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Isabelle Duff

Susannah Crisp

EK Books, 2021

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

9781925820959

Right from the time he poked his head out of a shaky cardboard box on the back seat of the car, Cookie the Border Collie puppy loves Girl more than anything.  At first, it’s because she has a ball but it’s soon so much more than that.  With the boy called Stopit (and sometimes Shoosh) they go on walks to find the yummiest smells (with Cookie on a lead so Girl doesn’t get lost) and at night they both sleep in a cuddle.  

But sometimes Girl got really sad and didn’t want to play, a sadness so profound that it made her family sad too, and Cookie learns that cuddles and licks are even better than playing – because everyone knows you can lick sadness off.  But while the underlying causes of Girl’s sadness remain, she understands that Cookie is her responsibility and that she needs to get out of bed to attend to Cookie’s needs.  She has purpose… 

Written by a 19 year old, this is Isabelle Duff’s first picture book and she has drawn on her own experiences as a young student with depression, anxiety and anorexia and her parents buying her a puppy to portray Girl and Cookie. While she sought professional help, she found that there was a stigma attached to that by her peers so while the relationship between Girl and Cookie is a pared down version of her relationship with her own Saffy, it is one that not only will young children relate to but it also makes the issue of mental health accessible so conversations can start and perhaps start to break down that stigma.  This is particularly important as the “shadow pandemic” of mental health continues in our young as much as those who are older, but they don’t necessarily have the words to articulate their concerns. 

Despite the focus there has been on children’s mental health in recent years, clearly there is still shame associated with it and so by telling the story through Cookie’s voice, setting it in a typical family setting with a light touch of humour and through the interactions of all, demonstrating how Girl’s moods impact on the whole family, Duff shows  that this is something that can affect any family and anybody within it.  

The acceptance by educators that childhood mental health is a significant issue means there have been a variety of stories and programs that address it but if we are to have mental illness as “acceptable” as physical illness then the more stories our students hear, the more conversations we have then the more effective we can be so this is another valuable addition to the collection. .  To help this, teachers’ notes are available 

Pear of Hope

Pear of Hope

Pear of Hope

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pear of Hope

Wenda Shurety

Deb Hudson

EK Books, 2021

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

9781925820867

At the bottom of Anna’s garden is an old pear tree that is her favourite place and secret hideout.  She loves being up in its branches, where it gives life and shelter to all sorts of creatures and allows her imagination to wander.  But as autumn and then winter roll in, it loses its magic and wonder, just as Anna does as she succumbs to a deadly illness. The tree stands bare and alone until one day Anna returns and gives it a soft hug. And together they start the journey back to wellness and fullness… 

Using the pear as a symbol of hope, as it is in many parts of the world, this is a delicate story of a young girl’s battle with cancer and chemotherapy tracing Anna’s journey in its illustrations more than its words so the reader really focuses on the parallels between tree and child. Just as the tree loses it leaves in winter but returns to its full glory as the warmer weather returns, so does Anna’s hope and resilience build until she is back able to celebrate her 10th birthday with her friends and family, under the shelter of the pear tree. 

While some of our students may be in Anna’s particular situation, there are many more who are facing other challenges and who need the reassurance that time will pass, and like the pear tree, they will prevail.  So this is one to share and talk about so each can take what they need from it. 

What is a Virus?

What is a Virus?

What is a Virus?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What is a Virus?

Katie Daynes

Kirsti Beautyman

Usborne, 2021

14pp., board book, RRP $A19.99

9781474991513

If there is one word that children of today know as well as their name it is “virus”. So much of their lives have been affected by this tiny, invisible thing that has had such huge impact.  But what is a virus? Using the successful Lift-the-Flap Q&A format of others in this series, readers can investigate just what a virus is, discovering that there are many more than just COVID 19! They also learn the importance of the rules like social distancing, washing their hands and other personal hygiene issues, important because if they understand the why about the what they are more likely to comply. it also alleviates some of the fear that their imaginations can conjure up.

