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Sunny the Shark

Sunny the Shark

Sunny the Shark

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sunny the Shark

Surviving the Wild 3

Remy Lai

Allen & Unwin, 2022

112pp., graphic novel, RRP $A14.99

9781761065460

Usually Sunny the whitetip shark is a fierce predator, cruising the ocean with a shoal of pilot fish friends, looking for food. However, when she mistakes a plastic ring for food and it gets wrapped around her fins making  it tricky to hunt her life is in danger.   

For despite their willingness to help her, even following whale songs to try and find food while being terrified of the presence of any boat, Sunny is cranky and snappy – emotions provoked by fear rather than anger. So will she be able to break free by herself, and find food before winter sets in, or will she need to accept her friends’ help?

This is the third in this new graphic novel series  designed to make young readers more aware of the environment by viewing it through the lenses of those creatures that live in it.  The new NSW English syllabus, particularly, requires students to be able to “to express opinions about texts and issues… both objectively and subjectively”, so as well as empathising with Sunny whose problems may be similar to those they are facing,  they also learn about the perils of things like pollution, the dangers of plastics for wildlife and why we all need to be responsible consumers as well as disposers. Being in the shoes of the main character – this one inspired by a true story about another shark, Destiny, who was found in similar circumstances – helps them be more engaged and understand the situation better, hopefully inspiring them to become not only more aware but more active in environmental protection. 

Hallmarks of quality literature include having characters and a plot which are engaging and interesting for the students, offering layers and levels of complexity that are revealed with multiple readings and which enrich discussion and challenge perceptions, thinking and attitudes.  Add to this the appeal of a graphic novel format and this is another winner for this talented creator. 

The Missing Piece

The Missing Piece

The Missing Piece

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Missing Piece

Jordan Stephens

Beth Suzanna

Bloomsbury, 2022

92pp., hbk., RRP $A24.99

9781526618139

Sunny loves jigsaw puzzles – the bigger the better. When she completes one, she gets a warm, happy honeybee buzz and it’s a feeling she chases time after time, constantly looking for another puzzle to complete, like a drug addict seeking another fix.  One day, her Gran gives her a ONE-THOUSAND-PIECE puzzle. Piece after piece, all by herself, she puts together the picture, until … DISASTER! The final piece is missing. Sunny may be small, but she is very determined –and when Gran says that the puzzle had been lent to the family next door,  Sunny she sets off to find the missing piece but finds so much more in the meantime. 

Many educators predicted that children returning to school after COVID-19 lockdowns and isolation would face a range of well-being issues from missing the critical socialisation aspects that are the core of the school experience, and principals and teachers around the world are indeed, reporting anxiety, depression and changed behaviours.  Experts, such as those of the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute have examined the phenomenon and, in conjunction with state education authorities , have identified and put in place a range of strategies to help children relearn the skills and attitudes necessary to cope with getting along with other children in groups that are more than just family members. 

So while this may seem like just another story about a child learning that they are more than they imagined, that their self-worth is not dependent on their being able to excel at one thing, and their self-esteem being shattered if they “fail”,  at this time it could have a vital role to play as we each and all try to support those who have not come through the past three years as resiliently as we would have liked.  Although Sunny’s isolation from her neighbourhood friends is unexplained, it is immaterial – it is her courage to knock on doors to find that vital piece, a goal larger than anything that may have prevented her from reaching out before, that drives her and she is able to rediscover much she had lost.   

While sharing stories such as this is just one part of the healing process, nevertheless it can be helpful particularly if followed by a discussion about why her Gran did what she did, why Sunny might not have seen her friends or been willing to play with them and so on – all addressing individual’s concerns but at arm’s length so no one feels exposed but they can feel comforted and perhaps more confident. 

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.   

 

Tarni’s Chance

Tarni’s Chance

Tarni’s Chance

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tarni’s Chance

Paul Collins

Jules Ober

Ford Street, 2022

32pp., hbk., RRP $A24.95

9781922696052

When Tarni’s mum says goodbye, all the colour and joy of life seem to go with her. Tarni retreats into her bubble. Her world became smaller and the air seemed thinner. But then Chance steps in . . .

