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Lyla

Lyla

Lyla

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lyla

(Through My Eyes-Natural Disasters  series)

Fleur Beale

A & U Childrens, 2018

208pp., pbk., RRP $A 16.99

9781760113780

DISCLAIMER: This will be neither an impartial nor an unemotional review. For one who called Christchurch home for many years, particularly those formative years of my schooling and teacher education, and for whom so much that was so familiar is now gone, it is impossible to be objective when the places and events are so well-known.  Although I was not there during the earthquake I have made trips back and I still can’t get my head around it.

February 22, 2011 and life has returned to normal for Lyla and her friends Katie and Shona after the 7.1 magnitude earthquake struck – that’s if having the earth move under your feet several times a day and making a game of guessing the magnitude can be considered normal. Even the daily reminder of the main block of their school, Avonside Girls’ High, being damaged and unusable has been set aside as they try to do the things that 13 and 14 year olds students do. Caught in town at 12.51pm when ‘the big one’ hit, their lives are plunged into chaos as buildings collapse and  people panic as the air fills with dust making visibility almost impossible.

While it is possible to watch endless news coverage, read articles and information it is impossible to know what a natural disaster such as this is really like unless you are part of it and experience it for yourself.  So while I had watched and read and listened and learned, spoken to family and friends who were in the thick of it and even returned home and visited the backyard of such a major part of my life, it was not until reading Lyla that I got a real understanding of what it was to be in the moment.  Beale has drawn on stories of the events of the day and the months following and woven them into a narrative that is both scary and un-put-downable that illustrates not just individual heroism but that sense of community among strangers that seems to emerge when humans are put under such duress – made all the more haunting when you can picture the reality of the setting which is a well-known as the face in the mirror.

In the beginning, there is the fear for family and friends as both Lyla’s mother, a police officer and her father, a trauma nurse at Christchurch Hospital are unaccounted for and she is separated from Shona and Katie in the chaos as the SMS service goes into meltdown, and while they are eventually found to be OK that need to know family is safe means that all families have an earthquake plan much the same as Australians have a bushfire plan. The theme of needing to be with others is strong throughout as neighbours have a need to eat and sleep and be together even if they have a habitable home to go to, and enduring and unusual friendships and bonds are formed.   

There is also a strong thread of Lyla feeling powerless because of her age but finding things she can do that make a difference such as babysitting her neighbour’s children so their mother can return to the medical centre where she works; helping shovel the oozing, stinking liquefaction for elderly neighbours; setting up a charging station for those still without electricity… seemingly minor things within the big picture but nevertheless critical to her mental health at the time.

But like so many then and now, the situation becomes overwhelming. Despite hearing the harrowing tales of others and the rising death toll, and the news of the Japanese earthquake and tsunami and telling herself that compared to them she is in great shape, Lyla succumbs and needs qualified medical intervention.  This is another strength of the story – given that seven years on the city still has not recovered it was never going to have a happy, all-is-fine ending, so having Lyla denying help because the common thinking is that the people of Christchurch are somehow more resilient than others, that because her home isn’t munted she should be okay, but nevertheless accepting it and going some way towards recovery shines a light on the okay-ness of needing assistance to get things back in balance.  This particularly poignant in light of the subsequent increase in suicides, unprecedented demand for psychological help and the continuing need for support as there has been a 73% increase in the number of children who need support for mental health issues in Christchurch.

While this has been an emotional read for me, it and the others in both this series and its twin focusing on children living in conflict are essential elements of both the curriculum and the collection as they offer the ‘colour and detail’ to the stark monochrome sketches of news reports, websites and other information-only sources.  They are the blend of imagination and information that such fiction can offer that leads to insight and understanding.  

