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What Zola Did (series)

What Zola Did (series)

What Zola Did (series)

What Zola Did (series)

What Zola Did on Thursday

 9781760895181

What Zola Did on Friday

9781760895020

What Zola Did on Saturday

:9781760895211

What Zola Did on Sunday

9781760895228

Melina Marchetta

Deb Hudson

Puffin, 2021

96pp., pbk., RRP $A12.99

This great series for newly independent readers continues with the  release of three new titles and concludes in September with What Zola did on Sunday.

Readers first met Zola, her cousin Alessandro and her friends last year in What Zola Did on Monday  when she roped her Nonna into helping rebuild the community gardens and as her adventures continued in subsequent books, so the community got to know each other and bonded. And so in these latest releases, even though she continues to get into strife – forming a band and upsetting a cranky neighbour, painting Nonno Nino’s little yellow boat; helping Nonna with her prized tomatoes; and joining in the fun of the St Odo’s Day fete – she still manages to bring the community together so that instead of being isolated individuals as they were to start with, there are now friendships and love and laughter.

Inspired by her own daughter who was intelligent but reluctant to read, Marchetta has written this series with its humour, relatable characters and all the supports for those building their confidence with novels, so that others can grow as her daughter did. She has taken parts of her daughter’s character and family members and events and melded them into stories that not only her daughter was able to relate to, but just about every other child in Australia.  While there is a vast variety of characters, settings and plots in children’s stories today (as opposed to the good vs evil didactic tales of the past) those that resonate with readers, particularly reluctant ones, are those in which they see themselves, where they can put themselves into the events and become a participant rather than an observer.  So creating something with a big family, cousins who live in the house behind you, a hole in the fence to climb through so you can play together and a street of diverse interesting neighbours to explore means that this has wide appeal for so many. 

It’s a perfect series to binge-read during this lockdown and inspire the children to get to know their communities better when they are allowed out to play again. There are teachers’ notes available  and Thursday has an activity pack that could be used as inspiration for children to build their own for the others in the series. 

Zola, her friends and their adventures have become a friend over the last 18 months or so and it’s sad that the series is complete, but I’m glad they were in my life. 

 

All About Diversity

All About Diversity

All About Diversity

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

All About Diversity

Felicity Brooks

Mar Ferrero

Usborne, 2021

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

9781474986649

“Being different from each other is called DIVERSITY”  and this entertaining book explores a range of ways people can be different such as what they look like, where they live, the sorts of families they live in, the foods they eat and the way they spend their time.  Using a two-page spread , lots of illustrations accessible text and speech bubbles, its design encourages the young reader to explore each vignette and learn something new each time. There is also a glossary to explain some of the trickier words as well as notes for the grown-ups that explain why promoting diversity and inclusion is critical for the healthy well-being of our children.

 

A peek inside....

A peek inside….

Although this is a topic that early childhood teachers focus on each year this books gives a real focus and explanation to those aspects that their students are most aware of, making it an excellent foundation for an ongoing unit of work.  Inspired by the stimuli provided, children could create their own class pages featuring themselves and their lives making it a powerful resource for both social and language development. 

Show Us Where You Live, Humpback

Show Us Where You Live, Humpback

Show Us Where You Live, Humpback

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Show Us Where You Live, Humpback

Beryl Young

Sakika Kikuchi

Greystone Books, 2021

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

9781771645737 

As the “humpback highway” gathers momentum and more and more of our young readers have the privilege of seeing these majestic creatures, this is a timely release of the story of a humpback whale and her calf and how they bond and learn, grow and change and how that process parallels the development of the child. Both baby and calf have mothers who keep them safe and nurture them, while other natural-instinct behaviours also mirror each other such as blowing bubbles and blowing a plume, shouting and singing and frolicking in water.

Beautifully illustrated, this is a charming story of two not normally viewed together, answering the child’s questions as well as offering a new wondrous perspective of these magnificent mammals. 

 

 

Frizzle and Me

Frizzle and Me

Frizzle and Me

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Frizzle and Me

Ellie Royce

Andrew McLean

Ford Street, 2021 

32pp., pbk., RRP $A16.95

9781925804744

In the beginning, there was just Mummy and me.  But over time the family grows to be Mummy, Jani, David, Elizabeth, Frizzle and me, And even though the relationships between them are less than conventional, they still do and share the most important things so each is surrounded by love and has what they need to be happy.

