Archives

Finn and Puss

Finn and Puss

Finn and Puss

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Finn and Puss

Robert Vescio

Melissa Mackie

EK Books, 2017

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

9781925335507

When Finn, a lonely little boy, finds a lost cat it would seem their problems are solved.  Finn has a friend and the cat has a home. 

But then Finn spots a poster advertising the cat as lost … Will he return it or is their friendship more important to him?

Told in a few words but with exquisite illustrations that are as gentle as the story but rich in emotion and detail, this  is a story which explores the connections between a child and a pet and how hard it can be to do the right thing.  But sometimes that right thing can have its own reward.

Charming.

The Beast of Hushing Wood

The Beast of Hushing Wood

The Beast of Hushing Wood

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Beast of Hushing Wood

Gabrielle Wang

Puffin, 2017

192pp., pbk., RRP $A16.99

9780143309178

For the close-knit residents of Dell Hollow, Hushing Wood is dark and sinister but for nearly-12 year old Ziggy it wraps itself around the town like a sleeping cat, protecting it from the outside world – not that there are any towns or villages anywhere nearby  Lately though, since her dad left because no matter how long they live there, “foreigners” are still outsiders,  its reputation seems to be coming true as strange things seem to be happening, not the least of which is the recurring nightmare that Ziggy has that has convinced her she is going to drown on her 12th birthday. A place that has offered her solace and comfort now seems menacing and unfamiliar.

So when Raffi Tazi begins at the school, the first new student there ever, not only is he an outsider but he has black wavy hair and skin the colour of burned butter, very different from the Dell Hollow norm of fair skin and light hair.  And instead of wearing his shirt tucked into his belted pants, he wears a loose white cotton shirt that hangs over baggy trousers.  Fodder indeed for the narrow minds of the town, particularly class bully Harry Arnold. So is he friend or foe? How does his arrival coincide with the strange happenings and appearances that Ziggy experiences?

A mixture of mystery, magic, and adventure this is an imaginative tale that will appeal to  independent upper primary readers who are starting to be aware of themselves and their place in the world and perhaps experiencing a little insecurity at the changes happening within and without.  Even Grandpa who has been Ziggy’s rock for so long can not help as he is sliding into dementia and although there is a hint that Hushing Wood used to be different, his memories are muddled and so Ziggy must find her own path to understanding and acceptance .

An intriguing read that will resonate long after the last page is read.

 

 

 

Perfectly Norman

Perfectly Norman

Perfectly Norman

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Perfectly Norman

Tom Percival

Bloomsbury, 2017

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

9781408880982

Norman had always been perfectly normal. That was until the day he grew a pair of wings! 

He had imagined growing taller or even growing a beard like his dad, but not growing  a pair of wings!

Norman is very surprised to have wings suddenly – and he has the most fun ever trying them out high in the sky. But then he has to go in for dinner. What will his parents think? What will everyone else think? Norman feels the safest plan is to cover his wings with a big coat.

But hiding the thing that makes you different can prove tricky and upsetting. The coat became a burden, even an embarrassment and Norman began to resent the wings until he realised it was the coat making him unhappy, not the wings. After all, no-one else has wings, so why him? Can he find the courage to discard the coat? What does he discover when he does?

In this poignant story about being different, Percival has set the text against striking backgrounds of various shades of grey depicting normal and dull while giving Norman bright colour and light so that his feelings of being unique are highlighted physically as well as emotionally. He has also chosen to depict a diversity of characters, each unique in their own way and each of whom accept Norman as normal, so really, what does “normal’ mean?

 For a wonderful part of their lives, children don’t see difference and they just love who they are but then awareness starts to develop and they start to see themselves with new and often unkind eyes.  They want nothing more than to be the same as their peers, to not stand out, to be normal and anything that makes them unique, whether it is skin colour, wearing spectacles, being an only child or growing a set of wings, becomes a burden that they would rather not carry. But the freedom when the coat is shed… 

Accepting and celebrating who we are and what we are, especially those things that make us special and unique is so important for our mental health and at last, we are starting to understand that the self-talk and messages we give ourselves as we interpret our interactions and experiences as a child can have an incredible impact on the well-being of our older selves. The more children can encounter books like Perfectly Norman and discuss them so they understand that there is no ‘normal’ or “perfect” the healthier they will be.  It is our responsibility as teacher librarians, teachers and other significant adults in their lives to make sure they meet lots of Normans and not only grow to love their own wings but to use them to fly!

