings -“That’s not my Granny,” says Edie when she first sees hers in hospital – and so to learn that these are natural, acceptable and shared by other children will bring comfort and together, like Edie, they can move forward and develop a valuable, if different, relationship that still has love at its core. 

A book that should spark conversations and bring comfort…

Cloud Conductor

Cloud Conductor

Cloud Conductor

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cloud Conductor

Kellie Byrnes

Ann-Marie Finn

Wombat Books, 2018

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

9781925563344

Frankie’s active, outdoors life is cut short when she finds herself confined to a hospital bed and she is physically restricted to the four walls of the room.  But her imagination has no such boundaries and as one of those walls is a large window, she is able to slip outside and explore the beauty and magnificence of the clouds that pass by, something she loved to do when she was well.  Through the seasons their shapes, colours  and movement change and Frankie rejoices in their splendour, listening to their melodies, conducting “symphonies in the sky” as her hands wave in time to the beat of her imagination – even on the darkest of days. She sees their pictures and lets them take her on journeys to familiar and far-away places, far beyond the reaches of those physical walls.

Spring, summer, autumn, winter – the clouds are her escape mechanism allowing her to leave her reality behind, if just for a short time.  And then she realises, this is a gift she can share…

Children don’t have to be in a hospital bed to have horrible stuff happening in their lives and this beautifully illustrated book celebrates the unconfined power of the imagination to escape, even if just for a little while. to somewhere else, to touch base with another world where trouble doesn’t intrude and even offer a fresh perspective on the situation itself.

While teachers’ notes are available, taking the children outside in all sorts of weathers where they can see the sky and letting them look and imagine and conduct their own symphonies would be the most powerful of all.

 

My Grandfather’s War

My Grandfather’s War

My Grandfather’s War

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My Grandfather’s War

Glynn Harper

Jenny Cooper

EK Books, 2018

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

9781775592990

On this most solemn of days on the Australian and New Zealand calendars, and as the centennial commemoration of World War I come to a close, My Grandfather’s War tells us of a more recent conflict, the Vietnam War, a war where those who served are now the grandparents of its target audience, our primary school students.

At a time when the world had almost emerged into a new era following World War II, the USA and the USSR were the new superpowers and the common catch-cry promoted by prime ministers and politicians was “All the way with LBJ”, Australian and New Zealand joined forces with the USA in this new conflict to stop the “Yellow Peril” of China moving south and overtaking nations just as Japan had tried to do between 1941 and 1945. Among the 65 000 troops of both nations committed between 1963 and 1975 was Robert,  Sarah’s grandfather who now lives with her family and who is “sometimes very sad.” 

Possibly a natio, drafted because a marble with his birthdate on it dropped into a bucket, old enough to die for his country but too young to vote for those who sent him, Robert, like so many others of his age whose fathers and grandfathers had served, thought that this was his turn and his duty and that the war “would be exciting”.  But this was a war unlike those fought by the conservative, traditional decision-makers – this was one fought in jungles and villages where the enemy could be anywhere and anyone; one where chemicals were used almost as much as bullets; one where the soldiers were not welcomed as liberators but as invaders; and one which the soldiers themselves knew they could not win. It was also the first war that was taken directly into the lounge rooms of those at home as television became more widespread, affordable and accessible. 

And the reality of the images shown clashed with the ideality of those watching them, a “make-love-not-war” generation who, naive to the ways of politics and its big-picture perspective of power and prestige, were more concerned for the individual civilians whose lives were being destroyed and demanded that the troops be withdrawn. Huge marches were held throughout the USA, New Zealand and Australia and politicians, recognising that the protesters were old enough to vote and held their futures in their hands, began the withdrawal.