Seven years on, long after the event has disappeared from the news headlines and faded from the memories of those not directly involved,  the reality of that time is still in-your-face on every corner of Christchurch and will be for many years to come – Lyla and her friends will be 20 now, confronted by images and memories of that day still, just as anyone who has lived and loved Christchurch is.  For now Ruaumoko, the Maori god of earthquakes has settled a little (even though there were 25 quakes in the week preceding the anniversary, albeit peanuts compared to the 15669 on that day in 2011) but like her friends, family and all those who chose to remain in Christchurch to rebuild their lives and their city one wonders when he will wake again.

185 empty white chairs

185 empty white chairs surrounded by empty spaces, broken buildings and a gloomy sky – September 2015

 

 

Kate and The Thing

Kate and The Thing

Kate and The Thing

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Kate and The Thing

Heidi Cooper Smith

Wombat Books, 2018

32pp. hbk., RRP $A24.99

 9781925563290

Kate is about to start her first day at a new school, and like thousands of other kids who have to face the same experience, she is feeling anxious and reluctant.  But then a mysterious white Thing comes into her life and helps her set the fear aside temporarily as it shows her the beauty in the colour of the autumn leaves and the joy in the sound of the sidewalk buskers.  All through her first day and the days following, Kate has the Thing by her side, giving her courage and confidence to hang in there, take each new event one step at a time and gradually stepping back so she can go it alone.  

Then one day she spots a new boy, sitting forlornly and lonely on a bench, a Thing next to his side that he hasn’t yet seen…

Every child who has faced being new at somewhere or something will relate to and empathise with Kate.  The feelings of having to step into the unknown and even the uncomfortable will be familiar and they will relate to having The Thing, or Some Thing giving them invisible support to keep putting one foot in front of the other until the walk is mastered, giving great scope for exploring feelings and emotions and building vocabulary.

This story offers a couple of lines of investigation – before and after.  While Kate has The Thing to support her, it’s helpful to teach students how to prepare for new situations by having them envisage what might go wrong and having some strategies to deal with these if indeed they happen.  Knowing that even if the worst comes to the worst you have some action you can take can often give an added boost of confidence. 

At the other end of the spectrum, as teachers many of us will have had new students starting in our classes over the past couple of weeks as new terms start around the states.  So perhaps this is a time to check up on them and see how they are settling in, that no one is slipping through the cracks in the busyness that is the start of the school year.

Heidi Cooper Smith has written a story that everyone can relate to  and which can offer a springboard to more than just the story of Kate and her Thing.

 

The Susie K Files (series)

The Susie K Files

The Susie K Files

 

 

 

 

 

 

Life of the Party

9781760296681

Game Changer

9781760296698

Shamini Flint

Sally Beinrich

Allen & Unwin, 2018

112pp., pbk., RRP $A9.99

Susie K is nine years old and says she has mega-huge problems – problems as big as the Sydney Opera House, as tall as the Eiffel Tower and as massive as the pyramids of Egypt. But she is OK with that because she likes to use her scientific mind to solve them, and understanding the importance of keeping records of the trials she has to solve the problem, she has decided to keep a file on each one that she solves. 

Her first problem is that she loves animals but is allergic to fur so she has the class goldfish for her only pet.  Problems 2, 3 and 4 come in the shape of her family – firstly her dad who is a mad sports fanatic and Susie is not; then her brother Jack who is constantly putting her down;and  #4 is her mum who is a Sri Lankan refugee who had a very tough childhood and refers to it often so she now wants Susie to be a huge success at everything she tries, which would be impossible even if she didn’t have the ridiculous name of Susanna Saathiavanni Kanagaratnam-Smith. Why couldn’t she just be Susie Smith? But being like most little girls, Susie is keen to please her mum and does her best to do so.

At school, Susie prefers the people in books to the people in real life so she’s not the most popular person, which she doesn’t mind and is relieved when she is no longer invited to parties and other social occasions. But when her mum discovers she was the only one not at a class pool party, her mum decides to do something about it even though Susie begs her not to get involved because parents sticking their noses in does not always have a happy outcome. And so Operation: Life of the Party begins…

In the second in the series, Game Changer, her mother is thrilled that Susie is competing in the school sports carnival but when you are no good at sport and actually hate them, the problems start.