As much as the text in this narrative of family breakdown, self-doubt and anxiety echoes the feelings of loss and loneliness that so many readers will have felt, it is the illustrations that make it so special.  Beginning in deep shades of grey as her parents argue, with the only colour being Tarni and her guitar, her bubble of music, a monochromatic scheme that continues as Tarni comes to grip with her loss, finding solace only in solo activities like drawing and reading, gradually being consumed by the grey of her grief.  Using handmade miniatures set against black and white photography, the reader is drawn deeper into Tarni’s world, but then Tarni spots a stray, ragged dog, seemingly as lost as she is, and there is a ray of hope.  Brief though it is, it shows both the reader and Tarni that there is still a glimmer of colour in the world, and when the dog returns the grey gradually disappears. 

While this is not the first book to use colour to depict mood and emotion in this way, and the use of miniatures and photography was a feature of the 2020 CBCA shortlisted The Good Son, nevertheless it is a powerful representation that those who have passed through the grey of grief will relate to, and those who are still in it will be buoyed by the prospect that colour still exists and step by step they will find it. 

 

Tilda

Tilda

Tilda

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tilda

Sue Whiting

Walker Books, 2022

272pp., pbk., RRP $A17.99

9781760654634

As the 19th century becomes the 20th, hard times have befallen Tilda and her beloved Papa as they grieve the loss of Tilda’s mother, the burning down of the Nimble Ninepence so Papa is out of a job, and his family turning his back on them. Desperate, he puts Matilda into the Brushwood Convent and Orphanage for Girls while he joins the SA Citizen Bushmen Contingent to go to South Africa to fight in the Boer War.  

But he vows to return to her for her, and it is this promise that Matilda clings to as she endures orphanage life with all the harshness that we associate with those institutions, except she has a particularly rough time as head nun Sister Agatha has singled her out for some reason, determined to break her spirit.  Buoyed by her mother’s advice telling her to be strong, and her strong friendship with the sickly Annie, Matilda resists every attempt and every punishment to admit that she is an orphan, until she sees apparent proof that her father has indeed, abandoned her, and her world crumbles…

Ever since I first came to Australia and read Playing Beattie Bow in 1980 (introduced to her by a Tl mate whose job I envied),  I have had a penchant for historical fiction set in Australia, with strong female leads..  Tilda is a worthy addition to my list.  Author Sue Whiting has grounded the story loosely on her grandmother’s life who, like mine, was born in New Zealand in 1896, and then moved as a baby to Australia.  While she has manipulated the events and the timeline slightly, as authors are allowed to do, she has used the little she knows to craft a powerful story of courage and determination, a willingness to stand up to authority and be her own person, that was not the norm in those times.  Or, if they were, it was still very much a man’s world and such resilience in girls was not written in the history books.  Despite the reign of Queen Victoria. the lives of independent young women were relegated to novels. 

More for the older end of the target readership of this blog , nevertheless it is one that more mature younger independent readers will relish as a new world of times past will be opened up to them.  While they may not relate directly with Tilda’s circumstances, nevertheless they will be cheering her on, barracking for her each time she stands up to Sister Agatha, and empathising with her as she is determined to look after Annie.  Who knows – this may be a young girl’s “Beattie Bow” and lead them down reading paths they didn’t know existed.  

Be Careful, Xiao Xin!

Be Careful, Xiao Xin!

Be Careful, Xiao Xin!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Be Careful, Xiao Xin!

Alice Pung

Sher Rill Ng

Working Title Press, 2022

48pp., hbk., RRP $A24.99

9781922033932

All through the day, no matter where he is or what he is doing, Xiao Xin’s family is warning him to be careful.  Even the most common things that children do like climbing on the monkey net come with warnings and commands not to do it. If ever an example of helicopter parenting were needed, this is it. 

But rather than feeling loved and protected, Xiao Xin feels stifled. 

They don’t understand what I can do!