 

Friday Barnes: Bitter Enemies

Friday Barnes: Bitter Enemies

Friday Barnes: Bitter Enemies

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Friday Barnes: Bitter Enemies

R. A. Spratt

Random House Australia, 2017

254pp., pbk., RRP $A15.99

9780143784197

Friday Barnes is the daughter of two highly-intelligent, eccentric physicists who are so disconnected from her upbringing that they called her Friday even though she was born on a Thursday.  She did have four siblings, all much older than her being born during the four-and-a-half years their mother had allocated for the task.  Friday was not scheduled and her birth was fitted in around a lecture her mother had to give in Switzerland.  Eleven years later, Friday had largely raised herself and she was happy with that.  Her greatest wish was to be unnoticed because you could do so much more that way like eating a whole block of chocolate at once without it being taken off you.    Unfortunately, it also means that you do not develop very good social skills particularly if you spend your time reading scientific tomes and educating yourself beyond the realms of anything a school could offer.

However, as well as the non-fiction her parents library consisted of, Friday had a penchant for detective novels because “being a detective allowed a person a licence to behave very eccentrically indeed” and she had honed her powers of observation and logical thought over the years.  But the time has now come for Friday to go to high school and given her parents haven’t even realised she is no longer in preschool, it was up to her to sort it.  She would have preferred not to go at all because she saw it as being all about “bullying, dodge ball and having to find a date for the prom” but the government was insistent that she do.  She tried to compromise by applying for university and passed the exam to study medicine but was knocked back on her age. 

So rejecting the idea of the Foreign Legion, the Peace Corps and being smuggled out of the country by people traffickers, after helping her ex-cop, private investigator Uncle Bernie solve a case she finds herself with the means to send herself to Highcrest Academy the best and most expensive boarding school in the whole country.  Her intention is to stay under the radar, do what she has to do and leave.  But things do not work out that way.  But right from the start, her nondescript self-imposed uniform of brown cardigans, grey t-shirts and blue jeans makes her stand out among the fashion parade that is the elite, wealthy students who also attend the school.

And so, in this the seventh episode in the series, Friday is well-known to all at the school , either having got them into trouble or out of it at some stage.  

But all is not well at Highcrest Academy because it is the start of the new academic year and Friday is not there.  She has been whisked off to a school in Switzerland by her parents leaving best friend Melanie and “boyfriend” Ian bereft and bewildered.  How will they get through the year?  

Luckily for them, Friday does turn up and all are immediately embroiled in a new adventure as the school celebrates the 150th anniversary of the birth of its founder Sebastian Dowell, and as part of the celebrations four previous principals return, each with very different ideas and plans.  

Miss 11 had this series at the top of her reading wishlist for Santa this year as she has discovered a character not too unlike herself – intelligent, quirky, and a bit different from her peers but very comfortable in her own skin, yet deep down wanting to be just like them – and is eagerly reading her way through the earlier episodes.  She will be thrilled to see #7 in her Santa Sack and know that #8 Never Fear will be out in time for those long January days.

Baabwaa and Wooliam

Baabwaa and Wooliam

Baabwaa and Wooliam

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Baabwaa and Wooliam

David Elliott

Melissa Sweet

Candlewick Press, 2017

40pp., hbk., RRP $A24.99

 9780763660741

Baabwaa is a sheep who loves to knit. Wooliam is a sheep who loves to read. It sounds a bit boring, but they like it. However, one day Wooliam suggest they leave their comfortable caravan and seek an adventure. Even though they live in a field that is surrounded by a stone wall they do encounter an adventure as a  third sheep shows up -a funny-looking sheep who wears a tattered wool coat and has long, dreadfully decaying teeth. Wooliam, being well-read, recognizes their new acquaintance as the Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing! The wolf is so flattered to discover his literary reputation precedes him that he stops trying to eat Baabwaa and Wooliam. And a discovery by the sheep turns the encounter into an unexpected friendship.

This is an intriguing but interesting story for young readers that has a number of twists and turns to keep them engaged as they learn that even those considered too different, perhaps even a threat, can become a friend.  Funny, descriptive, and accompanied by illustrations that capture the personalities of both Baabwaa and Wooliam, and show the wolf in a variety of lights, this will capture young minds right from the front cover as they predict that this is not just about two sheep enjoying life and that there is trouble looming in paradise.

