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Meerkat Choir

Meerkat Choir

Meerkat Choir

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Meerkat Choir

Nicki Greenberg

Allen &  Unwin, 2017

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

9781760290795

It is time for the very first practice of the meerkat choir and the choir-master is all set to begin.  But each time he starts the countdown  he is interrupted by another creature wanting to join in.  But this choir is for meerkats only – no outsiders allowed = and so he sends them away, in an increasingly less-than-friendly manner as his frustration grows.  Finally, the other creatures get his message that they are not welcome and practice begins.  But the sound is not what he is wanting – it’s more enthusiastic than musical and he stomps off in disgust.   Then the disappointed meerkats hear a beautiful noise and go to investigate…

As well as being a LOL story which nevertheless has serious undertones about acceptance and inclusion, the intrigue of this book is in its format and illustrations.  The narrative is told in large speech bubbles with the choir-master’s increasing frustration being expressed in larger and larger fonts while the clever use of soft shapes, lines and colours gives a visual aspect to the melodious sounds which contrasts with that depicting the sounds of the meerkats when they finally do sing.  While children will tell you that they can’t see sounds, this technique shows that sounds can evoke visual imagery just as they can evoke physical movement and offers a great opportunity to play them contrasting pieces that firstly encourage them to move in different ways and then express them using colours and lines.  Extending the exercise further, they could discuss the mood that music can elicit and how it’s possible to accentuate mood through music by listening to the background tracks of movies or television, or even watching different parts of a ballet such as Swan Lake where the music, mood and movement of the Four Little Swans is so different from that of the final conflict between Siegfried and the sorcerer.

A book that can take you from a choir of meerkats who first appeared in The Naughtiest Reindeer at the Zoo to the masterful work of Tchaikovsky and Pepita; one that has each of a range of reviewers focusing on different elements of its content and construction,  is indeed special – no wonder it is a 2018 CBCA Notable in the Early Childhood category!

Teachers’ notes are available.

 

Gladys Goes to War

Gladys Goes to War

Gladys Goes to War

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Gladys Goes to War

Glyn Harper

Jenny Cooper

Picture Puffin, 2016

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

9780143507208

Auckland, New Zealand in the very early 20th century when girls were still supposed to be seen and not heard, despite having had voting rights since 1893 – still very much an English colonial mentality where they busied themselves with music, needlework and other “feminine” tasks.  However, unlike her sisters, Gladys was not good at such things, preferring instead to spend her time under the bonnet of her brothers’ cars and those of their friends.  

“No one will want to marry a mechanic” her mother told her, echoing the feelings and the culture of the times.  But her mother was wrong and in 1912 she met and married William Henning who taught her to drive and then set up a car sales business in Auckland. Being competent and comfortable in this “men’s world” meant that it was no surprise that when her husband and brothers enlisted when World War I broke out that Gladys wanted to go too.  But her efforts were met with the typical chauvinistic response of the times …”If you want to help the war effort, you should stay at home and knit socks and balaclavas.”

But they had underestimated Gladys’s determination and in 1916 with the assistance of the New Zealand Volunteer Sisterhood she was reunited with her husband in Egypt becoming an ambulance driver, and when he was sent to France she went to England.  But again male-dominated bureaucracy determined her place was in the hospital scrubbing floors not driving ambulances.  Until one evening, there was a shortage of drivers…

This is the story of just one of the many women who played an active part in World War I as doctors, nurses, ambulance drivers and so much more, rather than being the stereotype wife/mother/ sister/ daughter who ‘kept the home fires burning’.  Despite their important contribution throughout history, so many women have been written out of it and when a request through a local network for a book for younger readers about World War I from a female perspective there was a paucity of replies.  Yet there are so many stories that could be told from both New Zealand and Australia.

Gladys was a pioneer in so many fields – in 1927, having survived both the war and Spanish flu, she and her friend Stella Christie became the first women to transverse Australia east to west and north to south in a car – and so bringing her wartime service to light is just the beginning of the stories that could be told about this remarkable woman.  But as well as her personal chronicle, this could be a springboard for having students investigate and retell the stories of other women whose contributions have been overshadowed by those of their male counterparts.  Searching the Australian War Memorial’s site for “women in war” is a good starting point.

