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Christmas Always Comes

 

 

 

 

Christmas Always Comes

Christmas Always Comes

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Christmas Always Comes

Jackie French

Bruce Whatley

HarperCollins, 2021 

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

9781460757895

Christmas Eve, 1932 and both drought and The Depression have driven Joey’s family into living and droving on the “long paddock”, that narrow strip of land between the road and the farmers’ fences that has become saviour for many as they seek fodder and water for cattle who have long ago eaten what was available in their own paddocks. 

Young Joey, sitting in the dray with his older sister Ellie, remembers Christmases past and is very concerned that there seems to be little preparation for this one. “There’s always a tree at Christmas. With red and gold decorations and tinsel. And Santa finds everyone!” But Ellie is more pragmatic and tries to keep him from getting his hopes up. “you can’t have a Christmas tree droving the long paddock,” she tells him.

As the mob finally find some puddles to drink, a gift in itself, the family pulls up deciding to stop for Christmas Day and although Ellie warns him there is no money, Joey is determined to have Christmas pudding and presents and hangs up his old sock on the barbed wire fence in anticipation.  But what will await him when the new day dawns?

This is a heart-warming story from one of Australia’s best teams for creating picture books, and both French and Whatley have crafted words and images that cut to the core of what we really remember and celebrate at Christmas regardless of the time or circumstances.  That Christmas comes in many guises apart from the stereotype “perfection’ of television advertisements and programs because love and friendship and compassion can be found anywhere if we choose to look.  

After another year of COVID-19 overshadowing our lives like a black cloud,  as adults we are reminded of the irrepressible spirit and joy for life of our children who live in the moment as Joey’s belief and determination to find Christmas show us that this is a time for family, for simple things, and for delighting in the share joy of sharing and just being alive. Whether it is in the city, country, bush, beach or on the long paddock, it is those we share the time with, the things we do together and the memories we create that make Christmas uniquely special regardless of artificial trappings and trimmings. So whether it is a big party celebrating reuniting after borders open or something small and Zoomed, everyone can have a Christmas.

As always, Jackie packs so much more into her stories than just the words on the page (and Whatley has a gift for interpreting them with such insight) but regardless of the settings, her stories invariably have an underlying theme of hope and love – and that’s really all we need. 

 

 

Carly Mills Pioneer Girl : The Lady with the Lamp

Carly Mills Pioneer Girl : The Lady with the Lamp

Carly Mills Pioneer Girl : The Lady with the Lamp

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Carly Mills Pioneer Girl : The Lady with the Lamp

Jane Smith

Big Sky, 2021

120pp., pbk., RRP $A12.99

 9781922488220

On a trip to Sydney before being sent to boarding school in Brisbane, country girl Carly Mills visits the sights and sites of Sydney’s past with her new friend Dora. At Customs House they are refused admission because the exhibits are being changed. but when Carly picks up two shawls that drop off a trolley she is told to keep them as they are probably being discarded.

But what she doesn’t realise is that hers has a magic of its own when she puts it on- it transports her back in time to meet some of the influential women in  history.

In this, the fourth in the series, Carly is in London on holiday and finds herself transported back to the mid-19th century where life and expectations for women were very different from modern times and she meets the iconic “lady with the lamp” Florence Nightingale recognised as being the founder of modern nursing, travelling with her to the battlefields of the Crimea.

Much has been written about Nightingale and her exploits and achievements over the years, but with nurses so much in the frontline of this new battle with COVID-19, this is a timely release that allows young independent readers to learn about the early beginnings of this profession and how far it has come because of the courage and determination of women like its subject. 

 This  series mixes fictional characters like Carly and real-life women who have shaped the world, thus bringing history alive in a more personal way. By becoming involved in the narrative, perhaps even putting themselves in Carly’s shoes, the reader understands how the lessons the characters learn can be applied to the modern world. Other in the series focus on Caroline Chisholm, Dr Lilian Cooper, and Dame Nellie Melba, with Amelia Earhart, Marie Curie and Miles Franklin to come.  