This is a charming story that celebrates the diversity of relationships that make up families and households these days, demonstrating that there is a much stronger glue holding them together than an official certificate.  So many readers will delight in reading about a family like theirs that is not the usual nuclear model of mum, dad and kids. Ellie Royce has honed on those special connections that are important to a child and the adults around them and the shared love oozes from Andrew McLean’s pictures.  

Just five years ago, I wrote a blog post  about the placement of such books in the collection after a teacher in the US shared one and found his job in jeopardy and I was prompted to approach the exec at the school I was at to get their stance about being informed if I chose a similar route (they managed to avoid the discussion and I never got a response so went ahead anyway). Now, I wouldn’t hesitate to promote it, although some schools might need to be sensitive to their particular demographic given a recent discussion of The Pout-Pout Fish  in a NSW TL forum.  There are so many stories  from those whose lives have been changed because they finally read a story about a kid like them so at last they felt normal that IMO, these sorts of books need to be promoted and shared.  Who knows who we will touch by doing so? 

A Glasshouse of Stars

A Glasshouse of Stars

A Glasshouse of Stars

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Glasshouse of Stars

Shirley Marr

Puffin, 2021

288pp., pbk., RRP $A16.99

 9781760899547

Meixing Lim and her family have arrived at the New House in the New Land, inherited from First Uncle who died tragically and unexpectedly while picking oranges in the backyard. Everything is vast and unknown to Meixing and not in a good way, including the house she has dubbed Big Scary. She is embarrassed by the second-hand shoes given to her by the kind neighbours, has trouble understanding the language at school, and with fitting in and making new friends. Her solace is a glasshouse in the garden that inexplicably holds the sun and the moon and all the secrets of her memory and imagination.

Her fragile universe is rocked when tragedy strikes and Ma Ma refuses to face the world outside. Meixing finds herself trapped within the shrinking walls of Big Scary. Her parents said this would be a better life for them all, but it feels like the worst and most heart-breaking experience of Meixing’s entire existence. Surviving will take all the resilience and inner belief of this brave girl to turn their world around.

In this intriguing novel, the author has drawn on the good, the bad and the ugly of her own experiences of arriving in Australia in the 1980s after being a refugee on Christmas Island and having to adjust to such a different life and lifestyle.  Her “Western mind and Eastern heart” resonate throughout the story, offering the reader an insight into what it must be like for so many of their peers and perhaps helping them to understand and interact with them better.  

Jessica Townsend, the author of the Nevermoor series, has described this book as “‘Heart-twisting and hopeful, bursting with big feelings and gentle magic. This is a special book from a powerful, compassionate new voice in children’s literature, destined to be read and loved for generations and held close in many hearts (including mine).’  And, really, that says it all. More for the upper end of the readership of this blog, nevertheless it is one that needs to be shared with your mature, capable independent readers who are wanting something that will engage them and stay with them long after the last page is read.  While they will need to have some tissues handy as they ride the rollercoaster of emotions as Meixing faces the changes and the accompanying ‘big scaries’ they will rejoice in her resilience and ultimate triumph. 

 

Little Gem and the Mysterious Letters

Little Gem and the Mysterious Letters

Little Gem and the Mysterious Letters

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Little Gem and the Mysterious Letters

Anna Zobel

Puffin, 2021

272pp., pbk., RRP $A14.99

9781760896096

When her travelling spell at Witchcraft School went wrong, Gem landed in an unfamiliar, empty, seemingly derelict cottage, outside a strange, colourful town beside the sea, a long way from the school on top of snow-covered mountains where she had begun.  But not only was this somewhere she didn’t know, it was a century on from the time she had been in! Telling herself she is not frightened just confused, Gem stepped out to discover just what has happened.

Meanwhile, everyone in Ellsworth Pining thought  Gem was  their new village witch, even when Gem tried to correct them.  

Now in the second in this new series for young independent readers, Little Gem is settling into her life at Ellsworth Pining with the help of Ghost Henry and her other friends. Everyone is preparing for the Midsummer Festival and Little Gem is in charge of the special effects for the Midsummer Play. But when Little Gem’s magic starts to go wrong and she receives several mysterious letters, Gem is worried that the festival is going to be a disaster! Will Little Gem be able to work out who is sending the letters and regain her confidence before opening night?

