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Meanwhile Back on Earth

Meanwhile Back on Earth

Meanwhile Back on Earth

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Meanwhile Back on Earth

Oliver Jeffers

HarperCollins, 2022

64pp., hbk., RRP $A27.99

9780008555450

“In all the cosmos, this one place in our solar system is where all of the people have lived for the whole time we’ve been people. We have always thought that Earth is so big that it’s best to divide it into smaller bits/ It seems we humans have always fought each other over space.”

And so, taking the well-known quote from Edgar Mitchell, Lunar Module Pilot on Apollo 14 in February 1971, who said, ” From out there on the moon, international politics look so petty. You want to grab a politician by the scruff of the neck and drag him a quarter of a million miles out and say, “Look at that…” as inspiration, Oliver Jeffers has created  this intriguing book in which a father takes his two children on a thrilling out-of-this-world adventure into space and invites them to look back at Earth and the conflicts that have taken place since the beginning of time.  

Calculating time using the speed that most people drive at (37mph or 60kph),  he drives the children to the various planets and then takes them back a similar amount of time in Earth’s history to show the conflict that was occurring at the time. So driving to the Moon would take a year and then a left turn would be a 78 year drive to Venus which would take them back to the middle of the 20th century and World War II. Each destination is tied to something catastrophic happening on Earth. 

While this is an interesting way of looking at history, the ultimate futility of conflict and encouraging young readers to strive for peace in the future, the concept is quite abstract, almost esoteric and thus more suited to older readers who have the maturity and ability to look at things from beyond their realm of personal experience. Although the text appears simple, and Jeffers has added some wit to lighten the load, and a timeline on the endpapers encapsulates both the time and space aspects of the journey, this is one best shared in a situation where discussion and clarification can take place. 

 

Mia

Mia

Mia

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mia

Through My Eyes – Australian Disaster Zones

Dianne Wolfer

A & U Children’s, 2022

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

9781760877026

It is 2019 and 13-year-old Mia lives on a bush block in the Pilbara, where she assists her mother’s work as a vet and equine therapist. Although she is used to the seasonal cyclones that threaten the West Australian coast, nothing can prepare her for the ferocity of Cyclone Veronica when she finds herself home alone and needing to protect their property and the animals she loves. She is used to cyclone build-ups, but the noise and energy of the wild rain squalls keep her awake half the night. What if the cyclone hits before Mum gets back? As wild winds batter the coast, Mia knows she must keep calm. The animals need her but when her friend Nick arrives, pleading for help, and her favourite horse is injured, will Mia be able to withstand the greatest challenge of her life? As the storm intensifies, can she save her beloved animals? 

This is the latest in this series that offers fictionalised accounts of world events that help our older, independent readers not only understand what happened but allows them to process it.  By giving each story a central character such as Lyla who endured the devastating Christchurch earthquake in 2011, the story becomes one of courage, resilience and hope rather than an historical recount with meaningless facts and figures. It offers the ‘colour and detail’ to the stark monochrome sketches of news reports, websites and other information-only sources.  

Like its predecessors, Mia  is a well-written, well-researched blend of imagination and information that above all, tells a story of one girl’s experience and shows that it is OK to be scared and fearful, but that natural human resilience can prevail.  But because it will resonate with many in one way or another , if you have a system that places trigger warnings in your books, this may be one to consider.  There could also be an argument that in this time of such extensive flooding and loss, this is not the time for such a book but it might be the vehicle that offers the light at the end of the tunnel for those enduring such hardship to strive for. 

While we would all like to protect our kids from the disasters of modern times, natural or otherwise, that can be an impossible task as the world now comes to them in the palm of their hands, but stories like this can offer insight, understanding and a feeling that they too, can come through the other side – often shaped by it but also more resilient and courageous because of it. 

The Pharaoh of Asco Express

The Pharaoh of Asco Express

The Pharaoh of Asco Express

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Pharaoh of Asco Express

Jake R. Wilson

New Frontier, 2022

138pp., pbk., RRP $A16.99

9781922326522

Whatever happens, no matter what, DO NOT step into Asco Express because you might just end up leaving with more than you bargained for…
When eleven-year-old Wesley stops by at a mysterious local shop to buy a drink, he does not realise the trouble he is getting himself into. CURSED by the fiendish Pharaoh AKAHTEN IX, Wesley and his friends, Marishana and Aiden, must solve the evil spell quickly or be trapped for all ETERNITY!