They don’t understand what I can be!

For he dreams with his eyes wide open and sees himself as a Red Fire Warrior capable of doing “infinite things”. But more than that, he also sees how this constant care and concern is limiting him and his little sister.

So, when one day Xiao Xin leaves the house to prove he can be independent and safe,  and doesn’t tell anyone, panic sets in, until…

Children are often the most-longed for gift, and certainly the most precious, and so it is understandable that parents want to protect them, but this deeply-layered story with its stunning illustrations which add another dimension in themselves, demonstrates that just as our children grow up, so must we and we must be willing to let them become the confident, competent, independent adults they need to be. 

Written in both English and Mandarin (itself another layer of complexity), it is one that straddles all age groups as the child who hears it may well relate to Xiao Xin’s situation and the parent who reads it might also reflect on how their protectiveness and expectations might be stunting the child’s growth.  I was reminded of a vignette in a recent episode of Old People’s Home for Teenagers in which a young girl who, because of parental expectations, worked hard to excel academically stumbled when presented with a problem that could not be solved by the technology in her hand.  Reading a print street directory was too much of a challenge, but more concerning was her response to not being able to do so.  There is a fine line and Xiao Xin not only pushes it but has the courage to cross it!

Watch for this one in awards season! 

Finding You

Finding You

Finding You

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Finding You

Robert Vescio

Hannah Sommerville

New Frontier, 2022

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

9781922326539

In the busy, anonymous concrete jungle that is the city, a little boy spots a stray dog that lives in a cold, discarded cardboard box that no one else even notices.  With each seemingly alone as each other, they begin to explore their surroundings, venturing into new areas that reveal hidden delights if you put your imagination on and see what is beyond what is really there, finding new friends in unlikely places – or not.  

This is an intriguing story that explores the new doors that new friends can open, opportunities that can be life-changing and unexpected if you’re willing to reach out or be brave enough to accept. It offers an opportunity to not only talk about the bond between humans and their pets, but also to take it deeper and consider those who are homeless or newcomers or different in any way, those who are isolated even in the city and who just need a friend or a kind conversation, or even just a smile so they know they are not invisible. As with Seal ChildInto the Wild and his other stories, this is more than a story about a boy and a lost dog. It’s about stepping out and reaching out beyond your boundaries to discover so much more than you thought was there, both without and within.

For me, Vescio is one of the masters in saying much in so few words, and Hannah Sommerville’s choice of palette, style and layout is the perfect accompaniment to not only interpret the text but also give it so many layers that there is something new to discover and ponder with each reading. It celebrates the acceptance and innocence of children, not yet tarnished and prejudiced by viewing the world through an adult lens.

Romi Sharp says, “Finding You is a book that signifies the true essence of humanity and friendship through the special nature of boy’s best friend. It is just sublime…. Finding You is a picture book for all ages, cultural and social backgrounds, that is literally and figuratively beautiful, heartfelt and just magical. This really is a must-read.” I have to agree. 

Milo’s Monster

Milo's Monster

Milo’s Monster

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Milo’s Monster

Tom Percival

Bloomsbury, 2022

32pp., pbk., RRP $A14.99

9781526613011

Milo loves spending time with his best friend, Jay. But when a new girl called Suzi moves in next door, Milo starts to feel left out. The jealous feeling gets stronger and stronger – until suddenly, a GREEN-EYED MONSTER pops up beside him! Soon, the monster is poisoning Milo’s thoughts. It won’t leave him alone!
Can Milo find a way to free himself from the monster and repair his friendship?

Once again, Tom Percival has tackled a tricky emotional issue in this Big Bright Feelings series that helps young readers understand their responses to certain situations and how to deal with them.  The series which includes Tilda Tries AgainPerfectly NormanRuby’s Worry,  Ravi’s Roar, and Meesha Makes Friends ,  examines the big feelings that are a natural part of a child’s life, feelings that they might not yet be able to articulate and don’t have the strategies to deal with, in this case jealousy.  It offers affirmation that the feelings are normal and common, which, in itself, helps the child confront and control them. Using a story format depersonalises the situation so no one has to disclose what they don’t want to, and by portraying the green-eyed monster as an actual thing rather than an abstract idea, demonstrates that it can be conquered and vanquished.

