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The Kindness Project

The Kindness Project

The Kindness Project

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Kindness Project

Deborah Abela

Puffin, 2024

338pp., pbk., RRP $A16.99

9781761340185

Nicolette’s favourite time of the day is when she visits her grandmother in “Alcatraz” – the local nursing home – each afternoon and together they complete a jigsaw, every piece fitting perfectly with its neighbour, just like Nanna and Nicolette.  Because Nicolette is a loner and a worrier and believes that her copy of the how-to-make-friends manual either got lost in the post or given to someone else.  School is a misery, for although she loves her teacher Ms Skye, she has to deal daily with DJ the bully who has always called her “knickers” and Layla, perfect, pretty but condescending and who apparently snubbed Nicolette’s birthday years ago and it still hurts.  

When a new boy with a weird name, peastick legs and oversized glasses comes to school – a boy with an amazing talent for drawing and creating stories about superheroes – tiny, tender tendrils of friendship twine them together, giving Nicolette a little bit of hope.  But then Ms Skye announces The Kindness Project and deliberately pairs the four children together, which has to be a recipe for disaster. Or is it?  

When Nicolette and Nanna bust out of Alcatraz for a day at the beach there are consequences far more wide-reaching than the police searching for them, particularly when Nicolette’s mum bans Nanna and Nicolette from seeing each other… consequences that open eyes, minds, hearts and doors for more than just the four children.

Written as a verse novel where every word is devoted to the who and their here-and-now, the choice of language is sublime and with clever use of fonts    and formatting that enhances the reader’s understanding of Nicolette’s emotions, this is one that moved me to tears as I binge-read it early one morning, and not just because of the story itself.  If we ever needed a reminder to not judge a book by its cover, to look beyond the behaviour to the circumstances driving it, for the story behind the story, then this is it.  Dealing with  issues like a grandparent with dementia, a mum with a mental illness, divorce and dealing with new parents and siblings, parents absent because of work deployments, over-the-top anxiety and feeling isolated if not abandoned,  the author has not shied away from exposing the real-life concerns that confront our students daily, and thus, the stories within the stories will resonate with many of our students – some of whom who will relate directly to the characters’ situations, others who might rethink their own words and actions.  

But it not only demands that we think about what is happening in the lives of our friends (and students) but also sheds light on the stories of those behind them.  While Nicolette may be having to come to terms with a grandmother who can no longer look after herself safely, that grandmother wasn’t always that way – she has her own backstory that guides her to guiding Nicolette; Leaf’s mum doesn’t spend every day in hospital receiving treatment for schizophrenia, DJ’s dad has made choices for altruistic reasons that a young DJ can’t yet understand. – and thus they, too have a voice in a world that seldom hears them talking.

Ms Skye sets the class The Kindness Project as a “way to change the world” and while Nicolette and her classmates are sceptical, Ms Skye assures them that “big changes come from small beginnings”.  And so it could be with this book.  One story shared could become the catalyst for so many more. 

Three Dresses

Three Dresses

Three Dresses

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Three Dresses

Wanda Gibson

UQP, 2024

40pp., hbk., RRP $A6.99

9780702266355

Three things are vivid memories of  the childhood of author and illustrator Wanda Gibson, Nukgal Wurra woman of the Guugu Yimithirr people – the harsh life on the Hope Vale on the Cape York Peninsula, Queensland; the annual two weeks holiday, the only time they got off the Mission, spent at the beach; and receiving three dresses and three pairs of undies from the Lutheran Church at Christmas time – “one to wash, one to war and one spare”.

But despite the hard life on the Mission – school in the morning, work in the afternoon, picking weeds out of cotton, pineapples and peanuts for no pay even in hot weather, – this is a story of the happy memories of those special two weeks spent with her family at the beach and the simplicity of a time shared and enjoyed just by being together,  

Taken at face value it is a joyful story of a holiday at the beach that could no doubt be contrasted to the holidays current students have at a similar location, or even the notion of being thrilled to get just three dresses a year, and even those were second-hand. However, thorough teachers notes help readers delve into the impact of  colonisation on our indigenous peoples and the various policies that governed their lives including extensive background information as well as points for investigation and discussion and classroom activities, making this a picture book to span all ages and aspects of the curriculum.  Indeed, there are links to further resources specifically for upper primary students. 

Whether it is shared as a story of the importance of a family making and sharing memories or one that opens doors to a different aspect of Australia’s history, this is one that has the potential to make a big impact. 

