Archives

A Stone for Sascha

A Stone for Sascha

A Stone for Sascha

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Stone for Sascha

Aaron Becker

Candlewick Press, 2018 

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

9780763665968

Just before the family leaves on a holiday at the beach, they bury their beloved dog.  As Sascha grieves and dusk falls, she takes her bucket to the ocean’s edge to collect stones to take home to cover the bare mound that is her dog’s grave.  Among those she picks up is one that is particularly bright and shiny and as she looks up to the stars she begins to wonder and trace the stone’s journey to its resting place on the shore.  From a meteor that hurls itself to Earth in the time of the dinosaurs to being picked up by Sascha and eventually placed on her dog’s grave,  it has a long and fascinating history that reveals itself in a series of stunning illustrations in this wordless text, traveling through time and across lands. 

But, perhaps most important of all, although Sascha continues to miss her dog terribly, she begins to understand that nothing is truly lost – everything, even a stone and a dog, has a history and a legacy and is but one piece in the jigsaw that is both our own and the planet’s story.  We are more than what is happening to us in the moment – all that has gone before has shaped us and what we do now will change us for the future. 

Described by one reviewer as the “young person’s Shaun Tan”, this story has so many layers to explore and ponder with each visit – Becker’s decision to not add text means the reader has to impose their own making for a wonderful opportunity to reflect and consider and wonder. Against the background of the muted palette, the gold of the stone stands out like a thread weaving its way through a carpet, just as our own individual stories while being but one strand of a much larger tale, nevertheless stand out for us.

The All New Must Have Orange 430

The All New Must Have Orange 430

The All New Must Have Orange 430

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The All New Must Have Orange 430

Michael Speechley

Penguin Viking, 2018

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

9780143788973

Remember the fidget spinners of last year that were the essential, all-new, must-have for kids?  The beyblades? The shopkins? And a hundred other toys that clever advertising has made top-of-the-toy-parade but which fade as quickly as they appear?  Well, Harvey had them all – and then some! Boxes and buckets full of them! So when he heard about The All New Must Have Orange 430 then he had to have that too.

The only thing that was empty in Harvey’s room was his money box but after checking everything and everywhere he finally found enough coins to be able to buy his latest desire.  So intent was he on owning it that he didn’t notice the huge April Fools’ Sale sign or that this  All New Must Have Orange 430 sat on a shelf surrounded by items such as dead batteries, free fat, grey fluff and even a lead balloon! He was only focused on having The All New Must Have Orange 430!

When he got home he eagerly unwrapped it.  It had EVERYTHING _ a thingy that did nothing; a whatsit that did squat; a dooverlacky that was whacky; and a something that was silly.  But what did it do? No matter what he did, it did nothing and he finally realised it was “actually completely useless.”

So he decided to take it back – and then his life changed forever.

In a world that seems to be all about having the latest and greatest, keeping-up-with-the-Jones is paramount and we are bombarded by advertisements in every aspect of our lives (even in public toilets),  this book is a breath of fresh air.  As parents find it easier to give into pester power than suffer the sulks of a firm “no’ as their children mimic their own consumer-driven behaviour, the ideas of looking for value or even restraint and second thoughts seems to have disappeared in this age of instant gratification. So to have a well-written, superbly illustrated book that compels the reader to think before they buy is excellent and will serve as a brilliant teaching tool to introduce the power of advertising, peer pressure, impulse buying, the value of money and even saving for something that seems to be beyond the mindset of so many, including Miss 12! Maybe, for those who are a little older, there could be an examination of the psychology that drives the need to belong, to be one of the flock rather than individual.

Its sepia tones used for all but The All New Must Have Orange 430 add to its layers as they depict what appears to be a beige life with the only spot of colour being a new purchase. But once the brief thrill of the purchase is made, and everyone has what the other does, it too fades to beige in anticipation of the next best-thing.  

As nearly all of us seek more and more storage for more and more stuff, swearing that we will declutter someday soon, reading and taking heed of the important themes of this book may help our younger students refrain from being Harveys in the first place!  

Definitely one for Miss 12 and Miss 7 – perhaps even their parents!  And definitely one for any unit of work that focuses on consumerism and marketing. 

Waves – for those who come across the sea

Waves - for those who come across the sea

Waves – for those who come across the sea

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Waves – for those who come across the sea

Donna Rawlins

Heather Potter  & Mark Jackson

Black Dog, 2018

40pp., hbk., RRP $A27.99

9781925381641

“If you are not an Indigenous Australian, your family have, at some stage, come to Australia from across the waves.”

