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Secret Sparrow

Secret Sparrow

Secret Sparrow

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Secret Sparrow

Jackie French

HarperCollins, 2023

256pp., pbk., RRP $A17.99

9781460760468

September 1978 and Arjun is walking to the local mall when he hears the roar of a flash flood approaching and sees the river become a turbulent mass of brown, white-flecked water with cars bobbing along like plastic bath toys.  Miraculously a motor bike appears and he is urged to climb on, as the rider heads to the only high part of this flat landscape that should never have been built on – a grassy knoll that boasts only a small carpark and a rubbish bin on a pedestal. 

As surprised as he is by the ferocity and the swiftness of the flood, he is even moreso when he discovers his rescuer is an elderly woman! And that she is  a woman with an amazing story to tell as the waters rise and she makes him climb in the rubbish bin and use old newspapers for warmth and has the wisdom to know his thoughts need diverting from both the  current situation and the fate of his mates trapped in the mall.  It is a story of going from growing up in an English village during World War I to being commandeered into serving her country despite being only 16;  to being torpedoed by a German U-boat while crossing the English Channel to living and working in the hell of the trenches of France… all because she learned Morse Code while competing with her older brothers and became so fast and accurate her skills had been noticed.

But this is not just Jean McLain’s story told to keep a young lad calm and distracted – this is the story of at least 3600 women who were used as signallers as she was during World War I who not only signed an oath that they would never divulge their role even decades after the war was over but whose service was never formerly recognised and so they received only their Post Office employee pay while they served and had to pay for their own medical treatment if they were injured, and whose army records were deliberately destroyed by the authorities because of their embarrassment at having to admit that they not only had to rely on women to serve, but the women had excelled. To have to admit that so many had been able to step up and cope in situations that required “physical strength, mechanical knowledge and the courage to work under fire” when such physical and emotional circumstances as war and its inevitable death were seen as “unwomanly”, was an anathema to many men and so not only were individual stories never told, they were lost altogether.

But, using her usual meticulous research, author Jackie French has brought it to light, as once again she winkles out those contributions of women to our history that seldom appear in the versions of history told by men.  So as well as Arjun being so intrigued by Jean McLain’s story as the night passes, dawn appears and she teaches him to use her long-ago skills to summon help, our more mature, independent readers (and their teachers) can also learn something of that which we were never told.  Because, apart from those in the roles like Jean McLain who could be prosecuted for sharing their wartime adventures even with their family, there was an unwritten code of the survivors of all wars that the horrors would not be shared because, apart from being horrific, unless you were there you would never understand.  But now at the age my grandfather was when he died, I have learned a smidgeon of what it must have been like for him on the notorious Somme and can only wonder at how he went on to become who he did.  

It is estimated that World War I claimed the lives of some 16 million people worldwide, 9.5 million of which were military deaths. It is also estimated that around 20 million were wounded, including 8 million left permanently disabled in some way. Of those lives lost, 54 000 were young Australian lads who were so eager to sign up for this grand new ‘adventure’ that they lied about their age and 18 000 young Kiwis who, like my grandfather, believed it was their duty to fight for “King and Country”. But only now, through stories like this and The Great Gallipoli Escape, are we learning the real story and through the questions she has her characters ask and answer are we being encouraged to question things for ourselves, not just about the war but also what we stand for. Often in the story Jean McLain is spurred on by her belief in her need to  “do her duty” and that her actions are saving lives, but then she poses the same situation to Arjun. “What are we worth if we don’t do our duty to each other? What kind of life is it if you don’t love someone or something enough to die for them? What matters to you, eh?’ 

As well as teaching us about the past, French inspires us to think about the future – and that is a gift that only writers if her calibre can give our students. 