This is a new series for younger readers that not only introduces them to past times but also the mystery genre  Using modern children and time travel is a familiar hook to capture a new audience, and this story has the added bonus of a mystery set in Ancient Egypt, a time and place that fascinates many.  It includes a glossary of some of the people and objects encountered in the story so the reader can quickly check for anything they’re not sure of. With the ending setting the scene for the next adventure, this is a series that will appeal to those younger, independent readers who are looking for something different. 

As well as the story itself offering an opportunity to travel an historical path to explore life in Ancient Egypt, teacher’s notes  promote an exploration of the mystery genre generally, with explanations of the key elements of a strong hook, a crime, an investigator, a villain, clues, a twist and a conclusion which, in itself, invites readers to add other mysteries they have read to a list which could broaden others’ reading horizons.  

 

Tilda

Tilda

Tilda

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tilda

Sue Whiting

Walker Books, 2022

272pp., pbk., RRP $A17.99

9781760654634

As the 19th century becomes the 20th, hard times have befallen Tilda and her beloved Papa as they grieve the loss of Tilda’s mother, the burning down of the Nimble Ninepence so Papa is out of a job, and his family turning his back on them. Desperate, he puts Matilda into the Brushwood Convent and Orphanage for Girls while he joins the SA Citizen Bushmen Contingent to go to South Africa to fight in the Boer War.  

But he vows to return to her for her, and it is this promise that Matilda clings to as she endures orphanage life with all the harshness that we associate with those institutions, except she has a particularly rough time as head nun Sister Agatha has singled her out for some reason, determined to break her spirit.  Buoyed by her mother’s advice telling her to be strong, and her strong friendship with the sickly Annie, Matilda resists every attempt and every punishment to admit that she is an orphan, until she sees apparent proof that her father has indeed, abandoned her, and her world crumbles…

Ever since I first came to Australia and read Playing Beattie Bow in 1980 (introduced to her by a Tl mate whose job I envied),  I have had a penchant for historical fiction set in Australia, with strong female leads..  Tilda is a worthy addition to my list.  Author Sue Whiting has grounded the story loosely on her grandmother’s life who, like mine, was born in New Zealand in 1896, and then moved as a baby to Australia.  While she has manipulated the events and the timeline slightly, as authors are allowed to do, she has used the little she knows to craft a powerful story of courage and determination, a willingness to stand up to authority and be her own person, that was not the norm in those times.  Or, if they were, it was still very much a man’s world and such resilience in girls was not written in the history books.  Despite the reign of Queen Victoria. the lives of independent young women were relegated to novels. 

More for the older end of the target readership of this blog , nevertheless it is one that more mature younger independent readers will relish as a new world of times past will be opened up to them.  While they may not relate directly with Tilda’s circumstances, nevertheless they will be cheering her on, barracking for her each time she stands up to Sister Agatha, and empathising with her as she is determined to look after Annie.  Who knows – this may be a young girl’s “Beattie Bow” and lead them down reading paths they didn’t know existed.  

Stacey Casey (series)

Stacey Casey (series)

Stacey Casey (series)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Stacey Casey (series)

The House that Time Remembers

9781922615886

The Cheeky Outlaw

9781922615848

Michael C. Madden

Nancy Bevington

Big Sky, 2022

164pp., pbk., RRP $A14.99

Stacey Casey’s father is a terrible inventor. But now, despite years of failed inventions, he has created a functioning time machine.  But instead of sending him back in time, he turns their entire house into a time machine, transporting everyone and everything in it back into history, although they still have access to parts of 2022 like mobile phones and the internet.

In the first episode, Stacey and her friend Oliver find themselves in 1964 faced with a series of extraordinary events. They find a bizarre artifact and encounter strange man who seems to know Stacey … but why is he chasing them? Who set the school on fire? And what’s with all the famous people they keep meeting? Can the friends solve the string of unanswered questions and find their way home?