Grace the Amazing

Grace the Amazing

Grace the Amazing

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Grace the Amazing

Aleesah Darlison

Wombat Books, 2024

192pp., pbk., RRP $A14.99

 9781761111174

Like many 11-year-olds, Grace Marshall is struggling to straddle that divide between childhood and independent young woman. While she would like to be seen as Grace the Awesome, Grace the Incredible and Grace the Miraculous, she believes others have a different view of her, particularly her mum, a zookeeper who is juggling work and home almost as a solo parent. A chance remark to the “most popular girl in school” some time ago means she appears to have no friends at school, her little brother is a pain, and while her dad loves her to bits she misses him terribly, he is a FIFO worker only home one week in four.  

Grace recognises that she is different, perhaps eccentric, certainly straight-talking, a girl of “many moods [and] many colours” but never boring.  But sadly, she also believes that being just Grace is never enough. Currently, her passion is doing magic as she strives to be known as Grace the Amazing, and when she discovers her one true friend at school is Pamela, her art teacher, has been away for the past few weeks because she has terminal cancer, Grace is determined to find the magic to fix her.

But even though the reader secretly hopes for a different, miraculous ending, there can be only one and this is an engaging, endearing story of how a child deals with the news and its consequences, while at the same time learning much about herself and life, love and friendship along the way. From a little boy in a foster family with a weird name, to Dr Granger the Stranger, to Emma who she thought despised her, to Pamela herself, this is a coming-of-age story that will resonate with many who also feel isolated, a misfit and misunderstood, as once again, Darlison has created credible characters who could be the kids we know and so the reader fits right into the story.

In a Q&A with fellow reviewer TL Sue Warren, Darlison says, “A great story often starts with a simple idea.  Ideas for stories bombard me each and every day. Ideas are everywhere I go. In everything I see and do. And in everything I hear.  If you’re interested in writing stories, you can find ideas in the world around you too. You see, stories abound in all the many subtle nuances of our life – you just have to keep your eyes and ears and mind open to them…” Given the dedications in this book, there is a suggestion that this story is more than one of imagination -it’s one of those ideas that Darlison has seen or lived, and that, in itself, gives it a reality and poignancy that is going to have wide appeal. 

 

Test Trouble

Test Trouble

Test Trouble

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Test Trouble

Serena Patel

Louise Forshaw

Barrington Stoke, 2024

88pp., pbk., RRP $A17.99

9781800902756

When his teacher announces that there will be a timed maths test the following Monday, Arun goes into meltdown.  Even though he is bright and attentive, tests, especially timed ones, make him feel extremely anxious as he feels the pressure to perform.  And so he is determined to get out of it by any means possible staging a protest about tests altogether (which only gets him into more trouble) and even pretending to be sick.  But then a conversation with his neighbour helps him see things in a different light….

This is a story that nearly every reader will relate to. The anxiety that comes with the expectation of being tested, and being expected to do well, no matter how often teachers and other adults try to reassure you that it is “just a test” to let them know how you’re coping and that they can know where you need support.  The fact is that the fear of not living up to expectations, particularly your own, can become bigger than the test itself and that is what distorts the results, not your lack of knowledge and understanding.  

But even though we, as teachers, know this and that there are better ways of assessing a student’s progress and program, boffins wanting to protect their positions insist on imposing tests to measure achievement as though a score on a paper on a particular day indicates anything other than that, and using the results to make all sorts of high-stakes claims and decisions.  So until there is enlightened leadership, such as the implementation of the ACT Senior Secondary Certificate, which does not require a final exam,  our students are going to find themselves in Arun’s position, sadly from their Kindergarten year. And so this is a worthwhile addition to every teacher’s toolkit, especially those who teach that middle primary area where the fear and anxiety really start to take hold, so it can be shared over and over, especially the conversation that Arun has with Mr Patel on pp48-49. Sometimes just turning up for something that we are afraid to do is the biggest achievement, and, having done that, the rest is not so hard.  

This is a little book that has the potential to have the most enormous impact.

This book is from a new imprint, Barrington Stoke, that HarperCollins UK has acquired. Many will know that Barrington Stoke print all of their titles using dyslexic-friendly paper stock, formatting and fonts. Many of their books, including this one, are hi-lo texts written by popular authors but which have been edited to have a lower reading age than interest age so it’s great that they are now going to be readily available in Australia.