This is a new series that will really support newly-independent readers with its graphic-novel type format as much of Susie’s thoughts  and conversations are in a cartoon-like style that not only moves the action along but adds greater depth to Susie’s character as she works her way through the issues.  Many girls will see themselves in Susie’s shoes, if not with the family background but definitely with the problems she has and they will gain insight and perhaps hope that with some lateral thinking, there isn’t anything that can’t be negotiated or solved – without a parent interfering! 

A read-alone rather than a read-aloud, this is an intriguing new series that deserves a place in your collection.

The Pink Hat

The Pink Hat

The Pink Hat

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Pink Hat

Andrew Joyner

Random House Australia, 2018

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

9780143789369

At first there wasn’t a pink hat but after some deft weaving of a skein of wool there was and its maker, an older woman,  wore it all the time because it was so cosy.  That is, until a cat grabbed it and had fun with it.  That is, until it flew out the window as it was thrown around and landed in a tree where some children found it.  But as they climbed the tree to reach it, it dislodged and fell into a stroller where a baby claimed it.  

And so the pink hat’s adventures continued until it became one of millions of pink hats in the largest political march in history and became a symbol for women’s rights and recognition worldwide. Something so simple and common became so powerful. 

Dedicated to the “women who march us forward” this is a masterpiece that brings the equality of half of the world’s population into sharp focus without preaching or bias but with so much scope to take the discussion further as the meaning of the placards carried by the participants – women, men and children – is explored and explained. Its power lies in its subtlety not just in the text but in the monochrome illustrations where the only pop of colour is the hat so that it is the focal point of each page while those who come into contact with it are united in their lack of colour – gender, age, ethnicity, religion and socioeconomic status become irrelevant. 

As one who lived through the “bra-burning days”, who benefited greatly from what was so hard-won by the women who went before me and who has fought for the recognition of those achievements watching young girls go places and do things never before considered possible because of their gender, it bewildered me that ‘feminism’ had become the second f-word, despised, derided and almost abandoned as though it had sinister connotations.  Now, with this book and another march taking place on all seven continents to continue what was begun, not only will pink hats become the hottest headwear but our young women can continue their inexorable but unending march forward. 

Let the conversations begin and rise in a crescendo.

A picture book for all ages and both genders, excellent for encouraging the answers to “What is the author’s message?’ and “How has it been conveyed?”.

Perfect Petunias

Perfect Petunias

Perfect Petunias

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Perfect Petunias

Lynn Jenkins

Kirrili Lonergan

EK Books, 2018

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

9781925335583

Loppy LAC is very worried about not doing his homework well enough. He is always focusing on what he hasn’t done rather than what he has, and he becomes very frustrated. So, his friend Curly teaches him about how petunias grow — in lots of different, imperfect directions that we can’t control! Loppy learns that by trying to control whether he makes mistakes or not it’s as if he’s always trying to grow ‘perfect’ petunias.  Sometimes he just needs to accept that things go a certain way and to change his definition of ‘perfect’ to mean trying his absolute best.

This is the third in a series to help Loppy the LAC (Little Anxious Creature) deal with his anxieties. in this case not being satisfied with anything that he sees as being less than perfect. Children like Loppy are present in every class, either being afraid to start something in case it is not perfect on the first attempt or giving up in tears, frustration and even anger, so a story and strategies that help them focus on the things that they have done well rather than the ‘mistakes’ they have made can go a long way towards helping them accept themselves, their activities and other people with all their imperfections. Helping them to see the glass half-full, the silver lining, the rainbow rather than the rain can lay the foundations for strong mental and emotional health in the future. Developing a mantra of “I can” rather than “I can’t” is so important if they are to take risks to try new things that will open up so many new worlds to them.

Another one for your mindfulness collection and if you want to be able to help children understand how we must make mistakes to learn then watch this TED talk – The Benefits of Failure.