For those who enjoy a bit of magic mixed in with reality, and who have enjoyed series like Jill Murphy’s The Worst Witch.,  this has  all the scaffolding needed to support them including plenty of line illustrations.  The pace is just right with time for readers to engage with the characters such as Henry, the resident housekeeping ghost, Renzo, who helps his postman dad in the holidays, Amira, who now has a pet dragon, and Mrs Silva, who runs the local café, learn who they are but not get too bogged down in minute detail, a skill that those who write for children have to perfect to retain their audience’s attention.  By doing that well, the young reader can then absorb some of the messages from the situations and circumstances Gem find herself in such as  taking responsibility , and learning from your mistakes, even if that puts you in an awkward place, and understanding and reaching out to those  who feel different and find things difficult. 

Whether a read-aloud or a read-alone, this is a way to introduce young readers to mysteries and set them off on a new reading journey.

Music for Tigers

Music for Tigers

Music for Tigers

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Music for Tigers

Michelle Kadarusman

Pajama Press, 2021

192pp., pbk., RRP $A19.99

9781772781892

“The first sound I hear in the forest at the bottom of the world is Vivaldi’s ‘Spring’ from The Four Seasons. There’s a movement in the violin concerto that’s meant to mimic the sound of birds. When I step off the bus in the Tarkine bush, that’s exactly what I hear. An orchestra of birdsong descends like musical rain from the Tasmanian treetops.”

Shipped halfway around the world from Toronto to Tasmania to spend the summer with her mother’s eccentric Australian relatives, middle schooler and passionate violinist Louisa is prepared to be resentful. All she wants to be is a violinist, not a biologist like her mother but her mother has discovered that the family-run sanctuary is about to be destroyed and thinks Louisa needs to know more about her heritage.

Life at the family’s remote camp in the Tasmanian rainforest is intriguing, to say the least. There are pig-footed bandicoots, scary spiders, weird noises and odours in the night, and a quirky boy named Colin who cooks the most amazing meals. Not the least strange is her Uncle Ruff, with his unusual pet and veiled hints about something named Convict Rock. 

Finally, when Uncle Ruff gives Louisa her great-grandmother’s diary, she learns the truth: Convict Rock is a sanctuary established by her great-grandmother Eleanor-a sanctuary for Tasmanian tigers, Australia’s huge marsupials that were famously hunted into extinction almost a hundred years ago. Or so the world believes. Hidden in the rainforest at Convict Rock, one tiger remains. But now the sanctuary is threatened by a mining operation, and the last Tasmanian tiger must be lured deeper into the forest. The problem is, not since her great-grandmother has a member of the family been able to earn the shy tigers’ trust. 

As the summer progresses, Louisa forges unexpected connections with Colin a young lad on the autism spectrum; with the forest;  and-through Eleanor’s journal-with her great-grandmother. She begins to suspect the key to saving the tiger is her very own music. But will her plan work? Or will the enigmatic Tasmanian tiger disappear once again, this time forever? 

This is an intriguing read for independent readers who are looking for something different, and something that will stay with them long after the last page is read. The Tasmanian Tiger remains an mysterious, elusive creature which fascinates because of the sporadic “sightings” and suggestions that it may not have become extinct when the last one died in Hobart Zoo in 1936. Acknowledging the expertise of the land’s traditional owners, it is one that has the preservation of the environment at heart, but also the changing nature of people and families as they learn more about who they are.

Written for readers at the upper age limit of this blog, I, as an adult, was engrossed and I could hear myself reading it to a class of entranced listeners. 

 

The Exploding Life of Scarlett Fife

The Exploding Life of Scarlett Fife

The Exploding Life of Scarlett Fife

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Exploding Life of Scarlett Fife

Maz Evans

Hodder Children’s, 2021

225pp., pbk., RRP $A14.99

9781444957679

Scarlett Fife has BIG FEELINGS. And when she has BIG FEELINGS, they explode out of her like an over-squeezed stress ball.

