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Leo and Ralph

Leo and Ralph

Leo and Ralph

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Leo and Ralph

Peter Carnavas

UQP., 2024

276pp., pbk., RRP $A16.99

9780702266218

When Leo starts Kindergarten he find it hard to make friends.  Perhaps it’s because his short legs can’t keep up with the other kids so they leave him behind, or because his words and sentences take a while to come out so they either butt in or walk away before he finishes, but he soon learns that the safest place for him to be is on his own. 

One day, Leo sees a white balloon floating high above him and it sparks an interest in space, an interest that turns into an obsession particularly when the balloon returns, gets stuck in the tree overhanging the house and from it comes a shaggy creature , smaller than he is, with two short horns, long, floppy ears , arms and legs like pointy socks and fur that changes colour.  And so begins the friendship that Leo desperately wanted, and that his parents and teacher felt that he needed.  It didn’t matter to them that Ralph came from one of Jupiter’s moons and that Leo was the only one who could see him- that fact that Leo was happy inventing and playing games with Ralph, much less anxious and so settled was enough.

The friendship continues through Leo’s early school years with the two being inseparable and wisely, Leo’s teachers all accepting his reality.  But financial pressures mean that Leo’s teacher mum has to choose a promotion position in a small country town and that is going to mean leaving Ralph behind.  Indeed, the book begins with a prologue of the poignant parting scene between the two.

So is this farewell to his friend who has made life bearable all this time, does it mean that Leo will slip back into that lonely world he was once trapped in, or…?

This is a gentle, sensitive story that embraces the world of imaginary friends, a world that most adults are not usually invited into, or, if they are, then they are tolerated-just.  Few get to embrace it in the way that those in Leo’s life do, and even fewer are as wise as they are.  

In a recent interview, director and writer of the popular new movie IF, John Krasinski said that as COVID and its consequences took hold, he watched his children slipping into the world of imaginary friends as isolation from their real ones took hold, and he realised that it was a vital part of who they were at the time,  And while he had been thinking of such a theme for some time, now was the time to do it.  And so, with many of our students no doubt seeing the movie, this is the perfect read-aloud to share with them. Perhaps, as children with their own imaginary friends who fulfil a critical space in their lives, they will feel validated as well as hopeful that their story will have a similar ending to Leo’s; and perhaps, as adults, the grown-ups around them will better understand and embrace those who share their child’s life in this way.

 

To and Fro

To and Fro

To and Fro

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

To and Fro

Anton Clifford-Motopi

A&U Children’s, 2024

304pp., pbk., RRP $A17.99

9781761180378

For twelve years, it has just been Sam, his mum and his Nanna (and Grandad when he was alive) and Sam has been okay with that.  He has survived his mum’s cooking, passion for second-hand things and dreadful driving; he visits his nanna often and copes with her religious beliefs, ornaments on every surface and gallery of photos of dead people on the mantelpiece; he fits in well at his school, has friends although they make fun of his Afro haircut especially Lachlan Bott, manages to rub along with his teacher Mr Peacock whose antics mimic his name and like most in Year 6, is counting down the days till primary school is over.  He has a dog called Trevor who has a haircut similar to his own, and altogether, he is just like everyone else he knows.

He has never met his dad although he knows he was a Black African who apparently left his mother when she was pregnant, and even that is unremarkable these days when family structures are so diverse.  But what he is not ready for is his dad suddenly appearing in his life, and his having to make the decision about whether he will meet him with all the ramifications that that will have. 

Most kids meet their parents when they’re born. All they need to do to impress them is poop, sleep and make goo-goo ga-ga sounds. But I’m twelve. None of that is going to impress my father.

And given that Mr Peacock has set the class a major investigation into “who am I and where do I come from?’ so Sam’s focus is already on his origins, it is a dilemma that only he can decide.  He does go ahead with the meeting but that just sets up more questions than answers – deep-seated questions that will shape his identity – but which provoke a lot of turmoil within and without.  Is he a white kid with a black dad? Or a black kid with white skin? Or half-black and half-white? How can he make his outside match his insides if he doesn’t know who he is?