Pippa’s Island: Kira Dreaming

Pippa's Island: Kira Dreaming

Pippa’s Island: Kira Dreaming

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pippa’s Island: Kira Dreaming

Belinda Murrell

Random House, 2018

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

9780143783701

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. 

This, the third in this series for independent readers, focuses on Kira Cove Public School’s talent quest.and while her friends are excited about performing, Pippa is very nervous. Singing to an audience is not what she likes.  After a disastrous audition the girls get a second chance, but can Pippa find a way to smash her stage fright before the VIP concert?

Meanwhile, at the Beach Shack Cafe a mysterious visitor is causing havoc when backs are turned. When Pippa finds a clue, she is determined to track down the mischievous cafe thief.

This series was going to be in Miss 11’s Santa’s Sack but when that got too full, I decided to hold it back till that time in the holidays when there is a lull in the excitement – in her case, wedged between Christmas and a new bike and going on Scout camp.  And it was a great decision because as soon as I gave it to her she was off to read it and has now read all three books in 48 hours and demanding to know when the next one is coming out.  She tells me she loves them because the story “sounds just like me and my friends and the things we do.”  I could rave on about the quality of Murrell’s writing and the way she portrays the characters, but surely there is no better review than a big thumbs up and huge anticipation from one for whom the story was written!

If you don’t have this series in your collection, then put it at the top of your to-buy list and let your girls have at it. 

Wilbur, Grace and Joe

Wilbur, Grace and Joe

Wilbur, Grace and Joe

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wilbur, Grace and Joe

Phil Cummings

Amanda Graham

Little Book Press, 2017

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

9780994385284

Wilbur the dog is as much in love with the new twins Grace and Joe as their parents. He becomes their furry, four-legged guardian angel as he shares the exciting days and the sleepless nights as they grow from newborns to toddlers with all that that entails.

This is a charming family story with a soft palette that emphasises its gentleness and which families will relate to as a new baby enters the world of a couple and their dog.  A lovely bedtime story for a young reader with a faithful dog who will want to know if that’s what their life was like too.

 

Here We Are: Notes For Living On Planet Earth

Here We Are: Notes For Living On Planet Earth

Here We Are: Notes For Living On Planet Earth

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here We Are: Notes For Living On Planet Earth

Oliver Jeffers

HarperCollins, 2017

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

9780008266165

“Well, hello.
And welcome to this Planet.
We call it Earth.

Our world can be a bewildering place, especially if you’ve only just got here. Your head will be filled with questions, so let’s explore what makes our planet and how we live on it. From land and sky, to people and time, these notes can be your guide and start you on your journey. And you’ll figure lots of things out for yourself. Just remember to leave notes for everyone else… Some things about our planet are pretty complicated, but things can be simple, too: you’ve just got to be kind.”

Written for his baby son, Jeffers tries to offer an explanation of this planet and how it works so that young Harland (and any other little children) will be able to negotiate it successfully.  Even though this planet is a complex place, Jeffers manages to extract its essential elements  – there are basically two parts, the land and the sea – and using direct narrative, his iconic illustrations and simple labels he explores the concepts of the planet and the people and animals who inhabit it. Huge ideas reduced to simple but carefully chosen words that convey both explanation and advice.

“People come in many shapes, sizes and colours.  We may all look different, act differently and sound different … but don’t be fooled, we are all people.”

Throughout there is the underlying message of choosing kind and gentle to the land, its people and all its inhabitants, underpinned by a quote from J. M. Barrie as part of the dedication page..

With so much emphasis on the environment in our school curricula these days, this is the perfect book to create a child’s awareness of their surroundings beyond their immediate self.  But there are so many avenues that could be explored by posing questions such as “Is there more land that sea?”  or “If most of the land is at the top of the planet, why doesn’t the planet roll?” that could lead to investigations by all ages.  

Here We Are: Notes For Living On Planet Earth was the #1 New York Times Bestseller and voted #1 TIME Best Book of the Year for 2017.  It’s easy to see why. A must-have in your collection and one to be recommended to teachers as the staple that underpins all their lessons this year.