A perfect conversation starter for early childhood readers.  

My Baba is the Best

My Baba is the Best

My Baba is the Best

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My Baba is the Best

Bachar Houli

Debby Rahmalia

Puffin, 2022

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

9781761046568

As Fathers Day approaches, this is a book to share to celebrate the special bond between fathers and daughters, and the fun times they share. 

My baba has a big beard and a big smile. He gives the best hugs and never sits still.
Gardening, jogging, fishing, watching movies or going camping . . . Baba and I do lots of things together.

My baba is the best. I love my baba!

And while you might think there are many such books available, this one is written by Bachar Houli, not only triple AFL Premiership player for Richmond and All-Australian on-field, but also the  first devout Muslim to play the game at that level.  So this is a unique opportunity for our Muslim students to see themselves in such a story, demonstrating that their relationships with their dads is pretty much the same as all kids, whilst acknowledging the subtle differences like the special bedtime prayer.  

Time and time again we hear those who are not from the dominant mainstream WASP community say that they despaired because they never saw anyone like them represented in books or on television – Dylan Alcott addressed it directly in his acceptance speech for Australian of the Year, 2022 –  “I used to hate having a disability. I hated it so much. I hated being different and, you know, I didn’t want to be here anymore. I really didn’t… Whenever I turned on the TV or the radio or the newspaper, I never saw anybody like me.”- and while this is gradually being addressed , how delighted young readers will be to see their family reflected in something so special. 

While we all have more in common than difference, it is the difference that seems to get the attention so by sharing such as this even our youngest readers can start to understand the threads that bind us are so much stronger.  Our relationships with our dads are the same no matter who we are, what we look like, what we do or what we believe in. 

A Clue for Clara & Rita’s Revenge

A Clue for Clara & Rita's Revenge

A Clue for Clara & Rita’s Revenge

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Clue for Clara 

9781760877699

Rita’s Revenge

9781761066009

Allen & Unwin, 2020-2022

320+ pages, pbk., RRP $A16.99

 

GREETINGS. AM LOOKING FOR A MAJOR CRIME TO SOLVE. PLEASE INFORM ME OF ANY RECENT MURDERS, KIDNAPPINGS OR JEWEL HEISTS IN THIS AREA.’

A scruffy chook, literally henpecked by the other hens, Clara has become addicted to the detective shows she sees on the humans’ television and now she wants to be a famous detective like her hero Amelia X with her own TV show. She can read claw marks, find missing feathers and knows Morse code and semaphore, but  being small and scruffy chook no one takes her seriously. But when she teams up with Olive, the daughter of the local policeman, they might just be able to solve the crimes that have been troubling the town of Little Dismal. 

And having solved the crime and prevented the theft of some sheep, but in the process having made the ducks look less than the courageous creatures they perceive themselves to be, the ducks are ticked off and are seeking revenge.  They decide they are going to make Clara’s life a misery but brave as they profess to be, none is willing to lead the charge.  Until Rita, in disgrace for offering poetry at the recent Talent Night, volunteers in an effort to seek redemption.  But But Rita finds more than revenge on her mission. She uncovers a dastardly plan to chook-nap the clever chicken that will take them both a long way from home.  But her unlikely friendship with a small human and the help of some street-smart birds just might save the day and inspire an epic poem!

This is a LOL duo for the newly independent reader who likes something completely wacky and entertaining, written in an easy-to-read unique diary format with plenty of other textual supports while being thick enough to impress peers!  Both see the human world through a different lens offering interesting insights as well as hilarious observations and misinterpretations, but more than that, they validate the importance of being yourself regardless if that is a little different to the norm and the expectation of others.  Young readers who see themselves as being a little outside whatever is currently accepted amongst their peers will delight in seeing both Clara and Rita rise above the pack (flock?) to triumph.