Mia Megastar

Mia Megastar

Mia Megastar

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mia Megastar

Ada Nicodemou & Meredith Costain

Serena Geddes

Puffin, 2024

176pp., pbk., RRP $A14.99

9781761342158

Meet Mia!
Her life is pretty interesting and amazing. She’s the only kid in her class who lives above a shop. And not just any shop – everyone knows Costa’s is the best place for groceries and the yummiest pastries. She has a cute-but-annoying little brother, Yianni, and the best friends ever. Oh, and her mum plays the worst pranks. Mia loves dancing and singing and is always putting on a show. And she’s ready to step into the limelight . . . this year will see Mia get closer to her dream of becoming a megastar.
But the road to stardom is not without a little drama. . .

Loosely based on her own childhood, this is the first in a three-part series  for young independent readers by Home and Away star of 22 years, Ada Nicodemou.  With the upsurge in online opportunities where anyone with ambition (if not talent) can showcase their abilities, there are many of our young students who will relate to Mia’s aspirations and who will find, like Mia (and someone close to me) that it involves a lot more than a camera and an internet connection.

A peek inside...

A peek inside…

Characters that appeal because the reader can put themselves into the lead role, an attractive layout with many visual features including acting tips from someone who has proven herself, and the promise of more to come in July and October, make this a series that is going to appeal to a large number of newly-independent readers who are looking for something new to pass the cold, winter months.  My aspiring young performer has grown through the phase now, but I know this will find a willing and wanting audience at the local primary school.  

Everyone Starts Small

Everyone Starts Small

Everyone Starts Small

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Everyone Starts Small

Liz Garton Scanlon

Dominique Ramsey

Candlewick Press, 2024

40pp., hbk., RRP $A34.99

9781536226157

Sun grows beams
and Grass grows blades
and Cloud cannot contain herself.

Spring rains change Water from a tumbling creek to a roaring river and bring Tree nutrients it needs to stretch toward the sky. As Sun’s rays intensify, the sprouts and fruits and insects of the forest grow and bloom and develop, all working together in harmony. Even Fire, whose work causes Tree to ache from the inside, brings opportunity for the next generation of flora and fauna. This poetic tribute to our planet’s resilience, accompanied by its striking illustrations is a resonant story of life, death, and regeneration and demonstrates to young readers the interdependence of the elements of Nature and how without one, or too much of one, our planet cannot survive, let alone thrive.

It echoes the old Aesop fable of The North Wind and the Sun although the theme of this is not competition but the symbiosis of the elements, despite Tree warning that “it is not a race”.  As well as building a greater awareness of the world around them, it introduces young readers to the concept of life cycles and possibly sparking investigations of the connections between creatures and their habitats and what they can do to help such as making a bee motel.

For those more mature readers, the personification could be a metaphor for their own lives, a reassurance that despite all they might experience as they grow and mature into independence, like Tree, they have the resilience and wherewithal to cope with whatever they encounter no matter how bleak the immediate future might seem.  Despite the devastation of Fire and the harshness of Winter, following the devastation, the Earth renews itself, and new lives arise again, rife with fabulous potential – just as they can. 

Kevin the Sheep

Kevin the Sheep

Kevin the Sheep

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Kevin the Sheep

Jacqueline Harvey

Kate Isobel Scott

Puffin, 2024

32pp., hbk., RRP $A17.99

9781761048951

Shaun, Shauna, Sheryl and Shane are sheep – and are as predictable in their sheepish behaviour as the alliteration of their names.  Along with the rest of the flock, they are happy doing the same things over and over day after day in their fields of green grass and clover.

But Kevin is different.  To start with, he’s allergic to grass and would much prefer a bowl of soup (sprinkled with chives) and instead of subjecting himself to the regular shearing, he prefers to keep his locks long, and have painted purple hooves!  And if that’s not enough, he’s into drama and dance, is learning to knit (from a Ewe-Tube video), and is mastering kung fu, among other things. Sadly for Kevin, the other sheep don’t approve and ostracise him, make him feel like an outcast and he gets sadder and sadder.  Until one night…

There are many stories for young readers about being yourself, embracing the things that make you unique and standing up to those who would prefer you to be one of the flock, but few that I have read have been as LOL funny as this one, and as appealing.  Living as I do in sheep country, sheep behaviour is a common sight and both the author and the illustrator have captured that brilliantly. A paddock of sheep is a paddock of sheep is a paddock of sheep… So to have a Kevin to rock the flock is a masterpiece, particularly as his differences span all sorts of attributes from physical appearance to food allergies to sporting prowess to hobby choices… No matter how a little one in your realm stands out from the crowd, they will be able to relate to Kevin and draw strength from his determination to accept his differences (even though it takes some sleepless nights to understand that he has the inner strength to do so) so that they, too, can revel in who they are, what they look like and what they can do. 