This is an engaging novel for independent readers, many of whom may find themselves in Sam’s predicament whether the conflict be based on race, culture, religion, gender or something else.  As kids move through puberty, even those in the most “standard” of families, question who they are as they try to find and establish their place as independent individuals in the scheme of things, so it is going to have broad appeal.  Told by Sam himself, and being somewhat akin to the author’s own experience, the reader is drawn into Sam’s confusion from his perspective, rather than that of a narrator imposing their interpretation.  It’s funny, has a certain amount of toilet humour that appeals to the age and gives it authenticity, but more than anything, it is a compelling read that tackles deeper issues than just constructing a family tree because it takes that to the next level of looking at the relationships on it and their impact on the current generation.

While many modern stories for that upper end of primary often feature fantastic creatures, superheroes and good vs evil in some shape or form, my experience is that these readers also love contemporary realistic fiction like this – stories where they see themselves or put them in a position of asking what would they do, giving them an opportunity to work through genuine life issues at arm’s length.  They like being respected as intelligent, thoughtful readers, and through both the characters and the storyline of this one, the author has nailed it.  

The Kindness Project

The Kindness Project

The Kindness Project

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Kindness Project

Deborah Abela

Puffin, 2024

338pp., pbk., RRP $A16.99

9781761340185

Nicolette’s favourite time of the day is when she visits her grandmother in “Alcatraz” – the local nursing home – each afternoon and together they complete a jigsaw, every piece fitting perfectly with its neighbour, just like Nanna and Nicolette.  Because Nicolette is a loner and a worrier and believes that her copy of the how-to-make-friends manual either got lost in the post or given to someone else.  School is a misery, for although she loves her teacher Ms Skye, she has to deal daily with DJ the bully who has always called her “knickers” and Layla, perfect, pretty but condescending and who apparently snubbed Nicolette’s birthday years ago and it still hurts.  

When a new boy with a weird name, peastick legs and oversized glasses comes to school – a boy with an amazing talent for drawing and creating stories about superheroes – tiny, tender tendrils of friendship twine them together, giving Nicolette a little bit of hope.  But then Ms Skye announces The Kindness Project and deliberately pairs the four children together, which has to be a recipe for disaster. Or is it?  

When Nicolette and Nanna bust out of Alcatraz for a day at the beach there are consequences far more wide-reaching than the police searching for them, particularly when Nicolette’s mum bans Nanna and Nicolette from seeing each other… consequences that open eyes, minds, hearts and doors for more than just the four children.

Written as a verse novel where every word is devoted to the who and their here-and-now, the choice of language is sublime and with clever use of fonts    and formatting that enhances the reader’s understanding of Nicolette’s emotions, this is one that moved me to tears as I binge-read it early one morning, and not just because of the story itself.  If we ever needed a reminder to not judge a book by its cover, to look beyond the behaviour to the circumstances driving it, for the story behind the story, then this is it.  Dealing with  issues like a grandparent with dementia, a mum with a mental illness, divorce and dealing with new parents and siblings, parents absent because of work deployments, over-the-top anxiety and feeling isolated if not abandoned,  the author has not shied away from exposing the real-life concerns that confront our students daily, and thus, the stories within the stories will resonate with many of our students – some of whom who will relate directly to the characters’ situations, others who might rethink their own words and actions.  

But it not only demands that we think about what is happening in the lives of our friends (and students) but also sheds light on the stories of those behind them.  While Nicolette may be having to come to terms with a grandmother who can no longer look after herself safely, that grandmother wasn’t always that way – she has her own backstory that guides her to guiding Nicolette; Leaf’s mum doesn’t spend every day in hospital receiving treatment for schizophrenia, DJ’s dad has made choices for altruistic reasons that a young DJ can’t yet understand. – and thus they, too have a voice in a world that seldom hears them talking.

Ms Skye sets the class The Kindness Project as a “way to change the world” and while Nicolette and her classmates are sceptical, Ms Skye assures them that “big changes come from small beginnings”.  And so it could be with this book.  One story shared could become the catalyst for so many more. 

Brown Bears

Brown Bears

Brown Bears

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Brown Bears

Dr Nick Crumpton

Colleen Larmour

Walker Books, 2024

32pp., hbk., RRP $A27.99

9781529508727

Spring has arrived in Alaska, and a brown bear is waking up. She was alone when she fell asleep at the start of winter; now she is climbing out of her den with two cubs. Follow them as they discover how to survive in the wilderness, from climbing trees to catching salmon, as their mother teaches the cubs how to be bears. There is a saying about not getting between a mother and her cubs, and the confrontation between a male and the mother demonstrates this, showing that a mother’s protection of her offspring extends into the animal world as well as the human. The perfect choice for a Mother’s Day review as young readers can reflect on the other parallels between human and animal mothers!

