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From Stella Street to Amsterdam

 From Stella Street to Amsterdam

From Stella Street to Amsterdam

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

From Stella Street to Amsterdam

Elizabeth Honey

Allen & Unwin, 2020

432pp., pbk., RRP $A16.99

9781865084541

In 1995 Elizabeth Honey wrote 45 & 47 Stella Street, a story told by Henni Octon, writer-to-be. of what happened to Zev, Danielle, Frank and Briquette the dog and everyone else when The Phonies moved into their street and started to spoil everything. It was funny and fast, and very scary and they never knew what was going to happen next! Over the years more tales were added to the series , and each time a new one was released there was a reserves queue that necessitated buying multiple copies! 

Now, 25 years on, there is a new addition that is not only a great read in itself, but which could well spark a stampede to read the original stories in the series, (So search your shelves to see if you have the others on hand in readiness!)

In this one, Henni’s stubborn old neighbour Willa insists on returning to her childhood home in the Netherlands for a wedding, and Henni leaps at the chance to be her travelling companion. ‘Lucky duck! Fantastic opportunity!’ That’s what everyone in Stella Street said. ‘Oh boy, chance of a lifetime.’

But during the long flight to Amsterdam, Willa reveals to Henni the real reason for her journey: a terrible family secret stretching back to the Second World War. As Henni makes friends with more and more of Willa’s relatives, she must decide if they should know the truth. And is that the only mystery?

Talking about the original, Honey said she “wanted to write about kids who were open and robust, ingenious, tenacious and funny” and  “families [who] are strong and enjoy life. They go through ups and downs but basically they stick together.” And that basically sums up this t=story and the series – they are about characters and situations that our children can relate to, feel-good stories that have all the tension and drama required to keep the reader engaged but which have “a happy ending, not in a Disneyland way, an Australian way.” 

I love books that open up other avenues for readers, books that compel them to keep reading beyond the pages and it is SO good to see this one because not only is it likely to entice the readers to seek out those prequels but they’re going to venture into a series that quite possibly their parents read and enjoyed, opening up the possibilities for all sorts of discussions and memory-making.  The enduring power of print vs the fleeting influence of the screen!!!

Diamonds

Diamonds

Diamonds

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Diamonds

Armin Greder

Allen & Unwin, 2020

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

9781760877040

A young girl watches her mother get ready for a night out, curious about the diamond earrings she is wearing.  Using a child’s logic and train of thought she asks about their origins, but her mother cuts the conversation short ostensibly because it is time for her to go but perhaps she doesn’t really want to delve too deeply into their story.  

When the young girl is put to bed by the maid, clearly of African descent, the story continues without words, tracing the journey of those diamonds from the African mine workers through the hands of various “brokers” each seemingly driven by the riches they will bring regardless of the poverty and plight of those whom they exploit until the earrings are presented to her mother by Winston.

Greder is well known for looking beyond the story to the story beneath and presenting this with a minimum of text but the most powerful illustrations, and this is no exception. What really does go on in the mysterious netherworld of international trade so that those with a lust for power and riches can satisfy their hunger?

This is a picture book for older readers that, like The Mediterranean and Australia to Z,  is confrontational but it is one way to raise awareness and start conversations.  The afterwords by Francesco Boille and Riccardo Noury are not only powerful but also add extra information and insight making this a unique must-have for any school curriculum and library collection that has a social justice focus.

The Giant and the Sea

The Giant and the Sea

The Giant and the Sea

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Giant and the Sea

Trent Jamieson

Rovina Cai

Lothian Children’s, 2020

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

 9780734418876

There was once a giant who stood on the shore of the sea. She looked out across the water the water, because that is what she had promised to do long, long ago.

On the shore there was a young girl who would often come and sing and while the giant never moved or spoke, she listened. Then one day, she warned the girl that the people in the city had a machine that was causing the sea to rise. If the machine were not turned off, the people would all drown. The girl tried to warn the people but they would not listen.  They loved their machine and could not imagine that it would ever do them harm, until….