But this was not the triumphant homecoming like those of the servicemen before them.  Robert came home to a hostile nation who held him and his fellow soldiers personally responsible for the atrocities they had seen on their screens.  There were no welcome home marches, no public thanks, no acknowledgement of heroes and heroism, and Robert, like so many of those he fought with, slipped back into society almost as though  he was in disgrace.  While the official statistics record 578 killed and 3187 wounded across the two countries, the stats for those who continued to suffer from their physical and mental wounds and those who died because of them, often at their own hands, are much more difficult to discover.  Like most returned servicemen, Robert did not talk about his experiences, not wanting to inflict the horror on his family and friends and believing that unless you were there you wouldn’t understand; and without the acknowledgement and support of the nation he was supposedly saving  and seeing his mates continue to battle the impact of both the conflict and the chemicals, he sank into that deep depression that Sarah sees as his sadness but which is now known as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Disturbed by his sadness but told never to talk to her grandfather about the war, Sarah is curious and turns to the library for help.  But with her questions unanswered there, she finally plucks up the courage to ask him and then she learns Grandad’s story – a story that could be told to our students by any number of grandfathers, and one that will raise so many memories as the 50th anniversary of the Battle of Khe Sanh approaches, and perhaps prompt other Sarahs to talk to their grandfathers.

Few picture books about the Vietnam War have been written for young readers, and yet it is a period of our history that is perhaps having the greatest impact on our nation and its families in current times.   Apart from the personal impact on families as grandfathers, particularly, continue to struggle with their demons,  it opened the gates to Asian immigration in an unprecedented way, changing and shaping our nation permanently. 

Together, Harper and Cooper have created a sensitive, personal and accessible story that needs to be shared, its origins explored and understanding generated.  

Lest We Forget.

 

Rescue & Jessica: A life-changing friendship

Rescue & Jessica

Rescue & Jessica

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rescue & Jessica

Jessica Kensky & Patrick Downes

Scott Magoon

Candlewick Press, 2018

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

9780763696047

Rescue thought he would grow up to be a Seeing Eye dog – after all, that’s what his family does.  However, his handler thinks he would be better as an assistance dog and Rescue is worried that he wouldn’t be any good at that.  He did not want to let anyone down.

Meanwhile, Jessica has had to have one of her legs amputated and will need either a prosthetic leg or a wheelchair to be mobile.  This is not what she thought her life would be like and she worried about whether she will be able to manage the changes.  And then she and Rescue are teamed up…

Based on the true story of a young woman injured in the Boston Marathon bombing in April 2013, just five years ago, this is a story of how Jessica and Rescue manage the unexpected changes in their lives and how they rescued each other.  Five years on, it is not only a tribute to assistance dogs the world over,  it also highlights the struggles of those who survive these disastrous events and continue to cope long after the headlines have moved on – in this case, more than 260.  

As well as the personal story of Jessica and Rescue, it also highlights the resilience, the perseverance, and the continuing hard work that it takes to go forward from such a life-changing event including those that do not make world headlines. The cause of Jessica’s unhealthy legs is not disclosed within the story and so there are many children who, sadly, can relate to the realisation that life as they know it has changed and life as they had dreamed is irrevocably altered.   Divorce, family break-ups,illness,  car accidents, deaths… these (and more) are part of the fabric of our students’ lives that they may be dealing with in silence and while they might not require an assistance dog, we need to be mindful of their struggles. Sharing this story and discussing Jessica’s feelings of despair and hope, taking one step at a time, one day at a time may help them progress just a little further.

 

 

Reena’s Rainbow

Reena's Rainbow

Reena’s Rainbow

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Reena’s Rainbow

Dee White

Tracie Grimwood

EK Books

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

97817755935223

Reena is deaf and the little brown dog in the park is homeless. But even though her ears didn’t work, her eyes did and she saw the things that others take for granted.  So even though she couldn’t hear the wind in the trees, she could still see the leaves swirling and Dog leap to catch the acorns.

When the children came to play hide and seek in the park she was very good at finding their hiding places, but when it was her turn to hide no one could find her and she couldn’t hear them calling so they left her there alone.  Luckily Dog was able to fetch her mother who explained that people are like the colours of the rainbow – each one different but together a strong and beautiful entity.  But both Reena and Dog felt like they didn’t belong in the rainbow.  Will they ever fit in?

As well as windows that show readers a new world, stories should also be mirrors that reflect their own lives.  Children, in particular, should be able to read about themselves and children like them in everyday stories so they understand they are not freaks and that others share their differences and difficulties.  Reena’s Rainbow is a wonderful addition to a growing collection of stories that celebrate the uniqueness of every person and not only show them they are not alone but also help others to understand their special needs.  Imagine how frightened Reena must have felt when all the children left the park because they assumed she had gone home.