“Every journey is perilous, every situation heartbreaking. Every refugee is a person forced by famine or war or fear to leave their
home, their families, their friends and all they know. Children have travelled on the waves of migration to the shores of Australia for
tens of thousands of years. This book tells some of their stories.” 

In this poignant narrative non fiction that begins with endpapers forming a timeline of people and their vessels from 50 000 years ago to the present, we meet the fictional children who are representative of all those who have come before as they tell their stories of their situation and circumstances and their anticipation for a new life in a new land. War, famine and fear have forced each of them to leave all that is familiar and escape across the treacherous seas to safety and security with the waves of migration almost as regular as  those that hit our shores interminably.  

Somewhat reminiscent of the iconic My Place by Nadia Wheatley, each double-page spread presents a new child’s story, a snippet of the life that set them on the waves and the life they hope to have, softly and superbly illustrated to give life to the words. 

From Anak who arrives by raft from Indonesia to settle in northern coastal Australia 55 000 years ago to  the refugees of the the present day, it demonstrates how this nation has been shaped by those who have sought solace, safety and security here.  But as well as bringing to life this country’s chronological migration history, it is also an opportunity to spark students’ interest in their own stories and to investigate the circumstances that brought their families across the waves.  Naturally this would have to be done with some sensitivity as not all would be stories that parents would want to be shared especially if there were difficult or traumatic circumstances but it could fill parts of the identity jigsaw as well as stimulate greater understanding and empathy for others.

Teachers’ notes focusing on the History and English strands of the Australian Curriculum for Years 3-6+ are available. 

If we are to put human faces to our history so that its study has relevance, meaning and connection for our young students, this is a must-have to be in every collection and to be promoted. It is indeed part of Australia: Story Country.

The Most Marvellous Spelling Bee Mystery

The Most Marvellous Spelling Bee Mystery

The Most Marvellous Spelling Bee Mystery

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Most Marvellous Spelling Bee Mystery

Deborah Abela

Random House Australia, 2018

240pp., pbk., RRP $A14.99

9780143786689

In Yungabilla, Australia, Toronto, Canada and Wormwood, England three young people are receiving invitations to an event that could change their lives forever.  Having proved their ability as champion spellers, each has been invited to compete in the Most Marvellous International Spelling Bee in London. But, like all children, each is unique and faces their own difficulties in getting to London.

India Wimple who won Australia’s  The Stupendously Spectacular Spelling Bee is so shy that she cannot compete without her family by her side but the organisers will only pay for the contestant and one chaperone; Canada’s champion Holly Trifle’s family is reminiscent of the Wormwoods in Dahl’s Matilda and see her competing only as a way to promote their weight-loss business; while bullied, lonely Peter Ericksson hopes that maybe his absent dad will see his face on television, recognise him  and come home because it’s been 2922 days since he walked out and left a dad-sized hole in Peter’s life.

With incredible insight into the lives of children, Deborah Abela has crafted an engaging, unputadownable story that weaves the  lives of India, Holly and Peter together as well as the familiar faces of Rajish and Summer as they compete while trying to get to the bottom of some mysterious mishaps.  

Independent readers will relate to all three characters – if they are not mirrors then they will know someone like them – and will become engrossed as they follow their struggles to overcome their personal obstacles as much as their competitive ones.  Being able to put yourself in the shoes of the characters is the most important way to ensure the page is turned to see what happens to them and Abela has the ability to do this in spades.  Miss 11 is going to LOVE this sequel.

Lego Star Wars Choose Your Path

Lego Star Wars Choose Your Path

Lego Star Wars Choose Your Path

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lego Star Wars Choose Your Path

Simon Hugo

DK, 2018

125pp., hbk., RRP $A29.99

9780241313824

What more fitting book to review for May the 4th than one with a Star Wars theme? Even though it is not released till May 28, there is no harm in building up anticipation for something new and different that is going to encourage even the most reluctant of readers to explore.

With the book comes protocol droid U-3PO, a small toy suitable for those 6+, who accompanies the adventures, gives advice and maybe even leads the adventurer astray. The reader chooses one of three quests- Hunt the Sith, Fight the Empire or Defeat the First Order – and then sets off to achieve it while meeting favourite characters and creatures, travelling in awesome vehicles as they move from planet to planet, all the while remaining in charge of the journey as they select the route according to the choices on offer.  

Along the way there are photos, facts and figures and information about a range of incredible Lego models that can be purchased – Star Wars fans like my son are so easy to buy for! –  as well as challenges to build new, original models.

The power of choose-you-own-adventure has long been proven as an inducement to read and discover, so to combine it with both Star Wars and Lego is just genius.  Perfect for that collaborative reading that young boys who are verging on independence love and need, or for any Star Wars fan. 

