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Playing At The Border

Playing At The Border

Playing At The Border

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Playing At The Border

Joanna Ho

Teresa Martinez

HarperCollins US, 2022

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

9780062994547

“Feet planted on the soil of one nation, eyes gazing at the shores of another, Yo-Yo Ma played a solo accompanied by an orchestra of wind and water.” 

On April 13.2019, on the  US banks of the Rio Grande he played a piece of music hundreds of years old to an audience on the opposite banks in Mexico to show that building bridges is so much better than building walls.  

But this is more than just a story of one man playing a cello alone to be heard by a few – this is the story of a renowned cellist, himself a blend of cultures as he was born to Chinese parents in France and raised in the US. Because his fingers were too small for a double bass, as a little child he chose the cello – and its particular blend of international origins is woven into both the story and the music.  And from its strings comes the music dancing ‘over rocks and rivers and walls into the sky”, born in Germany 300 years before, lost,  then found in Spain, and renewed in the US to unite those who had once been one but who were now separated…

Connecting cultures and countries through music was Yo-Yo Ma’s ambition when he began the Bach Project in 2018, reviving the rare cello solos which “create the sound of harmonising melodies on one instrument” there was as much symbolism as there was entertainment on that day in 2019 when the people of two nations momentarily joined together again, in defiance of the rhetoric and actions of the then POTUS. And in Johanna Ho‘s text, which is as lyrical as the music itself, we discover that there were many more than just two nations involved in making it happen. 

Piano Fingers

Piano Fingers

Piano Fingers

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Piano Fingers

Caroline Magerl

Walker Books, 2022

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

9781760652616

Isla and Bea are two sisters who share a love of music. Big sister Isla plays the violin (her honey fog machine) but Bea is waiting for her music to start. She knows it will because she comes from such a musical family but somehow binking on a triangle (no matter how dramatic it can be at the right place) just isn’t enough. And then she discovers the piano, “on tiny gold wheels… a baby mountain, smelling gently of mouse.”  

But even though it is big, it still doesn’t play the sweet music that Bea craves and so she declares, “The world is not ready for my genius”.

But, with the help of Maestro Gus, the cat ghost of the piano, Bea will make her sparkling debut and she and Isla will at last make beautiful music together. 

Over the years, Magerl has offered us some stunning stories including Nop, Maya & Cat and Hasel and Rose and this new one is no exception. Subtly exploring the theme of finding one’s own talent, the text is as lyrical as the music from  Isla’s honey fog machine and the illustrations as light as a touch on the keyboard. 

From one who, despite years of lessons and hours of practice, still has dreams of mastering the piano that has pride of place in the lounge,  this is an inspirational story that all hope is not lost.  Perhaps today is the day I will find my own Maestro Gus – perhaps not.  When it comes to music I don’t have the belief, the expectation, the tenacity or the  perseverance of Bea but young readers will enjoy her story and be encouraged as they realise that even those with natural talent (once they discover what it is) need to learn and practise and persevere.  Something that many will need to hear at the start of this new learning year. 

Twelve Little Festive Frogs

 

 

 

 

Twelve Little Festive Frogs

Twelve Little Festive Frogs

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Twelve Little Festive Frogs

Hilary Robinson

Mandy Stanley

Catch A Star, 2021 

32pp., pbk., RRP $A14.99

The twelve little frogs who taught our young readers the initial poses of yoga are back in their version of the traditional Twelve Days of Christmas.  

However, their interpretation involves a giant game of pass the parcel in the woodlands, one that can go on and on even after the first 12 days! Like the song, and its predecessor, this is a counting book with lots of opportunities to predict what might come next as well as counting those who are already there. 

While it is set in the snowy regions of the northern hemisphere, it is an opportunity to talk about why what the frogs do is so different to our little ones’ experiences and perhaps even create an Australian version which would give it a wider audience and a meaningful activity for those last wind-down days!

John Williamson’s Christmas in Australia

 

 

 

 

John Williamson’s Christmas in Australia

John Williamson’s Christmas in Australia

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

John Williamson’s Christmas in Australia

John Williamson

Mitch Vane

Puffin, 2017

32pp., pbk., RRP $A14.99

9780143507178

Christmas in Australia – time for families to get together and of, course, the perfect family photo for posterity.  But getting everyone together at the same time is not as easy as it sounds. And given the separations of the last few Christmases and the reunions taking place for many this year. family photographs will be high on the agenda so both the book and the song will echo in the minds of many.

This is an hilarious, rollicking tune, probably known to every Australian school student, brought to life in picture book format through the talents of Mitch Vane.  As families gather together as the big day draws closer, no doubt its scenarios will be played out in real life in many backyards and children will be heard singing the song.

A must-have in any Christmas collection and for sending overseas to those who want to know about a summer Christmas as well.