Mr Bambuckle’s Remarkables

Mr Bambuckle’s Remarkables

Mr Bambuckle’s Remarkables

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mr Bambuckle’s Remarkables

Tim Harris

James Hart

Random House Australia, 2017

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

9780143785859

Imagine walking into class and instead of seeing Miss Schlump you see a man in a dazzling blue suit riding a unicycle balanced on top of a desk! Not only that, he seems to be able to magic tricks like flicking rasher of bacon and some eggs from his sleeves and cooking his breakfast on a pre-heated frying pan. Then to top that off he also seems to know everything about each student already and has a unique way of getting them to tell their stories and overcome whatever is bothering them!

Despite the one-size-fits-all curriculum imposed on teachers, the best know that each student is a unique individual with their own unique personalities shaped by their life’s events and only by reaching and teaching the student not the subject, is the child likely to start knowing themselves and reaching their particular potential.  Mr Bambuckle is such a teacher -although Principal Sternblast is definitely not – and through getting the students to tell their stories within a more general narrative framework he does just that. 

There are 15 students in 12B and each has a thumbnail introductory sketch at the beginning of the book, emphasising that this will be a story about them rather than Mr Bambuckle which is just how a class should be.  The child is very much at the centre of his teaching and author Tim Harris has drawn on his long experience as a primary teacher to show that it is possible to know each child individually and draw out the best from them, starting by giving them ownership of what they will do by having them design their own merit stickers – the tried and true but somewhat meaningless tool-of-trade of many. 

Both independent readers and those listening to it as a read-aloud will either recognise their own teacher or wish they were in 12B,while teachers might also like to be Mr Bambuckle.

Great new story from a new author with others in the series on the horizon!

Malala’s Magic Pencil

Malala's Magic Pencil

Malala’s Magic Pencil

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Malala’s Magic Pencil

Malala Yousafzai

Kerascoët

Puffin, 2017

45pp., hbk., RRP $A24.99

9780241322567

When she was young, Malala Yousafzai watched a television program called Shaka Laka Boom Boom about a boy who had a magic pencil which he used to draw the things he needed to get himself out of trouble or to get the things he needed like a bowl of curry when he was hungry.  As Malala watched she wished she had a magic pencil too so she could draw and get the things she wanted, like a lock on her door to keep her brothers out, some flowers to erase the smell of the nearby rubbish dump, beautiful dresses for her mum, even a real soccer ball so she and her brothers didn’t have to play with an old sock stuffed with rubbish.

Every night she wished for a magic pencil and every morning she looked for it but it was never there.

Then one day whilst throwing potato peelings and eggshells on that nearby rubbish dump she saw something that she had never seen and which, ultimately, changed her life.  A girl was sorting the rubbish into piles and boys were fishing for metal scraps with magnets on a string. As she talked it over that evening with her school principal father, she learned that not all were lucky like her and got to go to school, that many many children had to help support their families with the rubbish they found and that for so many school was a luxury only to be dreamed of. And she also realised that even with her education, she could be just as trapped as those girls on the rubbish dump.

New dreams began and that elusive magic pencil was going to be put to a wider use.

But Malala was smart enough to know that there was not going to be a magic pencil miraculously waiting beside her bed one morning so she had to create her own.  So she did…

One child, one teacher, one book and one pen can change the world…

The youngest person to ever receive the Nobel Peace Prize, Malala is one of the most inspirational young women this generation has seen and her story is becoming more and more well-known as she hopes to inspire others to lend their voices to the global issue of education for girls.  In this stunning picture book, aimed at children who are the age she was when she began her campaign, the reader not only learns about what inspired her but also becomes inspired to make a whisper become a worldwide shout.  If the current #metoo campaign can become such a voice for opposing sexual aggression against women, then what can be done to create a similar movement for girls’ education.  Study after study has shown that the way to world peace is through the education of girls so this is the perfect vehicle to help our young students understand they do have a voice, it is important and it can be loud.