But even if Gladys’s story is just shared as a standalone, it is a sound representation of #nevertheless,shepersisted 

 

Visiting You – a journey of love

Visiting You

Visiting You – a journey of love

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Visiting You – a journey of love

Rebecka Sharpe Shelberg

Andrea Edmonds

EK Books, 2018

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

9781925335668
There are many ways to visit Hope Meadows.  But whether you go by train, bus, tram or ferry, there is always someone sharing the journey with you.  And whether that is a scruffy, gruff man who is so tall he can touch the roof without stretching who lives apart from his daughter; a gruff and grouchy old man with hair like white fairy floss and a big round nose whose wife has died;  a grouchy and cross girl with hair as black as night and  ring through her nose whose grandfather no longer remembers her; or a woman as big as a bear with tattoos down her arms whose son may not recover from a motorcycle accident; each has the same purpose and a similar story to tell – the loss of someone they loved dearly, whom they miss terribly and who brought joy and love to their lives.  Each of them love and miss their family member just as much as the little girl loves and misses her dad, and while his journey has reached its final destination, this love continues and brings joy.
Undeterred by outward appearances, the little girl asks each the same question – Who are you visiting? – and in return discovers that love is what binds us together regardless of how we present ourselves to the world.  Rather than focusing on physical differences, it is the common humanity of the community and the need to give and receive love that binds us.  This commonality is echoed through the repetitive style of the text and illustrations which feature a pathway of love that connects the memories of each person.
This focus on our similarities rather than our differences is a familiar theme of many stories for children, but Visiting You stands out as it looks beneath the surface to our emotions and helps us understand that really, all you need is love. That will carry you through the most trying situations. It offers an opportunity for the reader to reflect on those whom they love and the memories they would share if something were to happen to that person, perhaps even create a class journey of love so they can be reassured that there is someone in their life who loves them as much as they love in return. 

 

Ash dresses her friends

Ash dresses her friends

Ash dresses her friends

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ash dresses her friends

Fu Wenzheng

New Frontier, 2018

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

9781925594027

Ash, the azure-winged magpie  is feeling lonely. Unlike the brash. bold magpies that Australian children are familiar with,   she lacks confidence amongst her feathered friends who assume she is shy and so is left out of conversations at bird gatherings.  She desperately wishes she had someone to play with. 

When a sad elephant comes along who wants a new shirt, Ash has an idea that will cheer him up.  Producing an almost unending blot of fabric she makes him a bold red and white shirt that is so admired by other creatures that they also want new clothes. Suddenly she has all sorts of friends, not just those like her.  But when the fabric runs out after she makes a quilt for a snail, she is alone again.  Were her new “friends” just there for what she as to give them?

Set against a background of fifty shades of grey, bold red is the only contrast colour used in the illustrations symbolising the luck, joy and happiness  that the Chinese believe it to hold, acknowledging the heritage of the author.

Young children who may feel overwhelmed in the presence of those older and bolder than they are may well draw some comfort from this story which shows that we can find friends everywhere, even in unexpected ways, and that true friends are those who give as well as take. 

Teachers’ notes are available

Go Go and the Silver Shoes

GoGo and the Silver Shoes

Go Go and the Silver Shoes

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Go Go and the Silver Shoes

Jane Godwin

Anna Walker

Penguin Viking, 2018

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

9780143785521

When all your clothes are the hand-me-downs from your three wild brothers,  it is important to make the most of what you have.  Even though they were fourth-hand, Go Go had a knack for making them interesting and wore them proudly even if “friends” like Annabelle made unkind comments.  

And when the only new things you get are your knickers and sneakers, then it is especially important to choose the most beautiful you can find.  So when Go Go chose a pair of silver sneakers that sparkled in the sun she wore them everywhere.  She loved them and was so proud of them, even if they were a bit big to last longer.  But disaster struck the day the family went on a picnic and while Go Go and her brothers were having an adventure down through the rocks in the river, one of the precious shoes is lost.  Go Go is heartbroken and very cross as her mum points out that perhaps she should have worn older shoes that day.  

But undeterred and despite her brothers’ suggestions for what she could do with the remaining shoe, Go Go is determined to wear it still – even if it means teaming it with an odd shoe and facing the jeers of Annabelle.  This is a decision that leads to an unexpected friendship as both Go Go and the lost shoe have their own journeys to make…

There is so much to love about this story… as the grandmother of one who never wears matching socks and is so unaffected by a need to be trendy, I love Go Go’s independence and confidence in creating her own style and being a bit different; as one who grew up in the middle of eight boys (all but one cousins), I love that she is me 50+ years ago and all the memories that evokes; and I love Anna Walker’s illustrations that are so subtle and detailed and tell a story of their own.  And I love the ending… you just never know where or how lasting friendships are going to happen.  From its sparkly cover to its stunning endpages, this is a unique story that had me enthralled to the end.

So many will identify with Go Go  and draw strength and confidence from her independence and ability to get to the nub of what being a child is about without all the frills and fripperies. 

A peek inside...