Scarlett’s in big trouble after a BIG FEELINGS episode leads to a runaway hamster getting into the vicar’s trousers at her aunty’s engagement party. If she loses her temper ONE MORE TIME, she’s going to miss out on her trip to Mega Awesome Sicky Fun World, the best theme park on the planet.

But feelings are like slime in a party bag. No matter how much someone tells you to keep it in, it’ll always find its way out. And very soon, Scarlett notices that every time she pushes her feelings down, something explodes. Like … really, properly explodes.

It might be her teacher’s slimy green smoothie. A huge pot of purple paint. Or a massive pile of elephant poo at the zoo. And let’s hope Scarlett doesn’t get mad at Aunty’s wedding – that wedding cake is HUGE …

Start a story with “I AM SO ANGRY I THINK MY BUM MIGHT FALL OFF’ and populate it with characters who are instantly relatable to its audience, add modern illustrations and a graphic layout and you have a story that is going to appeal to a wide number of newly independent readers, particularly girls who understand Scarlett’s frustrations. This is a new series  (with at least two more scheduled) for those in the 9+ age group who like humour, action and an assertive sassy heroine who can’t always control her feelings and her temper.  Most importantly,  it demonstrates that sometimes the healthiest way to deal with a situation is to let yourself explode, express your frustration and anger and not be the sweet, demure, considerate person that people expect you to be.  (Ask me how I know!!) But it also shows that there are times when you need to suck it up and move on – learning the when and why of both responses is part of maturing and that’s just what Scarlett and her readers are doing. 

Goal!!!

Goal!!!

Goal!!!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Goal!!!

Lydia Williams

Lucinda Gifford

Allen & Unwin, 2021

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

9781760526146

When we first met Lydia Williams in Saved!!!, she was trying to master all sorts of sports with only the native animals to help her.  Now her family have moved to the city which is big and intimidating and without her old friends, she couldn’t practise her goalkeeping skills. Feeling lonely and alone, she goes to the city zoo to cheer herself up but even the animals don’t want to know her, until the fleetingly fast gibbon steals her ball…

Using the metaphor of the zoo animals with their superior skills to show how listening to and learning from others is the best path to self-improvement, Lydia shows how she worked on her game so that she is now the Australian Matildas first-choice goalkeeper making her debut at just 17, and plays for Arsenal in the UK.  With the Tokyo Olympics on the near horizon and hopefully the Matildas making the nightly news regularly, they have become the role models for so many of our young girls and their matches around the world are eagerly followed.  Thus, this and Saved!!! are both perfectly timed for sharing with them to inspire their aspirations.

How did those NSW and Queensland representative rugby league players rise to shine above the rest? 

Even for those whose dreams may be as far from being a champion soccer player as you can get, the message of listening, learning, friendship and teamwork permeates everything so it is one for everyone. 

 

Eyes that Kiss in the Corners

Eyes that Kiss in the Corners

Eyes that Kiss in the Corners

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Eyes that Kiss in the Corners

Joanna Ho

Dung Ho

HarperCollins US, 2021

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

9780062915627

“Some people have eyes like sapphire lagoons with lashes like lace trim on ballgowns, sweeping their cheeks as they twirl.

Not me.

I have eyes that kiss in the corners and glow like warm tea.”

This is the stunning story of a young Asian girl who notices that her eyes are a different shape from those of her friends, but they are the same shape as her Mama’s, her Amah’s and her little sister’s,  All their eyes ” crinkle into crescent moons and sparkle like stars. Gold flecks dance and twirl while stories whirl in their oolong pools, carrying tales of the past and hope for the future.” And her own eyes “find mountains that rise ahead and look up when others shut down”. Through her lashes which “curve like the swords of warriors” she sees kingdoms in the clouds and because they are just like those of the most important women in her life, they are hers and they are beautiful. 

It is said that the eyes are the window to the soul and nowhere is that made more explicit  in the exquisite language and beautiful illustrations of this story of discovery, revelation and self-empowerment. While we are familiar with mapping the differences in eye colour amongst students, seldom do we ask them to look at shape; while we are familiar with examining the mechanics of how the eyes work, seldom do we consider their origins, their legacy and their vision. 

This is such an original story, with such exotic, poetic language that it scarcely needs the illustrations, yet one that will resonate with so many of our students. While there are activities available, this is one that can be so easily enriched with the use of just a mirror and one that will be remembered for so much more.