Tommy Bell Bushranger Boy (series)

Tommy Bell Bushranger Boy (series)

Tommy Bell Bushranger Boy (series)

 

 

 

 

 

Tommy Bell Bushranger Boy (series)

Jane Smith

Pat Kan

Big Sky Publishing, 2016-2018

100pp., pbk., RRP $A12.50

When Tommy Bell is sent to work on his grandfather’s farm for the school holidays, he is very reluctant to go because he would rather stay with his mates in his regional NSW town.  But while he is exploring a cave, he discovers an old bushranger’s hat and he is whisked back to a previous time when these outlaws roamed the Australian bush.

Each book in the series brings Tommy and his friends face-to-face with one of our history’s well-known bushranger characters and as they are involved in an exciting adventure they learn not only about our past but also themselves as the historic story parallels their contemporary lives. 

Written for independent young readers, this series offers a different theme for this audience with its time-travelling going backwards rather than forwards.  The first, Shoot Out at the Rock, was a 2017 CBCA Notable, a testament to the content and the quality of the writing. 

Can I Touch Your Hair?

Can I Touch Your Hair?

Can I Touch Your Hair?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mrs Vandenberg sets her 5th grade class a poetry project and then says, “Pick a partner.”  Within seconds the only one left for Irene is you-never-know-what-he-is-going-to-say Charles and for Charles it’s hardly-says-anything Irene.  But that’s not the main difference they see – Charles is black and Irene is white.  Nevertheless, an assignment is an assignment and with no boundaries they select everyday topics like buying shoes, their hair, going to church and the beach to write about, each using blank verse to describe their experiences.  For Irene who is painfully shy and likes her “stringy, dishwater, blonde” hair because it’s a curtain she can hide behind, her first poems focus on how she would like to be like the popular girls in class.  “I’d rather be sun-burned than sugar-sand white.” For Charles, for whom words fly off the page and out of his mouth, they’re about how he too, would like to fit in better but is shunned because of the colour of his skin and the confusion that that sets up inside him.

But as they write and share their poems, the topics getting more personal and revealing, gradually a greater understanding grows and they realise they have many more similarities than differences, seeing each other as individuals, and that they are both so much more than black and white. However, the poems don’t just explore their growing connections – they also explore their personal conundrums.  Charles watches the news and sees people walking by as black people are being “choked, pummelled, shot, killed by police officers” and yet he has a special friendship with local (white) Officer Brassard; Irene is shunned by Shonda in the playground but when Shonda presents her family tree draped in chains, Irene feels the need to say, “Sorry”.  

Subtitled, Poems of Race, Mistakes and Friendship,  this book grew from a friendship that began as an email but evolved from all that had gone before in the authors; and illustrators’  lives to shape them into their current personalities.  Imagining what it would be like if they had met in a modern-day 5th grade class, rather than a book of unrelated poems this one tells the story of an evolving friendship between two people with seemingly distinct lives, diverse experiences and different perceptions using the format of the poem to be the voice of each, and each shedding light on innermost thoughts that illuminate a path that few get to tread.

Unlike other books with “we’re-all-the-same-on-the-inside” messages, this one tackles the issue of race head on so that conversations can be started and differences can be explored rather than ignored.  Because even though we may be the same on the inside, all that has gone before us even before we are born has gone into the making of who we are now, and while that makes us unique individuals regardless of skin colour, it is that skin colour that can be the greatest division as first impressions are so deeply shaped by existing attitudes, perceptions and preconceptions.  Charles was picked first for the basketball team simply because of his skin colour and lanky legs, but things changed when he muffed an easy shot.

This is a complex book with so many layers that it risks being left unopened on the shelf if it is not shared with the child by an astute adult, either parent or teacher, who can begin and sensitively guide the conversations.  Cultural differences – racial, religious, sexual, lingual, socio-economic – are a big issue in our schoolyards as the focus on bullying demonstrates, so something new that approaches the issues in a radical way can be a catalyst for change.  What is we were all Mrs Vandenbergs and set our students a similar challenge, instead of the one-size-fits-all novel study, and insisted that students work with someone they have never worked with before?  

Extraordinary.

If you are in an Australian school and would like my review copy of this book to use with your students, be the first to contact me and ask for it.  Please include your name and postal address.

Armistice

Armistice

Armistice

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Armistice

Ruth Starke

David Kennett

Working Title Press, 2018

48pp., hbk., RRP $A29.99

9781921504914

On Sunday, November 11 2018 at 11.00am the world will stop and remember that after a long, gruelling, deadly war that shaped both history and nations alike, the guns finally stopped a century ago.

