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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.