Night Ride into Danger

Night Ride into Danger

Night Ride into Danger

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Night Ride into Danger

Jackie French

HarperCollins, 2021

256pp., pbk., RRP $A16.99

 9781460758939

Braidwood, NSW.  June, 1874 and a typical cold, wet winter’s night.  But despite the weather, the Cobb & Co coach to Goulburn carrying passengers and mail must run on schedule and so, as usual, as they do night after night, Jem and his father are preparing to leave. But this is not the modern-day hour’s run on sealed roads between the two towns – this is an overnight journey with a uncomfortable coach and four horses that involves many twists and turns, each with its own danger. And added to the regular perils  like fording the Shoalhaven River, tonight each passenger has their own particular secret, each of which is gradually exposed as the journey continues and each of which shapes the way events will unfold. 

Nevertheless, with a mission to achieve, a contract to fulfil and a timetable to keep, Jem and his Paw set out as usual until disaster strikes and Jem finds himself in a situation that not only puts his physical strength, courage and determination to the greatest test, but also exposes Paw’s own secret, one which has a profound bearing on Jem’s life.

There are few authors whose new works I pick up and read as soon as they arrive, but Jackie is one of them, because I know I will be in for an engrossing read, meticulously researched and one that will have more layers than an onion. This is not just a story about Jem needing to dig deep to draw on his knowledge and skills and self-belief. It is about self-discovery, finding out who and what we are really made of, how our heritage has shaped our present and will influence our future and understanding that the public face is often a mask for the private persona. 

Competent, independent readers who crave a story that will engage them, entertain and educate them, challenge them and stay with them long after the final page is read will thoroughly enjoy this read, and if it is their first encounter with Jackie’s works, have them seeking more such as The Ghost of Howler’s Beach.

If you are looking for a new class read-aloud over the cold wet, wintery days to come, this is it. 

 

 

The Valley of Lost Secrets

The Valley of Lost Secrets

The Valley of Lost Secrets

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Valley of Lost Secrets

Lesley Parr

Bloomsbury, 2021

304pp., pbk., RRP $A14.99

9781526620521

September, 1939. Jimmy and his little brother Ronnie are “in another country that feels like another world [and] there’s a big scary war on that no one seems to be talking about.”  Evacuated from London to a small coal-mining village in Wales where the landscape is so different; the family they are billeted with are viewed with suspicion by the locals; and London friends are now enemies and vice versa it is no wonder that 12-year-old Jimmy finds it so much harder to fit in than 6-year-old Ronnie.  And on top of that, by accident he finds a human skull in the hollow at the base of an old tree.  What are the secrets it holds?

This is an intriguing read that kept me absorbed from beginning to end as it will any young independent reader who likes a mystery that twists and turns but ends up just as it should. Taking them to a real period in history when the children were sent to stay with strangers in strange places to keep them safe from the expected bombs that would fall on London, the characters, although unfamiliar, are very relatable and the whole thing epitomised this year’s CBCA Book Week theme of Old Worlds, New Worlds, Other Worlds opening up a different but real way of life.  While it’s not the green lush countryside his Dad promised him, and he can’t read the sign at the train station, to Jimmy nothing feels right  and everything feels wrong. Although Ronnie quickly settles in and embraces his new life with Aunty Gwen and Uncle Alun, Jimmy is reluctant, resentful. and, at time, rude. Confused by the circumstances, and convinced the war will be over by Christmas, he doesn’t want to accept their kindness feeling like it would be a betrayal to his family. Despite being surrounded by people, he feels alone. His best friend has changed and there’s no one he can confide in. Even though he knows that when he finds the skull it is a discovery that is too big to bear alone, and his imagination goes wild, he still keeps the secret close in a town where everyone seems to know everyone’s business and have an opinion about it.

While this is a debut novel, it has the power to send readers on a new reading journey as they seek to find out more about this period and the stories of children who endured so much more than they will ever know. Both Jimmy and Florence learn a lot about themselves and each other as the story evolves, encouraging the reader to perhaps look beyond the surface of their peers and be more compassionate and considerate in the future.