In the second in the series, Stacey, Oliver and Mr Casey are 100 million years in the past looking at dinosaurs. Suddenly they find themselves chased by an angry lightning claw and escape by an emergency jump back to 2022. Now they have two problems: a stowaway baby cooperensis dinosaur and a damaged time machine. To try and fix things they travel back in time to 1880s Australia where they find themselves faced with more challenges – outlaws, explorers and a mystery that could destroy the universe!

Historical fiction is a valuable way to take students back to previous times so they can immerse themselves in the way of life then and thus get a better understanding of the events that occurred and the decisions that were made, some of which may still be impacting them today.  This new series for independent readers who have developed that concept of times and lives  past being real, as opposed to the futuristic, imaginary world that much of contemporary literature places itself in, is another opportunity to broaden horizons.  For example, in the first story they find themselves still in their home town but in 1964 so students might like to investigate what their own town was like in 1964, perhaps interviewing residents who were there then or investigating how it has changed over 60 years and the causes for those changes, thus developing an understanding of how the past can reach out to shape the present. 

Teachers’ notes  linked to Australian Curriculum outcomes offer suggestions for implementing these sorts of investigations with a strong theme of linking today’s students’ lives to the events in the story, such as being accused of something they haven’t done, ensuring that the series is more than just a fictional recount of past events. 

Miss Penny Dreadful and the Midnight Kittens

Miss Penny Dreadful and the Midnight Kittens

Miss Penny Dreadful and the Midnight Kittens

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Miss Penny Dreadful and the Midnight Kittens

Allison Rushby

Bronte Rose Marando

Walker, 2022

144pp., pbk., RRP $A15.99

9781760654030

1872.  Miss Strickland’s School for Girls of an Enquiring Mind and Penny Pickering’s mind is wandering, as it often does, in Miss Pugh’s lessons.  She’s sketching ideas about what might happen if bears invaded the school when her daydreams are interrupted by a summons to the principal’s office. 

Although she has often dreamed of being taken away from the school by her Aunt Harriet who writes very popular short stories known as “penny dreadfuls” (hence the nickname other girls in the school have given Penny), she is most surprised when it actually happens and she finds herself on the way to Mr Toddington’s Museum of the Curious and Absurd with her aunt, the pet monkey Jones and the surly Mr Crowley.  For there is a mystery about some strange kittens to be solved… and Penny finds herself actually drawing on those boring lessons from Miss Pugh, not only to solve it but to think of a solution that means win-win for everyone.

With an intriguing cast of characters, but not so many that the reader loses track, and short chapters, this is a great new series for younger readers who enjoy mysteries, that takes them back to a time when beliefs and attitudes were very different so the plot is very plausible and the atmosphere for more mysteries is established, particularly as this story ends on a cliff-hanger setting them up for the next episode – just what has happened to her parents because the cryptic postcard her aunt gives her makes no sense… 

Is it a case of “dreaming with eyes open” or “be careful what you wish for”?

 

 

Pow Pow Pig 3: On the High Seas

Pow Pow Pig 3: On the High Seas:

Pow Pow Pig 3: On the High Seas:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pow Pow Pig 3: On the High Seas

Anh Do

Peter Cheong

A&U Children’s,  2022

168pp., pbk., RRP $A15.99

9781761065675

It is the year 2050 and the world is in trouble. In 2030 the rich animals of the world voted to stop helping the poor and as they became richer, forever seeking bigger and better while discarding their unwanted things instead of sharing them, creating a huge amount of waste.  And then the fighting started.

But all is not lost and Piccolo Pig (aka Pow Pow Pig) , inspired by his parents’ role model has yearned to join CHOC (Creatures Helping Other Creatures) to help make the world a better place through small acts of kindness. So as soon as he was old enough he joined, and now, after three years of training it’s Graduation Day. But he and his friends Danielle Duck (aka King Fu Duck), Chelsea Chicken (aka Cha Cha Chicken) and Barry the Goat (aka Barry the Goat) are not in the A Team but the Z Team.  So they are the last to be picked when it comes to world-saving missions,

So when a call comes in and they are the only ones left, it is up to them to save the situation.  Although they live in 2050, they have time machine that allows them to travel back in time but sometimes it doesn’t work as it should.