Young children are remarkably accepting and resilient – they don’t see colour, language, dress or disability as a barrier to the child within – those are handicaps that adults impose on themselves – but the more stories like this that we share with them, the more likely they are to develop knowledge, understanding, tolerance and acceptance and thus develop into adults who embrace difference rather than shunning it.  Close inspection shows that rainbows actually include every shade of every colour, not just those visible to the eye, and through Reena and Dog and characters like them we can all learn to discern the not-so-obvious beauty.

Grandma Forgets

Grandma Forgets

Grandma Forgets

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Grandma Forgets

Paul Russell

Nicky Johnston

EK, 2017

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

9781925335477

 

My grandmother forgets who I am.  Every time we meet, it likes meeting someone new….

Even though Grandma can’t remember us, we have so many memories of her.”

There are the sausages as big as elephant’s legs that she served for Sunday lunch; going to the beach; snuggled in together with a hot-water bottle and a blanket watching the nighttime storms split the sky… The little girl and her dad have memories galore that they share with her in her new home with the painted garden and people who remember for her.  

Young children encountering older relatives who are succumbing to the challenges of the ageing process are becoming more common as generations live longer than ever, and so stories that help them deal with what can be a confronting situation are always welcome.  This is a gentle comforting story about the enduring love between the generations, although if Grandma is 80 as her birthday cake shows there seems to be a skipped generation in the chain.  My own grandchildren would appear to be about the age of the children in the story and they faced this situation with their great-grandmothers, not their grandmas. We are only in our 60s!  

Nevertheless, this is an uplifting story that shows how children embrace the changing circumstances, accepting the changes and the challenges and working with them, rather than taking them as a personal rejection.  There are adults who could learn from this unconditional love that children display and how they adapt so they almost become the adult themselves.  And while there are old memories to recall, there are always new ones to make.

The soft palette and lines chosen by the illustrator portray the beautiful memories perfectly and the love between them all just oozes from the page setting up the perfect opportunity to let the children tell and draw their own stories of their own special moments with their grandparents, perhaps cementing them even more firmly.

A family story that provides lots of comfort.

 

 

Ava’s Spectacular Spectacles

Ava's Spectacular Spectacles

Ava’s Spectacular Spectacles

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ava’s Spectacular Spectacles

Alice Rex

Angela Perrini

New Frontier, 2017

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

9781912076536

Ava does not like wearing her spectacles at school so she finds it difficult to see the board and read her books.  Her teacher understands this and knows she has to help Ava feel okay with wearing them so she begins to talk to Ava.  “If only Little Red Riding Hood had put on her glasses the day she went to visit her grandmother…she would have seen the big teeth and big eyes.”

Ava stops crying and Mrs Cook continues, gradually getting Ava to understand that wearing glasses is helpful and a good thing, not a badge of shame.

Every now and then you pick up a story that really resonates with you and Ava was me 60 years ago, right down to the red hair tied up in bunches. It’s as though illustrator Angela Perrini had been looking at my family photo albums (although we didn’t have coloured photos way back then!)  And then six years ago, it was my granddaughter who was Ava and in the intervening time, hundreds of other kids too. No one likes to be different when they are little and wearing glasses seems like a huge placard that tells others you are not 100% perfect and that somehow you are less than the other children in your class.  As a teacher of 45 years, I’ve seen it over and over although luckily there is much greater acceptance these days.  Oh, to have had a teacher as understanding and as smart as Mrs Cook.

This is a book that not only belongs in any collection for young readers but which should be actively promoted to both teachers and parents as a strategy for getting little ones to be comfortable with wearing their glasses rather than ashamed.  While Mrs Cook sticks to well-known stories and rhymes where 20/20 vision would have been helpful there would be plenty of incidents, real and imaginary, that teachers and parents could draw on to play the what-if game.  

So many children will see this book as a mirror and learn to love reading even more as they read about themselves, while others will see it as a window and begin to understand how self-conscious Ava and others feel and how they can be more empathetic. They might even explore other “disabilities” and the sorts of ways that science and technology can now assist in overcoming them comparing the advances to the days when no such help was available and life became a misery. 

Superb.