The centrepiece of the Australian commemoration at the Australian War Memorial will be the installation of 62 000 knitted red poppy flowers. each representing an Australian life lost during the conflict.  While those 62 000 voices have been silent for a century, this new book, a companion to My Gallipoli, brings together the voices of many who waited for the inevitable outcome.  From the Chief Allied Interpreter, soldiers and civilians and even Corporal Adolf Hitler, lying wounded in a military hospital, the events and the emotions are given a human side rather than the stark words on the pages of history books or in the mouths of modern dispassionate commentators.

While the guns were silenced on November 11, 1918, the talking continued for seven months until the Treaty of Versailles was finally signed on June 28, 1919 and the reader learns not only of the changes that were made to the world itself but also the conditions that meant that a second world war was inevitable. 

With endpapers that show the political changes that occurred in Europe between 1914 and 1925, thumbnail sketches of those whose voices have been quoted and comprehensive teachers’ notes available  this is a remarkable book that will help our students understand the significance of the time and its centenary.  It is a must-have in any collection relating to World War I.

 

Lest We Forget.

 

Flamingo Boy

Flamingo Boy

Flamingo Boy

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Flamingo Boy

Michael Morpurgo

HarperCollins, 2018

288pp., hbk., RRP $A29.99

9780008134631

Time and circumstance have led Vincent to the Camargue in south-western France, the vast delta of the Rhone River,  cut off from the sea by sandbars  with over a third of it shallow lakes or swampy marshland, a haven for birdlife particularly the flamingo. Drawn there by a van Gogh painting that has hung in his bedroom since he was a child and an old story about following the bend in the road, Vincent succumbs to a mystery illness and finds himself in the care of Kezia, a middle-aged gypsy woman and the autistic Lorenzo who has significant intellectual challenges but who has a remarkable affinity with the wildlife, particularly the flamingos, his beloved “flam, flam”. 

Seascape at Saintes-Maries

Seascape at Saintes-Maries

 At first, Vincent assumes that they are husband and wife but as he slowly recovers, Kezia gradually tells him the story of how they became best forever friends and how when the Germans came and occupied their town, another unlikely friendship with a German soldier enabled ‘Renzo to cope and survive with the unexpected and unwanted changes that were inevitable under Occupation  where those, including children, who were different were always under threat.

“Lorenzo loved everything to be the same, even goodbyes. Goodbyes, hellos, sausages and songs, he loved what he knew, never wanted anything to be different. The trouble is that things do change, whether we like it or not. And for Lorenzo any change was always difficult. It still is sometimes.”

Morpurgo has a gift for telling unique, utterly engaging stories that appeal to all ages, and this one is no different. Inspired by his autistic grandson, Sir Michael Morpurgo describes it as “a story of love and friendship, of how people from different cultures and backgrounds can come together, especially when they are under threat.” 

The narrative style of being a story within a story has drawn criticism from some reviewers – all adults; and Morpurgo himself says that his knowledge of autism is “too shallow” but for the younger audience it is intended for, it is gentle and compelling. If the reader takes nothing away from this book beyond Morpurgo’s description of Lorenzo …“He was like no one I had ever encountered before. He joined our world – the real world as we like to think of it – and left it as and when he felt like it. Everything he did was both spontaneous and meant. His words and his ways were his own” which so superbly sums up the autistic child, then it is worth the time taken to absorb yourself in it. 

The Mediterranean

The Mediterranean

The Mediterranean

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Mediterranean

Armin Greder

Allen & Unwin, 2018

32pp., hbk., RRP $A29.99

9781760630959

“After he had finished drowning, his body sank slowly to the bottom, where the fish were waiting.”

This is the introductory text, indeed the only text in this new book by Armin Greder, the master at honing in on the heart of an issue and then using his brilliant  artwork to express the story using a monochromatic palette, line and detail which really doesn’t need words.

In 2017 alone, it was estimated that more than 2000 refugees drowned in the Mediterranean Sea making the treacherous crossing from North Africa to Europe and Greder has explored the why and how of this in his iconic way which has a master twist of irony in it. It is a macabre, almost grotesque ‘life cycle’ that is enriched by the absence of text because the reader is forced to examine the pictures closely to create the story for themselves. 

The story has its own story (as the best ones do) and this is explained in the afterword by Alessandro Leogrande and there is also a ‘footnote” as part of the blurb from Riccardo Noury, a spokesperson for Amnesty International Italy.

As Australia debates the ball-tampering incident within Cricket Australia and many demand that such things are put into the perspective of things that really matter, the question is asked – how long will we remain silent witnesses?

This is a picture book for older readers, one that raises more issues and questions than it answers and one that is a must-have in the collection of secondary libraries, or any school with a significant refugee population. 

 

A peek inside...

A peek inside…