In their first adventure, An Unexpected Hero, they end up in the Middle Ages and in the second, Let the Games Beginin Ancient Greece!  This time they land in the 17th century and join the crew of the SSS Super Show Ship which includes a grizzly bear in a tuxedo, a jaguar on a unicycle, a fox flipping between the sails and some pygmy marmosets juggling apples!

This is the third in this new series from the ever-popular Anh Do, more for younger independent readers as it is all the attributes required to support their transition to novels including a larger font, a light-handed layout and many illustrations.  But, as with his other series like Rise of the Mythix, embedded in the thoroughly modern characters , action, adventure and humour, there is an underlying message that gives the story more than just fleeting entertainment value. By making the heroes creatures often associated with being underdogs and having them as the Z Team readers can learn that success can take many forms, that not all battles are won with might and power – a tea towel and a broom can be very effective when used cleverly – and that the desire to do well has to come from within. They can also visit other time periods in an exciting adventure, providing a gentle step into the concept of history and offering an insight into life in those times that is much more fun that facts and figures.

Anh Do is a prolific storyteller, and one of our most popular currently, and those who enjoyed the first two will be thrilled there is now another with more promised. 

 

 

Zadie Ma and the Dog Who Chased the Moon

Zadie Ma and the Dog Who Chased the Moon

Zadie Ma and the Dog Who Chased the Moon

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Zadie Ma and the Dog Who Chased the Moon

Gabrielle Wang

Puffin, 2022

272pp., pbk., RRP $A16.99

 9781761046513

Zadie Ma’s passion is writing stories, and she has discovered that sometimes they come true – as they did with the story of Little Ant Cassandra when the ants miraculously disappeared before her mother could spray them , and Little Kit who was a fox who could sing and the next day, she saw exactly that outside her window.  

Shy and without a close friend until Sparrow moves in next door, Zadie’s dearest wish is to have a dog of her own and so she starts to write the story of a poor unwanted dog called Jupiter, who’s just waiting to be rescued by a loving girl like Zadie. Although Zadie can’t control which of her stories come true, perhaps this might be one of those that do. 

Interspersed with both Zadie’s stories and graphic novel elements, this is a new release from Australian Children’s Laureate, Gabrielle Wang, for independent readers who like a down-to-earth story featuring characters they can relate to.  For when Zadie sets off to find Jupiter, instead of minding the family’s shop, she does indeed find him and rescues him.  But then she realises that she can’t keep him because her mother will not let her have a dog, particularly as their relationship is somewhat strained… Will her story have the happy ending she dreams of?

Gabrielle Wang is the author of a number of books for primary-aged readers, including The Beast of Hushing Wood , each different and intriguing. This one, set in Melbourne in 1955, has a personal tinge to it as it is prefaced with a photo of her with her grandfather and the family dog and dedicated to “Rusty, and all the other dogs who were lost and never found their way home”. In fact, in an interview, Wang says “This novel is a special love letter to my very first dog, Rusty, who my grandfather found wandering around lost at the Victoria market in Melbourne. “

It also touches on some of the attitudes that were prevalent at the time, including issues of racism and the place of women and animals in society offering an opportunity to reflect on how things have changed – or haven’t.  Other stories with a similar timeframe  that could be companion novels are 52 Mondays  and The Unstoppable Flying Flanagan, both quite different but also with themes of family, friendship, determination and courage.  

 

 

 

 

Ming and Flo Fight for the Future

Ming and Flo Fight for the Future

Ming and Flo Fight for the Future

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ming and Flo Fight for the Future

Jackie French

HarperCollins, 2022

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

9781460760208

When Ming Qong put up her hand in Mr Boors’ history class and asked him why they only ever learned about men in history, never girls, she had no idea the chain of events that she was about to set off.