  

The A – Z of Who I Could Be

The A - Z of Who I Could Be

The A – Z of Who I Could Be

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The A – Z of Who I Could Be

Chloe Dalton

Kim Siew

A & U Children’s, 2023

64pp., hbk., RRP $A22.99

9781761180422

When she was young, the author used to love watching people like Anna Meares, Louise Sauvage and Nova Peris as they appeared on the world stage of the Olympics or Paralympics, but then despaired as they disappeared for the next four years. Female sporting heroes were not worthy of prime time television and there were few role models to aspire to so she founded the [female] athlete project to redress the balance – 40% of participation but only 4% of television coverage.

Being an Olympic gold medalist herself, Dalton is well-placed to understand the need for young girls to have role models and so in this new book she has created a thumbnail sketch  of Australia’s top female and non-binary athletes, Olympians, Paralympians and World Champions – from Ash Barty to Zali Steggall – across 26 different sports including  Ash Barty (tennis), Belle Brockhoff (snowboard cross), Taliqua Clancy (beach volleyball), Danni Di Toro (para-table tennis), Ellie Cole (para-swimming), Caitlin Foord (soccer), Georgia Godwin (gymnastics), Tayla Harris (boxing/AFLW), Isis Holt (para-athletics), Jessi Miley-Dyer (surfing), Steph Kershaw (hockey), Lydia Lassila (aerial skiing), Anna Meares (cycling), Nova Peris (athletics/hockey), Bendere Oboya (athletics), Ellyse Perry (cricket), Alicia (Quirk) Lucas (rugby 7s), Madison De Rozario (wheelchair racing), Sharni (Layton) Norder (netball), Ariarne Titmus (swimming), Tamika Upton (NRLW), Darcy Vescio (AFLW), Melissa Wu (diving), Jessica Fox (canoe slalom), Yvette Higgins (waterpolo), and Zali Steggall (alpine skiing),

As well as acknowledging the achievements of these women and perhaps inspiring young girls to find out more about those they admire, perhaps it would also inspire a class dictionary of other female athletes who are the students’ heroes so they, too, become household names. Perhaps names like  Jessica Fox,  Sam Kerr or Alyssa Healy might feature or even those of Dawn Fraser, Lauren Jackson or Debbie Flintoff on whose shoulders they stand.

Given their achievements recently one could argue how many female Australian cricket or soccer team members the general public could have named just twelve months ago so perhaps with book like these and the increase in interest, we are moving towards Dalton’s dream that  “One day, female athletes will receive equal coverage in the media, and will be recognised by their achievements, not by their gender”.   

Not Here to Make You Comfortable

Not Here to Make You Comfortable

Not Here to Make You Comfortable

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Not Here to Make You Comfortable

50 Women Who Stand Up, Speak Out, Inspire Change

Puffin, 2023

176pp., pbk., RRP $A22.99

 9781761340581

In the vein of Shout Out to the Girls: A Celebration of Awesome Australian Women, this is a collection of one page vignettes of 50 women who ” did something brave. Something disruptive. Something exceptional.”

Featuring familiar names from the Australian landscape such as Ash Barty, Celeste Barber, Grace Tame, Turia Pitt,  Julia Gillard and Tayla Harris, as well as a host of contemporary women from around the world, this collection was inspired by the way that Grace Tame’s unsmiling face at a reception with then prime minister Scott Morrison was shared world wide and her behaviour dissected and demeaned around the world, diminishing both her and what she had fought so hard for.  Once again, just as with Tayla Harris, it was a female’s appearance and demeanour that became the news story rather than their accomplishments.

And so the women at PRH Young Readers publishing section have put together this compelling collection of stories of real young women, famous and not-so, who have had the courage to stand up for their beliefs, to be bold and true to themselves, “a celebration of assertiveness and certitude”. Each entry begins with the phrase, “There was that time when…” and continues with a description of the incident, its impact, a thumbnail sketch of the person and a full-page sketch from a new or emerging illustrator. 

Each is an affirmation of empowerment, often taking great courage, but resonating with today’s girls and encouraging them to be just as bold if needs be.