Added to that, the author has embedded another mystery in the pages for the reader to solve, making this a must-have read that deserves all the praise it is getting.

 

The Tram to Bondi Beach 40th Anniversary Edition

The Tram to Bondi Beach 40th Anniversary Edition

The Tram to Bondi Beach 40th Anniversary Edition

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Tram to Bondi Beach 40th Anniversary Edition

Libby Hathorn

Julie Vivas

Angus & Robertson, 2021

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

9781460759660

Sydney in the 1930s and Kieran is fascinated by the trams as they rattle past his house and down the hill to Bondi Beach.  But even moreso, he loves to watch Saxon the paperboy swing his way along the running board, deftly selling papers and giving change as he goes.  He is determined that he too will be a paperboy and finally, when he is 9, Mr Francis gives him a job. The only trouble is, when the newsagent hires him,  Saxon tells the younger Keiran this tramstop is his territory.

Keiran is determined and tries to copy Saxon’s technique on the trams. It all ends in a fall and his dad’s fury and the threat of losing his first job. Are Keiran’s dreams shattered before they have really formed?

This is a classic story from one of Australia’s most established children’s authors that has lasted the test of time as it takes the reader back to an era barely recognisable in today’s hustle and bustle.  The lives of Keiran and Isabelle are quite different from that of today’s 9 year-old – could having a job as well as school be a normal thing today? The signature style of Julie Vivas’s illustrations add a richness that demand a compare and contrast that will show that while there are many outward differences as time has moved on, not just between 1931 and now but also 1981 when it was first published and now. that inner strength of family remains unchanged. 

It also highlights the current controversy of the delivery of news, including the situation with Facebook withdrawing access to news sites, setting up an investigation into how people have got their news over time, its integrity and its relevance, making it a book that could be used at any level across the school. 

 

Code Name Bananas

Code Name Bananas

Code Name Bananas

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Code Name Bananas

David Walliams

HarperCollins, 2020

480pp., pbk. RRP $A22.99

9780008454296

London in 1940, at the height of the Blitz where the city was continually bombed by the Luftwaffe during World War II.  Eleven-year-old Eric has lost both his parents and bereft, bewildered and alone the only place he feels any happiness is at London Zoo.  There, he has befriended one of the zoos oldest inhabitants, Gertrude the Gorilla, who loves to show off for the crowds, in exchange for a banana or two.

Eric, who has sticky-out ears that have earned him the nickname “wingnut” hates school and every day as soon as the bell rings, he detours to the zoo here his great-uncle Sid. a zoo keeper, would smuggle him in for free (provided he knew that day’s secret password)  as Eric liked nothing better than working alongside him with the animals. But his grandmother, with whom he now lives, does not like him spending his time at the zoo and after a particularly nasty argument, Eric runs away and joins Sid. As the bombs rain down, it is clear that the zoo is not safe and they must rescue Gertrude. So the three go on the run. But while hiding out at the seaside they uncover a top-secret Nazi plot…

This is David Walliams at his best.  Unlike his recent offerings , this is a not a collection of short stories but a full adventure that will keep the reader absorbed for hours.  Despite its length, it is an easy read with many illustrations and format techniques that make it easily accessible to the newly independent reader.  Walliams take the reader on a journey to another world, one that actually happened, and introduces them to a time of daily fear where just waking up each morning was not guaranteed, and the bombs were not discriminatory.  It was a dangerous for Eric and all the other children who had not been evacuated as it was for the adults. But with typical Walliams humour the reality is softened somewhat so it becomes manageable.

Given current events where certain sections are placed into stay-at-home lockdown as COVID raises its head, it puts that experience into some sort of perspective showing our children that even though they can’t go out to play or visit their friends, the experience, while harrowing, could be much worse.  The theme for the CBCA Book Week 2021 is Old Worlds, New Worlds, Other Worlds and while that may seem an opportunity to explore the fictional world of science fiction and fantasy, it is also an opportunity to explore the world of children in times gone by and this book, is perfect for that, either as a read-aloud, read-alone or read-along.