Twas the Night Before Christmas

 

 

 

 

 

Twas the Night Before Christmas

Twas the Night Before Christmas

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Twas the Night Before Christmas

Clement C. Moore

Raquel Martin

Magic Cat, 2021

24pp., hbk (including music box mechanism). $A44.95

9781913520298

“Twas the night before Christmas

When all through the house

Not a creature was stirring

Not even a mouse…”

Are there any more recognisable words than these at this time of the year?  This poem, by Clement Clarke Moore (although he called it “A Visit from St Nicholas”) was first published almost 200 years ago on December 23, 1823, has become the perennial favourite for Christmas Eve as it  stirs the imagination of generation after generation. From it we get the names of the reindeer and all sorts of other images that endure today.

While it has been published in many formats over that time and illustrated in many media and styles, the text remains the same and so it is with this new version.  However, this one  includes a wind-up music box mechanism that allows the reader to listen to the music of  Deck the Halls, another Christmas tradition, this one Welsh and dating back to the 16th century although the English lyrics weren’t written till the mid-19th century. 

An opportunity to round off your Christmas Countdown combining two classics in one. 

The Nutcracker

 

 

 

 

The Nutcracker

The Nutcracker

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Nutcracker

Lily McArdle

Bodil Jane

Magic Cat, 2021

24pp., hbk (including music box mechanism). $A44.95

9781913520212

In 1891, Pyotr Illyich Tchaikovsky began working on his third ballet, the first two being the magical Swan Lake, my personal favourite, and the second, The Sleeping Beauty.    This one was The Nutcrackeran adaptation into music and dance of the original 1816 story be E.T.A. Hoffman. in which young Marie Stahlbaum’s favorite Christmas toy, the Nutcracker, comes alive and, after defeating the evil Mouse King in battle, whisks her away to a magical kingdom populated by dolls.

Part of the score for the ballet is the famous Waltz of the Flowers  and it is this which sets this version of the story aside from others because the book includes a wind-up music box mechanism that allows the reader to listen to the music as well as the words. So while the story is a somewhat abridged version of the original (although it covers all the main aspects) it will inspire many to not only seek out the story but also the music and the ballet.

It used to be the Sugar Plum Fairy in her tutu that garnered all the attention but now nutcrackers are becoming a common part of Australian Christmas decorations so sharing this story will add extra meaning to the Christmas dinner festivities, particularly if it is also the choice of the back ground music! A stunning gift for any budding ballerina. 

 

Cato’s Can Can

Cato’s Can Can

Cato’s Can Can

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cato’s Can Can

Juliet Sampson

Katrina Fisher

Ford Street, 2021

32pp., pbk., RRP $A16.95

9781925804768

Cato the cockatoo loves to dance. Each day he bops and rocks and kicks and stomps all by himself.  He would dearly love to find a dance partner but none of the local birds are interested.  But then, throughout the course of a week he spies lots of dancers who move just like his different bird-world friends – spinning like a lyrebird, bopping like lorikeets, snapping like lyrebirds, leaping like brolgas, tapping like grebes, hopping and prancing like bowerbirds – but even though he shows off his moves, they disappear without noticing him.

So, instead of showing off his moves, he decides to follow them – and everyone gets a surprise…

This is a charming story that celebrates both the unique movement of bird species and the magic of dance. Using a days-of-the-week and cumulative-counting format, both Cato and the reader focus on the various forms of dance that humans have developed to bring joy to themselves and others making a delightful read for all those who love to dance. No doubt they would be able to add other genres and similes such as waltzing and gliding like swans.  As well as being great for investigating similes, bird movements and dance types, it would also be fun to explore the sort of music that would accompany each, and perhaps even find examples of each type. 

So much more than a one-off read! 

Afloat in Venice

Afloat in Venice

Afloat in Venice

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Afloat in Venice

Tina Wilson

Matt Ottley

One Tentacle Publishing, 2021

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

9780648511960

Long ago when people were allowed to travel where and when they wanted, Monkey decided to take a holiday. First to be packed was his new camera and then everything else he was sure he would need.  Two days in a plane, a long boat ride and a lot of stairs saw him arrive in a city that seemed to grow straight out of the sea!  He was in Venice in Italy.

Almost as soon as he steps pout to explore the city, he meets Clarabella, a friendly cat who offers to show Monkey the sights of the city and they spend the day taking photos of all the iconic places.  But when Monkey drops his camera and it falls into a disappearing gondola, he discovers that there are more important things in his life…

This is a unique book and it is going to appeal to a broad audience, not just those who are familiar with Venice or who have dreams to go there.

Most striking are the  illustrative techniques. Monkey and his friends are soft toys, lovingly knitted by the author’s mother who has also provided the patterns on Monkey’s website, and they are pictured against stunning photographic images of Venice. After being given Monkey as a gift and sharing photos of him with her partner Matt Ottley while they were separated because of work. the author realised that  soft toys are a universal language among adults and children, particularly given the number that have their own Instagram accounts, and that this could be a unique way for readers to travel .when circumstances (not just COVID-19 restrictions) prevented it. Monkey’s adventures were born.