In the past we have been teaching our littlies about why they need to eat well, sleep long and play hard to have a healthy body and preventing illness has been a peripheral, but things have changed and this is an important addition to the collection so they can better understand this thing that is going to shadow their lives for a long time to come.

Penguin Bloom (Young Readers’ Edition)

Penguin Bloom (Young Readers' Edition)

Penguin Bloom (Young Readers’ Edition)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Penguin Bloom (Young Readers’ Edition)

Chris Kunz, Harry Cripps, Shaun Grant

ABC Books, 2021

160pp., pbk., RRP $A14.99

9780733341670

On a family holiday to Thailand, Noah’s mum has a fall with devastating consequences – confined to a wheelchair for the future.

On a stormy night in Sydney’s Northern Beaches a little magpie has a fall from its nest – a broken wing for a magpie is like a broken back to a human.

But the two are miraculously connected and from that has emerged a story of hope, love, kindness and the lessons we can learn if we are ready to learn them.

Sometimes bad things happen to people and no matter what, you have to deal with it and in this edition of this story for young readers the focus is not so much on the accident and all the medical stuff but how a family had to come together to deal with it.  There is Sam Bloom, angry, bewildered and trying to come to terms with who she was, who she now is and who she thought she would be. There is her husband photographer Cam Bloom, father of Noah, Reuben and Oli who is walking the fine line of holding the family together juggling the balls of dependence and independence; there is Nana Jan whose daughter has catastrophic injuries and she can’t fix them; there are Noah’s young brothers Oli and Reuben, who despite his mother’s predicament still continue to leap off the roof to bounce on the trampoline below.  And there is Noah who is convinced his mum blames him for the accident because he discovered the viewing platform that gave way when she leaned on it,  And binding them together, eventually, is a little magpie chick named Penguin.

Noah tells the story of the family’s healing from his perspective talking directly to the reader, openly admitting that there are bad bits and bad days and exposing these as part of the process of becoming a family again, one that is different to what they thought it would be but still one that is whole.

This story spoke to me on many levels, not the least of which is because my own sister-in-law is in Sam’s situation after an afternoon walk with her dog went so very wrong. We live in the bush with our resident family of magpies who raise their babies on the lawn in front of us each year so Penguin’s antics were so familiar. And there are the kids who have been in my care as a teacher over the years who have had to face similar circumstances and somehow have had to navigate a way through.

Students may well have seen the movie Penguin Bloom – Noah’s story will give them an extra layer of understanding.

 

Slime

Slime

Slime

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Slime

David Walliams

Tony Ross

HarperCollins, 2020

312pp., pbk., RR     P $A19.99

9780008349141

There are 999 people living on the Isle of Mulch, most of them awful adults who do not like children. Even those who should like children, like those at the school, the local park, the toy shop and even the island’s ice-cream van  like nothing more than making children miserable. And the island is owned by the most awful one of all – Aunt Greta Greed!

But then there is Ned, an 11-year-old boy in a wheelchair who is constantly tormented by his older sister Jemima who resents him because he gets all the attention. Despite being unable to walk Ned is perpetually optimistic and makes it his mission to change the miserable adults and the misery. While trying to get his own back on  Jemima, he discovers one of the great mysteries of the world – slime! What is it? Who is it? Where does it come from? And how does Ned use slimepower to take on the horrible grown-ups of Mulch? 

Using his characteristic humour which so appeals to that audience of newly independent readers, the wacky illustrations of Tony Ross and an intriguing visual layout, this story bounces along at a rapid pace that draws the reader in and keeps them as hooked as the local shoe fish that are the main diet of the islanders. Yet for all its wackery and humour, there is a solid story underpinning the adventures that make if more than a bit of floss read to pass the time.  Everyone will be cheering for Ned and perhaps see themselves in him, always a winning element.

The Ghost of Howlers Beach

The Ghost of Howlers Beach

The Ghost of Howlers Beach

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Ghost of Howlers Beach

Jackie French

Angus $ Robertson, 2020 

272pp., pbk., RRP $A16.99

9781460757727

 

Butter O’Bryan lives in a Very Small Castle with his father and three aunts – Aunt Elephant, Aunt Cake and Aunt Peculiar. These aren’t their real names, of course, just as Butter’s father isn’t really called ‘Pongo’.