The activities of women in both World Wars I and II as they stepped into men’s shoes made great strides in changing the attitudes of men towards women, the activists of the 60s continued that and there have been decades of trail-blazers and game-changers since then, yet still 50% of the world’s population is subjected to irrelevant judgements, continual media coverage focusing on their appearance rather than their accomplishments, social media trolling, and toxic behaviour that is inevitably claimed to have been “consensual”. So while a book of this nature inspiring girls to be more than a pretty face and affirming their right to be so is still required, it is a grim indictment of society that it is.  While the treatment of women in countries like Iran and Afghanistan, is of huge concern as it should be, it is appalling that even in Australia in the 21st century, it is clear that misogyny is still alive and flourishing and our girls need role models like those in this book to tell the world, “We’re not here to make you comfortable.  We’re here to celebrate being ourselves.”

Frankie Stein

Frankie Stein

Frankie Stein

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Frankie Stein

Kylie Covark

Shane McG

Ford Street, 2022

32pp., pbk.,  RRP $A16.95

9781922696120

Frankie Stein loves doing science experiments while her teddy watches on. She wishes she could chat with him … she’s sure he’s a bear with scientific flair!

But when she mixes up a formula that works, and Bear comes alive, he is not the friendly, cuddly companion she is expecting! Now it’s a race to fix him before everything is destroyed.

With strong links to the original novel by Mary Shelley, this is a junior rhyming version with an underlying theme of being careful what you wish for.  Like the original, it is the scientist not the monster with the familiar name, and the teachers’ notes explain the amazing link between Mary Shelley and Ada Lovelace and why October 12 is set aside to celebrate the achievements of women in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) (and the date chosen to publish this review.)

The teaching notes also focus on assisting our younger readers to think about what scientists  do, science in their lives, and offer some simple science that they can practise that is much safer than creating a monster bear.  The story could start discussions about the reality of monsters in general. Could Frankie Stein really make a potion to bring her bear to life, regardless of how clever she is?  Or it may also inspire more advanced readers to seek out a junior version of the original novel while others might like to investigate the meaning of the original’s subtitle, The Modern Prometheus. It could also start discussions about the reality of monsters in general. Could Frankie Stein really make a potion to bring her bear to life, regardless of how clever she is? Whichever path is taken, it offers an introduction to one of the enduring characters in literature that children will hear of as their reading journeys continue.

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No Boundaries

No Boundaries

No Boundaries

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

No Boundaries

Clare Fiseler

Gabby Salazar

National Geographic Kids 2022

160pp., hbk., RRP $A24.99

9781426371769

As we bid farewell to National Science Week and say hello to Children’s Book Week with its theme of “Dreaming with Eyes Open”, this collection of the stories of 25 female National Geographic explorers and scientists revealing their greatest successes, most epic failures, and astonishing adventures seems particularly appropriate to review on the cusp of these two celebrations in our schools.

This anthology celebrates lesser-known changemakers and outstanding women of diverse backgrounds, nationalities, and fields of study who are just beginning to make a name for themselves. Each profile is based on first-person interviews and comes paired with useful tips and relatable advice for budding explorers and scientists.  Each has a text box called Inspiration Station in which the scientist offers advice for those who already have the dream, while inspiring those who may be doubtful to chase their own dreams. Stunning photography and fascinating general interest information about the animals, places, and practices add drama and context.

Readers can track a volcanologist as she braves the elements atop an active volcano; travel alongside a mountaineer as she battles stereotypes and frostbite to conquer the famed Seven Summits;  join a conservationist on her passionate fight to save lions and dig with a paleontologist to uncover massive dinosaur fossils, bit by breathtaking bit, as well as a host of other women forging new paths in careers possibly unheard of. These heartfelt stories give readers an insider’s look at the amazing work female explorers at National Geographic and beyond are doing in the field to solve some of the world’s toughest problems.

No Boundaries sends a positive message to every girl who has ever dreamed or dared to go a little further. And although these explorers’ endeavours are quite adventurous, the lessons they share can inspire all girls, as well as boys, whatever their goals, skills, and interests, to dream with their eyes open.