In the style of Armin Greder and Shaun Tan, this is a picture book that has a powerful message that in these days of climate change conversations, even our younger readers will grasp. Even though the little girl remains nameless, each of them could see themselves as being her as they try to make the adults in their world listen to their fears. While the palette of the illustrations is dark and moody reflecting the tone of the story, there is also a thread of hope when the giant returns and rescues those that heard the girl – not all the ears were deaf.

The ending is poignant and bittersweet but it reinforces the power of children’s voices at a time when the adults seem to have lost their way.

The best picture books are those that span all age groups with a meaning and message that speaks to each, and this is one of those. 

Teachers’ resources with salient discussion points particularly for older students are available to help you make the most of it with your students because it is one that will linger in the mind long after it has been shared. 

Embrace Your Body

Embrace Your Body

Embrace Your Body

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Embrace Your Body

Taryn Brumfitt

Sinead Hanley

Puffin, 2020

24pp., hbk., RRP $A24.99

9781760895983

There is something scary in the statistic that 70% of primary school children have a concern about their body image, and when this is coupled with the greatest desire of post-restriction Australia is for beauty salons and gyms to re-open, it is easy to see why and that without intervention, this obsession with how we look is not going to change. From long before the voluptuous Marilyn Monroe to waif-like Twiggy to the more-rounded Kardashians, our obsession with how our bodies look rather than how they perform has dominated so many lives, and this is as true for our males as it is for females.  How many young lads see themselves in the image of a Hemsworth?

In 2016 Taryn Brumfitt wrote and directed a documentary Embrace which encouraged us to love who we are as we are, but that doco received a MA15+ classification and so did not reach down to the roots of where the obsession starts.

So now she is addressing this with the establishment of a number of initiatives that speak directly to our children including another documentary , a song and, based on that song, this book. Based on the mantra that “your body is not an ornament:it is the vehicle to your dreams!”. children of every size, shape, colour and ability are engaged in all sorts of activities  showing the extraordinary things our bodies can do proving that nobody has a body that is the same as anyone else’s and that it is capable of so much more than conforming to some arbitrary stereotyped look.

This book has an important role in the conversations and investigations we have with our youngest students and not just in the health and mindfulness programs we offer. Because we are all individuals it opens up the world of science and maths as we investigate why and how that is, delving into genetics and measurement and a host of other areas that give a deep understanding to the message of the book, including the language we use to describe others. ‘Smart’, ‘clever’, ‘athletic’ are so much better than the pejorative terms of ‘pretty’, ‘handsome’ and ‘strong’.  For if, from an early age, we can grasp that we, as individuals, are a combination of the unique circumstances of both our nature and nurture, then our understanding of and appreciation for who we are is a big step towards valuing the inside regardless of the outside in both ourselves and others. 

It is sad that there is still a need for this sort of book in 2020, just as there was in 1920 and 1960, but if you make and use just one purchase this year, this could be the one that changes lives for the better. 

 

 

More than a Kick: Footy, the Photo and Me

More than a Kick: Footy, the Photo and Me

More than a Kick: Footy, the Photo and Me

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

More than a Kick: Footy, the Photo and Me

Tayla Harris and Jennifer Castles

A & U Children’s, 2020

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

9781760525804

Sunday, March 17, 2019 and Tayla Harris goes to work as normal, just as she has every other day. But this was to be no ordinary day – not only was it the last round of the AFLW home-and-away matches to determine which team would be in the finals, but it was the day Tayla was propelled into the media in a way she never sought nor wanted.

During the match, she kicked a goal and photographer Michael Wilson snapped the action as it happened.  Ordinarily, it would be no big deal but when it was published online to showcase her amazing athletic ability, suddenly the faceless trolls who hide behind their keyboards decided she was fair game and the photo went viral, along with a plethora of nasty comments that turned it into something it was not. Rather than being a photo of an athlete at work, it became a war of words – a war that hit the headlines here and overseas. And because 7AFL chose to remove the photo rather than hold the trolls accountable, it attracted even more attention. 