A peek inside…

Shout Out to the Girls: A Celebration of Awesome Australian Women

Shout Out to the Girls: A Celebration of Awesome Australian Women

Shout Out to the Girls: A Celebration of Awesome Australian Women

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Shout Out to the Girls: A Celebration of Awesome Australian Women

Random House Australia, 2018

210pp., hbk., RRP  $A29.99

9780143789420

In recent reviews such as Barney and the Secret of the French Spies,  Women in Science and Three Cheers for Women I have challenged readers to consider a woman whose story, they believe, needs telling.  The problem is that when it comes to uncovering these stories few have been revealed and so it is those of the “usual suspects” that are told and retold.  

But now, this new publication from Random House Australia opens a whole new range of women whose lives and work need to be given “a public expression of thanks”.  Although we find people like Cathy Freeman, Germaine Greer and Mary Mackillop featured, there are dozens of new names like Yassmin Abdel-Magied, Rachel Perkins, and Felicity Wishart whose names might only be known to those in that particular field of endeavour. There are also those of more recent heroes like Sia, Carrie Bickmore and Turia Pitt making this an exploration of significant women in our girls’ lives, not just women in history with whom they may feel no connection. 

All in all over 50 women have a brief one-page biography accompanied by an illustration from a range of illustrators. However, the book also acknowledges all those who have made a contribution to the field, not just the “poster person” for it.  For example, while Magda Szubanski is celebrated for “helping us laugh and speaking the truth”, there is a shout out “Brava for the women who make their own roles on stage, on screen and in life”; Rosie Batty for “her compassion and bravery” but also to “the courageous and strong women who speak out for the vulnerable”; and Mum Shirl for “unwavering dedication and generosity” as well as thanks to all “the advocates and activists who give so much of themselves to help others in need”. There is a feeling of inclusivity that we are drawn into as though someone, somewhere is acknowledging that which we do as we go about our daily lives.

There is even a shout-out to the reader for picking up the book wanting to learn about awesome Australian women while the very last entry is a shout-out to the Smith Family to whom all royalties will be donated so they can continue helping Australian kids get the most from their education.

From the front cover depicting a range of Australian native flowers because like Australian women, its flowers “aren’t wilting violets; they are strong and tough, and have evolved to endure extreme environments” this is an intriguing book in its design and content that must be in every library’s collection if we are to continue to reveal and tell the stories of our women and how they have contributed so much to the life that we enjoy today, holding up mirrors, staring through windows, marching through doors and breaking down barriers.  

Again I ask, “Whose story will you tell?”

Barney and the Secret of the French Spies

Barney and the Secret of the French Spies

Barney and the Secret of the French Spies

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Barney and the Secret of the French Spies

Jackie French

HarperCollins, 2018 

128pp., pbk., RRP $A14.99

 9781460751305

Barney first met the mysterious Elsie hiding under a rock and, like him, eking out an existence on the shores of Port Jackson in 1791 where he was an orphaned child, son of a convict and with no one and nowhere to call home.  Like Barney, she was eventually taken under the wing of the Reverend and Mrs Johnson but she remained an enigma for she never spoke.  On one or two very rare occasions, Barney did hear her utter something but it was so fleeting he thought he was hearing things. 

Now, in this 4th in this series that features Barney telling of his life while uncovering some of the secrets of this country’s early beginnings, Elsie’s story is told at last.  While Barney is beginning to prosper on his farm on the Parramatta River, Elsie has stayed in Sydney Town with the Johnsons and become a sought-after cook by the colony’s elite like Mrs Macarthur. But when word comes that she is desperately ill, perhaps with typhus, Barney hastens to her side in the isolation hut at the hospital and while she doesn’t have typhus it soon becomes clear why she has been put in isolation.  For in her delirium she cries out and while to Barney’s ear she is speaking gobbledygook, both Mrs Johnson and Mrs Macarthur recognise it as French!  They also recognise the dire consequences if Elsie’s nationality is discovered for once again, England and France are at war.

Acknowledging his  enduring love for Elsie and his intention to marry her, Barney stays by her side as she recuperates, encouraged by both women for they believe that he is the only one one that Elsie is likely to divulge her secrets to.  And what a secret it is….

The very best historical fiction weaves fact and fiction so closely together that the reader is left not only wondering what is true and what is imagined, but also wanting to discover more.  And so it is again with Jackie French’s masterful storytelling only this time the secret that Elsie discloses opens up so many pathways to wander down and explore that it is almost overwhelming.  Traditionally history has been told by men because only men were listened to and only the things men did were deemed important and so women and their achievements have been all but invisible. 

But they were there – often in disguise as Elsie’s great-aunt was – and making their mark in life if not in the history books! In the prologue the reader is warned that there are two secrets in this book – not just the story of Elsie but another one “every person needs to yell out loud” – the stories of the women in history that have been kept secret for centuries and generations; secrets that are slowly being uncovered and secrets that will never be discovered.   For it is only in this generation of women alive now that so many barriers have been battered down – even my own mother was expected to give up her hard-fought for job in journalism so a man returning from war could have employment –  that we can learn about the role of the women in our past and acknowledge and celebrate it. Through Elsie’s story and her author’s notes, Jackie not only builds awareness that the role of women goes far beyond anything we can imagine but also challenges us to expose it!