 

Sarah and the Steep Slope

Sarah and the Steep Slope

Sarah and the Steep Slope

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sarah and the Steep Slope

Danny Parker

Matt Ottley

Little Hare, 2017

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

9781742974675

When Sarah opened her door one morning she was confronted by it.  A steep slope. Blocking out the sun and casting a shadow across everything. Rising in front her like an insurmountable and impenetrable barrier.  And so it proved to be.

Prodding and pushing didn’t move it,  surprising it didn’t shake it and trying to sneak around it was hopeless.  And when she tried to climb it, even with her climbing shoes, she got halfway and then slid all the way back down.  How was she going to see her friends?

Nothing worked – even ignoring it didn’t make it go away and neither did the help of the slope doctor so he left clutching a lot of notes for Sarah’s friends and going out the door to a flat, sunlit landscape. Next day her friends visited her and they didn’t see the steep slope either. They stayed and played all day long.  And the next day…

This is a sophisticated picture book for older readers who will appreciate its symbolism as Sarah tries to negotiate the steep slope that is only visible to her. Younger readers who are still at a very literal stage of development may not understand that the slope exists only in Sarah’s mind and that it is a representation of a problem that she perceives to have no solution.

If used in a class situation, students may make suggestions about the slope that is facing Sarah and be willing to share the “slopes” they have had to navigate – physical, academic, mental and emotional – and how they found their way, while others with slopes in front of them still may draw comfort and even hope that they are not alone and that there is a pathway they can follow. We are all faced with “slopes’ as we live and learn – some steeper than others but without them there is no progress in life – and part of the success of climbing them lies in being able to acknowledge and  analyse the issue, break it into small steps, develop strategies to tackle each step, understand that others are willing and able to help and it is no shame to ask them,  believe success is possible and engage in positive self-talk.  

This is a story about the power of friendship, of having the courage to take the next step forward, of being resilient and acknowledging we are part of a village that we can seek support from and that there is always help and hope. The absence of Sarah’s family in her solution and her reaching out to a doctor rather than a parent suggest that sometimes the issue is within the family or it is not something the child feels comfortable talking about with a family member for a range of reasons, giving the reader the approval that it is okay to seek advice and assistance beyond the traditional helpers used as they have grown up without feeling guilty that they have betrayed anyone or hurt their feelings.  

Apart from the concepts of symbolism, similes and metaphors and all that technical English language stuff, this is an important book in the mindfulness collection as we finally start to acknowledge the mental health issues for even the youngest children and help them develop the strategies and skills that will enable and empower them. Those are the important lessons teachers, and I use the word in its broadest sense, teach.

 

 

I just ate my friend

I just ate my friend

I just ate my friend

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I just ate my friend

Heidi McKinnon

Allen & Unwin, 2017

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

9781760294342

I just ate my friend. He was a good friend. But now he is gone. Would you be my friend?

Monster has eaten his friend and now he is on a search for another one.  One by one he asls other monsters but each has a different reason why they can’t oblige.  Too big, too small, too slow, too scary – each has a unique excuse.  But finally another one agrees…but this is definitely a case of “Be careful what you wish for”!

Set against a background of a dark starry sky, this is a story that has a dark humour to it and the twist in the end may puzzle very young readers but older readers will appreciate it. Even though the illustrations appear quite simple, there is a lot of expression built into the large white eyes and the slitted mouth that offer a lot of scope for encouraging young readers to look at the details in the pictures and interpret feelings from the facial features. Teaching them to read the pictures as well as the words is a critical skill to get the most from stories, even those that appear to be fairly simplistic. 

Using the universal desire for having a friend as its basis, it offers scope to discuss what it means to be a good friend and how you keep them.  Perhaps eating them is not the best idea, but what can you do when you find you don’t agree on something. Even discussing the fundamental question of whether friends can disagree and still be friends is important in developing the concept of friendship. 

Fresh, original and offering all the things a quality picture book should.

 

Garcia & Colette Go Exploring

Garcia & Colette Go Exploring

Garcia & Colette Go Exploring

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Garcia & Colette Go Exploring

Hannah Barnaby

Andrew Joyner

HarperCollins Children’s, 2017

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

9781460754306

Garcia the Rabbit and Colette the Fox cannot agree on where they want to go exploring – Garcia is fixated on space while Colette wants to see the sea.  With no agreement in sight they agree to go their separate ways.  Garcia builds a snazzy, silver rocket while Colette makes a gold and glorious submarine.  Packing peanut butter sandwiches, a notebook, a pen and their lucky charms, each heads off on their own adventure. 