Teachers’ notes include some pages to colour that could become the centrepiece of the reader’s own story or they might even like to use Kate Scott’s illustrations as a model to draw Kevin doing what they like to do most, then making up their own story to go with that. 

Definitely one for both the home and school library.

 

Dinosaur in My Pocket

Dinosaur in My Pocket

Dinosaur in My Pocket

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dinosaur in My Pocket

Ashleigh Barton

Blithe Fielden

Lothian Children’s, 2024

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

9780734422668

James loves two things more than anything in the world: dinosaurs and miniatures. every day he plays with his toy dinosaurs and admires his collection of teeny tiny things on his shelves. But while he has an assortment of things like an elephant, a horse and even a mountain, he doesn’t have a miniature dinosaur. So when his class goes on an excursion to a museum and James finds a miniature dinosaur in the gift shop, he can’t help himself: he has no money so he steals the dinosaur. But, instead of feeling happy to be able to add it to his collection,  as the day continues, his guilt grows. And so does the dinosaur!

The only thing that can cure James’s guilt – and shrink the dinosaur back to its proper size – is doing the right thing. But how will his parents’ respond?  Will he be in BIG trouble?

There will be few children who haven’t been tempted by something they really want, so this is a cautionary tale that can open up discussions of knowing and doing right from wrong, the feelings they are likely to experience if they do succumb and how they might get what they want in an honest way.  It might also spark a discussion about the response of James’ parents – if they had yelled at him and punished him, would he have been likely to own up or be more scared of the consequences?  At a time when many seem to have a problem owning their behaviour, taking responsibility for what they have done and accepting the consequences, this could be an ideal ice-breaker.

 

Amanda Commander: The Blues-day Tuesday

Amanda Commander: The Blues-day Tuesday

Amanda Commander: The Blues-day Tuesday

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Amanda Commander: The Blues-day Tuesday

Coral Vass

Heidi Cooper-Smith

Wombat Books, 2024

80pp., pbk., RRP $A12.99

9781761111266

Amanda Caomhánach (aka Amanda Commander)  is nearly nine and likes nothing more than hanging out with her two best friends Lucia Cazzoli (aka Rainbow Fudge) and Mai Le (aka Plum Flower). Together they make up the Dolphin Squad meeting at their beachside HQ and solving problems like why Amanda didn’t receive an invitation to Eve’s birthday, the only one in the class not to have one.

This time, Amanda has a tough time fitting back into the friendship groups at school after having a sick day, and so, when Eve has several days off, Amanda is determined she will not face the dame issues, even if it means she, herself, is excluded.

This is the fourth in this series for the newly independent reader, particularly girls, which focuses on the sorts of issues that eight and nine year olds face as they navigate the world of greater independence and making and maintaining friendships. Thus, it will resonate with many who will see themselves in the stories, and start to think about what they might do in the same circumstances.  If someone returns to school after an absence or is new to the school, how will they respond so the transition is smooth and welcoming.

Using all the textual devices that support those making the transition to novels, this is a series that will be a sound stepping stone.  

The Squirrel and the Lost Treasure

The Squirrel and the Lost Treasure

The Squirrel and the Lost Treasure

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Squirrel and the Lost Treasure

Coralie Bickford-Smith

Particular Books, 2023

64pp., hbk., RRP $A35.00

9780241541975

As autumn turns to winter in the woods, and leaves and acorns fall, the young squirrel watches others scrabble to collect them, murmuring about a secret place in the centre of the forest where no trees grow at all.  As night falls she sees a solitary acorn lying in the leaves and gathering it quickly, she clutches it all night determined not to let it go ever.  When dawn broke she heads for the centre of the forest where there are no trees  no birdsong, and no other squirrels to steal her precious prize.  And there she buries it safe from the cold and snow to come.

After the long winter finally passes and Spring comes again, the squirrel hurries to find her treasure – but where is it?  And why has everything changed?

The creator of this “fable about growth, new life and finding hope in unexpected places” describes herself as “a designer of fine things, mostly books” and her talent is very obvious not only in the lyrical, almost poetic text of this book but also its presentation. Author-illustrator of this as well as  The Fox and the Star (2015) – the first picture book to win the Waterstones Book of the Year award – The Bird and the Worm (2017), The Song of the Tree (2020) and the designer of many more, particularly the Clothbound Classics series from Penguin, she has a distinctive style which turns a seemingly-simple story into something so much more, harking back to a style of bygone times.

This has a place in any library collection as much for its presentation as its contents offering goodies as rich as the acorn the little squirrel buried.