Suddenly the class was silent and still, as though frozen in the moment, except for a strange, almost ethereal woman dressed in purple sitting in the window sill -someone Ming feels she knows but doesn’t.  The woman introduces herself as Herstory, the sister of History, a woman passionate about the part women have played alongside men as the centuries have rolled past and as frustrated as Ming that those stories have not been told because “men wrote the history books and they mostly wrote them to please kings or generals or male politicians.” Even though the women’s stories are there in letters, diaries and even old newspapers waiting to be discovered, the past was always viewed through a male lens. and then she offers Ming a way to travel back to the past for just 42 days, to see it for herself (even though it wouldn’t always be pleasant, pretty or comfortable) and be part of it although she, herself, would not be seen or heard and she couldn’t change anything that happened.

Ming is eager to accept, to be a girl who changed the world, and suddenly she is Flo Watson and she has what she wished for  It’s 1898, she’s scratching a living alongside her mother on a farm in the middle of nowhere and a severe drought, anxiously awaiting the return of her father with his drunken, violent temper and handy fists.  But that life changes when Ma dies of a snakebite and she finds herself living with wealthy Aunt McTavish in Sydney who believes in women having the vote, financial and legal independence, racial equality and universal education for children and who puts her time, money and energy where her mouth is. 

Ming, as Flo, sees, hears and engages in much as she works by her aunt’s side as they work with Louisa Lawson (mother of Henry whose later writings would be one of the windows to this world) and the Suffragist Society seeking signatures on a petition that will eventually see the entire continent united, yet it is something apparently insignificant that is actually the world changer…

Those familiar with Jackie French’s meticulously researched historical fiction know that she has been telling herstory in her stories such as The Matilda Saga for years, but this new series The Girls Who Changed the World focuses particularly on the stories of girls of the readers’ age.  (And, in fact, the final pages leave Ming and Tuan on a cliffhanger in the battlefields of World War I. )

However, the significance of this particular story at this particular time cannot go unnoticed given the results of the recent federal election and other recent events. For while Ming believes that what happened in the past explains the present, and we know that Australia became a federation in 1901 those original divisions, parochialism and desire for autonomy quickly became apparent during the response to the COVID 19 pandemic; and while women did, indeed, get the vote, the wave of female voters voting for women candidates in the federal election shows that there is still much about women’s lives and status that needs to be addressed and changed.

While the groundwork was laid by the likes of Louisa Lawson and Aunt McTavish, who were those who carried it forward, who continue to do so and who might be dreaming with their eyes open to take it even further?  Seems to me that there might be scope for each of our students to investigate and write a story to add to this one…

A Lighthouse Story

A Lighthouse Story

A Lighthouse Story

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Lighthouse Story

Holly James

Laura Chamberlain

Bloomsbury, 2022 

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

9781526624123

“On bright summer days, Eva visits her Grandad…

But this is no ordinary trip because it begins with a boat ride on a small boat to a rocky island because Eva’s grandad is a lighthouse keeper.  Eva loves her Grandad but she loves lighthouses almost as much as she bombards him with millions of questions about the what, why, where, who and how of these structures that seem to have their own mystical appeal.  

And so interspersed with the story of Eva and Grandad sharing the daily routine of maintaining the lighthouse, the reader is given all sorts of facts about them – who knew that even  their external paint pattern was so significant – their purpose, their location, their upkeep, their range, as well as cloud formations, stars in the night sky and the wildlife that surrounds the lighthouse. There is even the remarkable story of Grace Darling, the legendary lighthouse keeper’s daughter who rescued so many. 

Give me a book with a lighthouse on the cover and I can’t resist – I’m straight back to my childhood at the very south of the South Island of New Zealand where I grew up with the local lighthouse sweeping its reassuring beam over my bed in its rhythmic pattern each night, and on clear nights, the distant Dog Island lighthouse too.  So although my grandad wasn’t the lighthouse keeper, so much of Eva’s story brought back the best memories. 

 

Apart from me though,  this is a book that will resonate with so many who are familiar with lighthouses as there are over 350 of them dotted around our coastline. While there are no longer any manned, nevertheless they still hold an appeal and Eva’s  journey back into another time will help those who are fascinated by them, not only understand their function better but also have an even deeper respect for those who looked after them, and, through their efforts. so many others.  

The perfect companion to  The Lighthouse Keeper series – another favourite!