While this story is set in Alaska, zoologist-author Nick Crumpton explains that because this species is not fussy about its diet, they are able to live in many countries, although exclusively in the northern hemisphere, opening opportunities to explore the differences in climate, seasons, habitats and inhabitants of those regions compared to Australia,  

This is another in the brilliant Nature Storybooks series that personalises the stories of particular creatures by focusing on one member of the species while providing more general facts separate to the narrative.  It is a successful technique that engages young readers because it brings the information into the child’s realm rather than being a series of disconnected facts and figures, and thus provides a solid bridge between fiction and non fiction.  

Seed to Sky

Seed to Sky

Seed to Sky

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Seed to Sky

Pamela Freeman

Liz Anelli

Walker Books, 2024

32pp., hbk., RRP $A26.99

9781760653750

Come to the oldest forest on Earth,…

On the oldest continent…

Where the oldest trees reach high into the sky…

And begin a journey into 00 years ago, before European settlement and the Daintree Rainforest was much larger and very different to what it is now.

In this latest on the brilliant Nature Storybooks series, which combines lyrical text with factual information amidst stunning real-life illustrations, the reader is taken on an exploration of how a seed becomes a sapling over hundreds of years and is introduced to the diversity and generations of insects, butterflies, bird, lizards, snakes and an abundance of native wildlife that will bear witness to the rise of the magnificent Bull Kauri pine…

Australia is a continent of diverse landscapes and landshapes, each with its unique flora and fauna and while the extensive teachers’ notes will lead you through an investigation of the Daintree itself, they could also serve as a model for investigating a similar situation in the students’ environment.  What vegetation is indigenous to the local area and what creatures might have witnessed its development?

When it comes to narrative non fiction that engages as it explains, this series is one of the benchmarks and this addition is no different.  

Grace the Amazing

Grace the Amazing

Grace the Amazing

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Grace the Amazing

Aleesah Darlison

Wombat Books, 2024

192pp., pbk., RRP $A14.99

 9781761111174

Like many 11-year-olds, Grace Marshall is struggling to straddle that divide between childhood and independent young woman. While she would like to be seen as Grace the Awesome, Grace the Incredible and Grace the Miraculous, she believes others have a different view of her, particularly her mum, a zookeeper who is juggling work and home almost as a solo parent. A chance remark to the “most popular girl in school” some time ago means she appears to have no friends at school, her little brother is a pain, and while her dad loves her to bits she misses him terribly, he is a FIFO worker only home one week in four.  

Grace recognises that she is different, perhaps eccentric, certainly straight-talking, a girl of “many moods [and] many colours” but never boring.  But sadly, she also believes that being just Grace is never enough. Currently, her passion is doing magic as she strives to be known as Grace the Amazing, and when she discovers her one true friend at school is Pamela, her art teacher, has been away for the past few weeks because she has terminal cancer, Grace is determined to find the magic to fix her.

But even though the reader secretly hopes for a different, miraculous ending, there can be only one and this is an engaging, endearing story of how a child deals with the news and its consequences, while at the same time learning much about herself and life, love and friendship along the way. From a little boy in a foster family with a weird name, to Dr Granger the Stranger, to Emma who she thought despised her, to Pamela herself, this is a coming-of-age story that will resonate with many who also feel isolated, a misfit and misunderstood, as once again, Darlison has created credible characters who could be the kids we know and so the reader fits right into the story.

In a Q&A with fellow reviewer TL Sue Warren, Darlison says, “A great story often starts with a simple idea.  Ideas for stories bombard me each and every day. Ideas are everywhere I go. In everything I see and do. And in everything I hear.  If you’re interested in writing stories, you can find ideas in the world around you too. You see, stories abound in all the many subtle nuances of our life – you just have to keep your eyes and ears and mind open to them…” Given the dedications in this book, there is a suggestion that this story is more than one of imagination -it’s one of those ideas that Darlison has seen or lived, and that, in itself, gives it a reality and poignancy that is going to have wide appeal. 