Monkey’s adventures reminded me of the fun we had with hosting exchange teddies back in the early days of the Internet when we could share their adventures in almost real time using the early digital cameras and creating webpages using raw html code. The places those toys could take us once people learned why we were photographing them against particular backdrops!  And what our students learned about the world and their place in it, the friendships made – Monkey and Clarabella epitomise those.

Enriching the experience enormously, partner/composer/illustrator Matt Ottley (winner of the 2021 CBCA Picture Book of the Year ) has composed a soundtrack to accompany the book so that all its nuances are experienced in full sensory mode. There are two tracks – one to accompany the child holding the book and listening to it being read to them;  the other a more extended version to take the whole experience into the world of those with visual disabilities who may have braille for the words but nothing for the pictures. The extended narration and music enable them to ‘see’ the whole thing. These are included with the book as a CD but for those without the equipment, it can be downloaded.

And there are more of Monkey’s adventures to be released in 2022.

This is going to be a stand-out read-aloud and read-alone in your collection because it is that wonderful combination of story and illustrations with characters and situations that its audience will relate to and all the added extras will make Monkey and his friends their friends too.

Music for Tigers

Music for Tigers

Music for Tigers

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Music for Tigers

Michelle Kadarusman

Pajama Press, 2021

192pp., pbk., RRP $A19.99

9781772781892

“The first sound I hear in the forest at the bottom of the world is Vivaldi’s ‘Spring’ from The Four Seasons. There’s a movement in the violin concerto that’s meant to mimic the sound of birds. When I step off the bus in the Tarkine bush, that’s exactly what I hear. An orchestra of birdsong descends like musical rain from the Tasmanian treetops.”

Shipped halfway around the world from Toronto to Tasmania to spend the summer with her mother’s eccentric Australian relatives, middle schooler and passionate violinist Louisa is prepared to be resentful. All she wants to be is a violinist, not a biologist like her mother but her mother has discovered that the family-run sanctuary is about to be destroyed and thinks Louisa needs to know more about her heritage.

Life at the family’s remote camp in the Tasmanian rainforest is intriguing, to say the least. There are pig-footed bandicoots, scary spiders, weird noises and odours in the night, and a quirky boy named Colin who cooks the most amazing meals. Not the least strange is her Uncle Ruff, with his unusual pet and veiled hints about something named Convict Rock. 

Finally, when Uncle Ruff gives Louisa her great-grandmother’s diary, she learns the truth: Convict Rock is a sanctuary established by her great-grandmother Eleanor-a sanctuary for Tasmanian tigers, Australia’s huge marsupials that were famously hunted into extinction almost a hundred years ago. Or so the world believes. Hidden in the rainforest at Convict Rock, one tiger remains. But now the sanctuary is threatened by a mining operation, and the last Tasmanian tiger must be lured deeper into the forest. The problem is, not since her great-grandmother has a member of the family been able to earn the shy tigers’ trust. 

As the summer progresses, Louisa forges unexpected connections with Colin a young lad on the autism spectrum; with the forest;  and-through Eleanor’s journal-with her great-grandmother. She begins to suspect the key to saving the tiger is her very own music. But will her plan work? Or will the enigmatic Tasmanian tiger disappear once again, this time forever? 

This is an intriguing read for independent readers who are looking for something different, and something that will stay with them long after the last page is read. The Tasmanian Tiger remains an mysterious, elusive creature which fascinates because of the sporadic “sightings” and suggestions that it may not have become extinct when the last one died in Hobart Zoo in 1936. Acknowledging the expertise of the land’s traditional owners, it is one that has the preservation of the environment at heart, but also the changing nature of people and families as they learn more about who they are.

Written for readers at the upper age limit of this blog, I, as an adult, was engrossed and I could hear myself reading it to a class of entranced listeners. 

 

The Silly Seabed Song

The Silly Seabed Song

The Silly Seabed Song

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Silly Seabed Song

Aura Parker

Puffin, 2021

32pp., hbk., RRP $A19.99

9781760899394

Jelly flubber! Wobbly gong!
It’s the Silly Seabed Song!

As the Rock Oysters sing their final song of the evening, and all the sea creatures sing and dance along, all little Turtle Hatchling Fred wants to do is sleep.  But how can he with all this laughing and giggling and NOISE??? It seems everyone who lives under the water has come to join in and the result of this “lullaby” is just a cacophony.  Or is it?

Once again, the author of Goodnight Glow Worms, and Meerkat Splash offers our youngest readers a charming story for bedtime with its lyrical rhyming text and appealing illustrations. 

A peek inside...

A peek inside…

As well as introducing them to a range of creatures that dwell in the ocean that they are probably not familiar with, there is also the challenges to find a range of them as they frolic with the party-goers amongst the seaweed and sand.  There’s a new little person coming to our family soon and this will be the perfect bedtime story for a proud grandfather to read!!