Whose secret will you share?

Bobby the Plain-Faced Cattle Dog

Bobby the Plain-Faced Cattle Dog

Bobby the Plain-Faced Cattle Dog

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bobby the Plain-Faced Cattle Dog

Amy Curran

Pink Coffee Publishing, 2018

48pp., pbk., RRP $A14.95

9780646239307

Bobby was the last of Peggy’s litter of Australian cattle dogs to find a new home – some of his brothers and sisters had  already moved to new homes – but he was OK with that because he was just a puppy.  His mother consoled him and told him not to worry because he would find friends and “be accepted by others.”  Because Booby was different.  Instead of having the regular markings and patches of his breed, his face was plain.

He didn’t know he was a bit different until the other cattle dogs at his new home, when a farmer finally came to claim him, wouldn’t play with him and this saddened him  In fact it wasn’t until he befriended Mother Duck and she had him look in a pool of still water that he noticed the difference.  Was he going to spend his life being different and alone? It would seem so until something happens that makes Bobby a hero and finally he is accepted for who he is inside rather than what he looks like.

Based on a real dog and his experiences with other dogs, this story has a strong message of being accepted for who we are rather than what we look like.

Bullying, in all its facets, is certainly at the top of the agenda in these weeks following the suicide of Amy “Dolly’ Everett and there are calls from all quarters for it to be addressed, with the brunt of the expectations falling squarely on the shoulders of schools.  While the other dogs don’t nip or bite or otherwise abuse Bobby in what is the overt form of bullying, excluding him because of his looks is just as damaging and it makes a good discussion starter to raise the issue with young children so they can understand that bullying can take many forms and each can have unforeseen and unseen consequences.

Written for young, almost independent readers, this is the first in a proposed series that is designed to teach young children to look beyond exteriors because “It’s what on the inside that counts.”  There are teachers’ notes available as well as a plush toy that will give the story extra meaning.

 

 

 

 

Freaks on the Loose

Freaks on the Loose

Freaks on the Loose

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Freaks on the Loose

Leigh Hobbs

Allen & Unwin, 2018

240pp., pbk., RRP $A16.99

9781760294311

When you pick up a book that not only has Leigh Hobbs’ name on the front cover but also a warning to the reader that if they see the characters within they should report them to the Education Department and run, as well as another to prospective teachers to reconsider their career choice, then you know you have a gem in your hands – one that your students are going to love.

Populated with the most amazing and diverse Year 4 students that a teacher could ever dread to have, Freaks on the Loose is a combination of 4F for Freaks and Freaks Ahoy! In typical Hobbs’ style with compelling line drawings and minimal text he sets out to portray the class from hell, drawing on people he has met over time to create a novel that will appeal to all those who share his quirky sense of humour and like a bit of subversion.  He admits that he likes to go into bat for the underdog and while his characters may be somewhat extreme in their portrayal, underneath there is something that we can all relate to, all having felt freakish at some stage in our lives.

As the Australian Children’s Laureate for 2016-2017, Hobbs did a magnificent job of spreading the word about the critical importance of reading, of reaching out to those for whom stories might not be entertaining or accessible, of showing that print is just as entertaining as the screen, and in this collection of two of his funniest books, he is spreading his message to even the most reluctant readers in our classes.

 

Three Cheers for Women!

Three Cheers for Women!

Three Cheers for Women!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Three Cheers for Women!

Marcia Williams

Walker Books, 2018

48pp., hbk., RRP $A27.99

9781406374865

Featuring influential women across the ages including Cleopatra, Boudicca, Joan of Arc, Elizabeth I, Mary Wollstonecraft, Jane Austen, Florence Nightingale, Marie Curie, Eleanor Roosevelt, Amelia Earhart, Frida Kahlo, Wangari Maathai, Mae C. Jemison, Cathy Freeman and Malala Yousafzai, Marcia Williams brings to life just a smattering of the women who have helped shaped this planet and the life we live today.

While each of the key women’s stories is told in a comic-strip format which will appeal to many, dozens more have a thumbnail sketch in the final pages prompting the reader to want to find out more about them.  In a concluding letter to the reader, Williams says that as she wrote the book she dreamed of a book with never-ending pages so she could include “every single world-changing female” but in the absence of that had to settle for her favourites.

She also asks, ” How many women do you think I have left out?” and includes a blank banner for adding new names, setting up the perfect opportunity for students to investigate their own choice of who should be included, adding a new page to the book so that its pages do become never-ending.