And even though Butter is only twelve years old, and the grandson of one of Australia’s most successful Jam Kings, he is very aware of the hardship many people are experiencing.

Butter has been told there are ghosts at the nearby isolated Howlers Beach, but are there? And how can the children Butter plays cricket with on the beach simply vanish? Who are these children and why do they refuse his help?

The Ghost of Howlers Beach just sounds like one of those old-fashioned Secret Seven or Famous Five stories that generations have enjoyed for years, and in a way, it is. But this one has the unique Jackie French touch of magic, and rather than being a contemporary novel as those adventures were, this one takes the independent reader back to The Depression of the 1930s when the ramifications of World War I were still very evident and the realities of being unemployed, or worse, being a woman without a man but with a family, or even worse, being an indigenous person, are brought to light. With a light hand and intriguing characters, French brings to life life in the “susso camps” ; the great divide between the haves and the have-nots and the ever-present threat of diseases like polio before vaccines were available.

Read against the backdrop of today’s coronavirus pandemic and the worldwide economic collapse, it is very clear how far we have come in less than 100 years in both health, economic and social support and perhaps put things in perspective.

The subtitle to this novel is The Butter O’Bryan Mysteries, #1 and with the cast of characters now set hopefully more will follow quickly as we not only enjoy a good, meaty story but one that teaches us about a time not that long ago but eerily familiar all the same.

The timing of its release is remarkable (set long before the current virus was even heard of) and while there are comparisons that can be made between now and then, knowing that its setting and background are based on reality there is a sense of optimism that current times will pass and we will come out of the other side. Perhaps changed, but definitely intact.

Together Things

Together Things

Together Things

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Together Things

Michelle Vasiliu

Gwynneth Jones

EK Books, 2020

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

 9781925820294

The little girl loved to do things with her dad – special things like taming wild animals, flying high in the sky and climbing rocky mountains.  But now that’s all changed because her dad is sick with an illness that no one except a special doctor can see. And he might even have to go to hospital to get better.  However, her mother is wise and she knows and explains how there are different things that the girl and her dad can do together while he gets better, maybe not as exciting as sailing stormy seas or drinking tea with the Queen, but just as important so their love stays strong.

This is a story that will resonate with many of our students as one in five adults experiences depression in their lifetime, so many will understand and empathise. Together Things helps young children to understand that, while it is okay for them to feel mad or sad about this, sometimes they must do different things together while their parent focuses on their mental health and getting better. 

Just as we are now paying attention to the mental health of our students, so too must we help them understand that they are not alone if there is such illness in their family and that they are not responsible for it.  Sharing this story and talking about how common the issue is will help those kids seeing it firsthand realise that they are not alone and that there are many ways to show and share love.  

Scruffle-Nut

Scruffle-Nut

Scruffle-Nut

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Scruffle-Nut

Corinne Fenton

Owen Swan

New Frontier, 2019

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

9781925594768

As winter leaves tumble and twirl a wisp of memory wraps itself about me and whispers me back to long ago…

As a child, her Nanny Clementine took her to the park where she played on the swings and the see-saw and rode the carousel horses for as long as time.  And one day, she sees a squirrel, one that the others squirrels growl at and chase away because he has a stumpy tail, not a magnificent curled one like theirs. And so begins a brief friendship between them – the little squirrel who is a bit different and the little girl who is also a bit different – and there is a strong sense of empathy that builds up, until the snow falls and the park is closed. What is it that the little girl learned from that squirrel in those few short days that has stayed with her all her life?

Sensitive, with beautifully descriptive passages that are sublimely illustrated in a palette and manner as soft and gentle as the story, this is a story that tugs at the heart-strings for we all know the child who is shunned because of their “stumpy tail” and the silent pain and rejection they feel.  One to share and talk about what it would be like to be the one that is on the outside, rather than being part of the Bully-Bunch, and perhaps change a few perceptions. 

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!