 

Test Trouble

Test Trouble

Test Trouble

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Test Trouble

Serena Patel

Louise Forshaw

Barrington Stoke, 2024

88pp., pbk., RRP $A17.99

9781800902756

When his teacher announces that there will be a timed maths test the following Monday, Arun goes into meltdown.  Even though he is bright and attentive, tests, especially timed ones, make him feel extremely anxious as he feels the pressure to perform.  And so he is determined to get out of it by any means possible staging a protest about tests altogether (which only gets him into more trouble) and even pretending to be sick.  But then a conversation with his neighbour helps him see things in a different light….

This is a story that nearly every reader will relate to. The anxiety that comes with the expectation of being tested, and being expected to do well, no matter how often teachers and other adults try to reassure you that it is “just a test” to let them know how you’re coping and that they can know where you need support.  The fact is that the fear of not living up to expectations, particularly your own, can become bigger than the test itself and that is what distorts the results, not your lack of knowledge and understanding.  

But even though we, as teachers, know this and that there are better ways of assessing a student’s progress and program, boffins wanting to protect their positions insist on imposing tests to measure achievement as though a score on a paper on a particular day indicates anything other than that, and using the results to make all sorts of high-stakes claims and decisions.  So until there is enlightened leadership, such as the implementation of the ACT Senior Secondary Certificate, which does not require a final exam,  our students are going to find themselves in Arun’s position, sadly from their Kindergarten year. And so this is a worthwhile addition to every teacher’s toolkit, especially those who teach that middle primary area where the fear and anxiety really start to take hold, so it can be shared over and over, especially the conversation that Arun has with Mr Patel on pp48-49. Sometimes just turning up for something that we are afraid to do is the biggest achievement, and, having done that, the rest is not so hard.  

This is a little book that has the potential to have the most enormous impact.

This book is from a new imprint, Barrington Stoke, that HarperCollins UK has acquired. Many will know that Barrington Stoke print all of their titles using dyslexic-friendly paper stock, formatting and fonts. Many of their books, including this one, are hi-lo texts written by popular authors but which have been edited to have a lower reading age than interest age so it’s great that they are now going to be readily available in Australia.

Lily Halfmoon (series)

Lily Halfmoon (series)

Lily Halfmoon (series)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lily Halfmoon (series)

The Magic Gems 

9781761180354

The Witches’ Council

9781761069727

Xavier Bonet, translated by Marie Trinchan

A&U Children’s, 2024

80pp., graphic novel, RRP $A17.99

Nine-year-old Lily Halfmoon has just moved to the town of Piedraville. New house, new school and … new powers?

Surprise – Lily is a witch! She must learn magic, and find her animal guardian and gemstone, while keeping her new identity a secret. Not even her family can know.

Protecting the people of Piedraville from evil is no easy task. Especially when a dangerous creature is on the loose. Will Lily finally discover her gem’s unique power with the help of her new friends, Gigi and Mai, all without attracting attention? But a mysterious person is after her rare moonstone, and if they get their hands on it, it could threaten everything Lily holds dear. Will Lily have the strength to fight for what she believes?

The concept of ordinary children discovering magical powers as they become more independent, having to find their particular protective talismans and staving off those who want them is becoming a familiar trope in literature for the emerging reader, but nevertheless, as the enduring popularity of Harry Potter demonstrates, it is one that remains popular and with a constant stream of newly independent readers emerging, discovering it, it will continue to fascinate.   

So with its familiar themes, what sets this series apart?  Firstly, it is in graphic novel format so the reader has to be able to cope with that format, although this one has more dialogue to carry the story than others, the panels track left to right in a logical sequence and it is in regular font, rather than all capitals, making its appearance more familiar, as well as ‘regular’ pages that add more information and background – so, all in all, making it a solid introduction to this popular format. It also has potential to become a sought-after series, as in The Magic Gems, as well as the plot and premise being introduced, the characters and their relationships are established setting the platform for any number of adventures to come, particularly given the cliffhanger ending..  