But is exploring new and exciting places all that much fun when you don’t have your best friend by your side?

Cleverly written and illustrated so that each character remains connected despite their physical separation, this is a charming story of friendship and compromise that will appeal to a broad range – those who love the sea and those who love space.  Is there a middle ground and how can it be reached? A great way to introduce the art of negotiation and seeking win-win solutions while younger children can have fun contributing to murals of what each friend saw on their travels.    

Pippa’s Island: Cub Reporters

Pippa's Island: Cub Reporters

Pippa’s Island: Cub Reporters

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pippa’s Island: Cub Reporters

Belinda Murrell

Random House Australia, 2017

240pp., pbk., RRP $A14.99

9780143783688

Life could hardly be more different for Pippa.  From a seemingly happy family living in a Victorian terrace house in London to a caravan in her grandparents’ backyard on a tropical island off the Australian coast.  Forced to make changes when her husband decided to work in Switzerland without them, Pippa’s mother has uprooted the family to a totally new environment where she is now running the increasingly popular Beach Shack Cafe created from an old, abandoned boat shed – a huge contrast to being a stockbroker in London!.

Pippa has a new puppy called Summer, is learning to surf, has settled into school and now has a group of friends – Meg, Cici and Charlie- and they call themselves the Sassy Sisters. So when teacher librarian Mrs Neill launches a student newspaper inviting all the students to submit articles for the first edition, they are very excited.    But each has different interests and therefore different ideas of the focus of their story so whose idea will be adopted? And what happens when naughty puppies and tropical weather and unco-operative shopkeepers interfere with their plans? Being a junior journalist is not as easy as it sounds.

This is the second in this new series by Belinda Murrell, aimed at the independent reader who is looking for something that will absorb them for a while.  Writing modern stories for this tween-age group who are on the cusp of becoming young women with all that that entails is difficult because there is a fine line between what to include so the older girl remains interested and what to leave out so that the younger girl who is reading at this level is not turned away. In this series, Murrell has nailed it with just the right balance.  There is action aplenty, a healthy relationship with the boys in the story, Cici’s fashion interests to add the touch of glamour and a main character who could be almost any girl who picks up the book.  This and its predecessor The Beach Shack Cafe      will be in Miss 11’s Santa’s Sack this year!

When I was this age I read The Pen and Pencil Girls   by Clare Mallory, a book which had such an influence on my writing as a child that I tracked a copy down and bought it a few years ago. Move forward a couple of decades and the Junior Journalists club was the most popular and sustainable one  that operated in my school library, and now we have Cub Reporters to inspire another generation.  Offering kids an authentic outlet for their writing, their illustrating and their photography is a winner for getting those who have a passion for these things involved in school life while perhaps moving them on to a higher level of expertise. Let this book be the one to kickstart a program in your library. 

Guff

Guff

Guff

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Guff

Aaron Blabey

Viking, 2017

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

9780670077175

Guff is a somewhat weather-beaten soft toy. With both an eye and an ear missing, patches and fraying edges he looks like he has had a hard life, when, in fact he has had a loved life.  Given to the little girl when she was very tiny and he was as new and pristine as she was, he’s been with her every step of her growing-up journey and has survived the nearest of near misses like being left on the bus, floating out to sea  and even going through the washing machine.

With its sparse text the real story of Guff is told in the pictures with insight and humour – the mother’s expressions are exquisite and the love and the special relationship amongst mother, daughter and toy  just exudes from the page.

Guff is the toy we’ve all had, the constant companion that has given support and comfort when we’ve needed it – our best friend and confidante. Guff is there in all our childhood memories, intertwined with our adventures and misadventures. Guff makes it OK to go on your first sleepover or your first school camp with him close by your side even if you are in Year 4 or 5.  Guff is the warmth and comfort of Linus’s security blanket and just as acceptable.  He is the toy we will treasure and pass on to our children and tell them stories about.

Guff is Aaron Blabey’s latest masterpiece, not just a story for little people to listen to as they snuggle down with their Guff but one that will evoke memories for the storyteller and generate even more stories .

Guff is precious and very special – both the book and the toy.