 

Wurrtoo: The Wombat Who Fell in Love with the Sky

Wurrtoo: The Wombat Who Fell in Love with the Sky

Wurrtoo: The Wombat Who Fell in Love with the Sky

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wurrtoo: The Wombat Who Fell in Love with the Sky

Tylissa Elisara

Dylan Finney

Lothian, 2024

185pp., hbk., RRP $A19.99

9780734421982

In the fifty-fifth burrow of Bushland Avenue in a beautiful clearing on Kangaroo Island where the arching gum trees kiss, is the home of Wurtoo, the hariy-nosed wombat. His is the one at the end with the big red trapdoor and large gold doorknob and a myriad of tunnels because he loves to extend it, so much so that it can take awhile for him to get to his front door. It even has a library where he has just four books that he cherishes – a book of fairytales that has taught him all about love; a plant encyclopedia that told him where to find his favourite muntrie berries and wattleseeds;  a cookbook which helps him make them into something delicious, and a fourth, his favourite, which had stories as old as time and in particular, a map of a most sacred place, the Forest of Dreaming. And it fuelled his dream to follow the map across the water to the mainland, climb the ancient tree to the heavens, and marry the love of his life, the sky.

But first, he needs to find the courage because right now, he can barely leave the burrow without his nerves getting the better of him, because having led such a solitary life, the thought of meeting other creatures terrified him. And so , despite being nocturnal by nature, he chooses to go out in the daytime so he can be unseen, and each day he makes a pilgrimage to the lighthouse for a picnic.Little does he know, that on this particular day his life will change forever because he inadvertently saves Kuula the koala from a bushfire, and acquires the adventure companion he didn’t know he needed.

With Kuula by his side, Wurrtoo finds the courage to leave the safety of his burrow and sets out on an epic journey to cross the island, reach the mainland and climb to the top of tallest tree in the Forest of Dreaming. But it’s fire season, and danger and strange creatures lurk behind every gum tree. To make it, the pair must face their fears together, learn the importance of friendship and discover the power of wombat wishes.

Described as an “Indigenous Blinky Bill meets Winnie the Pooh”, this heartwarming and beautifully illustrated novel for independent readers by the 2021 black&write! fellow Tylissa Elisara, and it is worth reading for the power of the descriptions of the landscape alone.  Immediately, the reader is transported into Wurtoo’s world, akin to Tolkien’s description of the home of Bilbo Baggins, and relate to his ambitions, desires and fears.  It is one for those readers who love adventures and quests, and with traditional First Nation stories, knowledge, food and culture woven seamlessly into the tale, it becomes one that not only engages and entertains, but helps the non-indigenous reader better understand that incredible connection to Country that exists for those who are.

There is also the underlying universal theme of building trust, facing your fears, accepting those you meet for who they are, so friendships are built on similarities rather than differences, that will speak to many readers, perhaps encouraging them to think that if Wurrtoo can do this, so can they.  

For me, the mark of a story that works, is hearing myself read it aloud to a class of students, and this one is one of those rare ones.  So with teachers’ notes available to enhance and enrich the experience, this is definitely recommended as a read-aloud for Years 3-4.  Something different, inspiring and Australian.

Mia Megastar

Mia Megastar

Mia Megastar

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mia Megastar

Ada Nicodemou & Meredith Costain

Serena Geddes

Puffin, 2024

176pp., pbk., RRP $A14.99

9781761342158

Meet Mia!
Her life is pretty interesting and amazing. She’s the only kid in her class who lives above a shop. And not just any shop – everyone knows Costa’s is the best place for groceries and the yummiest pastries. She has a cute-but-annoying little brother, Yianni, and the best friends ever. Oh, and her mum plays the worst pranks. Mia loves dancing and singing and is always putting on a show. And she’s ready to step into the limelight . . . this year will see Mia get closer to her dream of becoming a megastar.
But the road to stardom is not without a little drama. . .

Loosely based on her own childhood, this is the first in a three-part series  for young independent readers by Home and Away star of 22 years, Ada Nicodemou.  With the upsurge in online opportunities where anyone with ambition (if not talent) can showcase their abilities, there are many of our young students who will relate to Mia’s aspirations and who will find, like Mia (and someone close to me) that it involves a lot more than a camera and an internet connection.

A peek inside...

A peek inside…

Characters that appeal because the reader can put themselves into the lead role, an attractive layout with many visual features including acting tips from someone who has proven herself, and the promise of more to come in July and October, make this a series that is going to appeal to a large number of newly-independent readers who are looking for something new to pass the cold, winter months.  My aspiring young performer has grown through the phase now, but I know this will find a willing and wanting audience at the local primary school.