The photo...

The photo….

In this frank and very personal memoir of that time, Harris speaks directly to the reader about the impact that it had on her as an individual and as a footy player and her concerns for herself, her family and the families of those who felt it was OK to write what was essentially sexual abuse. She notes that she was “lucky” because she had a manager, a family and a community who rallied around her to support her through the furore, but she is very concerned for those who suffer similar bullying and do so, alone and often in secret. 

Whether readers are footy fans or not, know who Tayla Harris is or not, this is a powerful story that shows the power of social media and the consequences of those faceless remarks that so many seem to think they have the right to make.  For our girls wanting to aspire to the highest level of sport, it is inspirational; for those who are suffering at the hands of these anonymous cowards it offers hope and guidance; for those who write such trash, it is an eye-opener into what their words can do.  For Tayla, it resulted in a statue in Federation Square and a boost to women’s football that was unprecedented, but sadly, for some like Dolly Everett it is a burden too tough to bear.  That’s why, despite not usually reviewing books for the age group that this is written for, I’m sharing Tayla’s story because this is a story that needs to be heard over and over and over – until the haters and trolls are held accountable and responsible for their actions.

The statue... (Daily Mail, UK))

The statue… (Daily Mail, UK))

 

 

The Schoolmaster’s Daughter

The Schoolmaster's Daughter

The Schoolmaster’s Daughter

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Schoolmaster’s Daughter

Jackie French

Angus & Robertson, 2020

384pp., pbk., RRP $A17.99

9781460757710

The turn of the 20th century, a new nation and perhaps a new start for Hannah’s family as her father has been appointed schoolmaster of the one-teacher school at Port Harris, a town founded, owned and ruled by one man who built the local sugar cane industry, itself built on the slave labour of the Pacific Islanders “contracted” to work and live in conditions that would rival the worst of what we know about the southern states of the USA.

It is not an auspicious start with the Cecily McPhee foundering as she was caught in a storm of Pirate Bay, and the shipwrecked travellers having to fight their way to shore.  While the men decide they will try to find a way to the port, the women shelter and are rescued by a young lad and taken to his family farm. But that young lad is coloured and the product of a mixed marriage between his white mother and his Kiribatian father and immediately the first ugly seeds of racism start to grow.  While Hannah and her mother have no qualms, the other women immediately adopt the holier-than-thou attitude of European settlers of the time and demonstrate why Jamie and his mum have been ostracised. 

Add into the mix Mrs Gilbert’s liberal views, her passion for women’s suffrage and universal education that includes girls and non-whites, so much so that she starts a secret school for Hannah and Jamie, and you have another powerful historical novel that is as much fact as it is fiction.  Once again, Jackie French exposes the reader to times past that have been hidden because men wrote the history books and directed the classroom curriculum by bringing her own family history to light and to life.  As the nation moved through the early months of Federation, the first tentative steps towards women’s suffrage and the introduction of the White Australia Policy that prohibited all non-European immigration and was not abolished until 1973 when it at last became illegal to discriminate on the grounds of race, Hannah and her mother unpeel those carefully constructed layers subtly and softly through staying true to their beliefs without fanfare or fuss and certainly not offence. Hannah’s mother is very well aware of the impact of scandal and how it would affect the progress of change.  Now, 120 years on, we are starting to see and appreciate the determination and strength of those shoulders on which we stand as we become and celebrate a nation of many cultures, enjoy universal education whose value is even clearer in current circumstances, and even our personal lives as we choose to marry or not, divorce or not, have children or not.

Definitely a read for older, independent readers, this is a story that has both the deepest of depths and the widest of implications as we really consider where we have come from as both individuals and a nation, and where we want to go.  For this is a unique time in which the world has paused and we can choose the future, personally and collectively.

Weird Little Robots

Weird Little Robots

Weird Little Robots

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Weird Little Robots

Carolyn Crimi

Corinna Luyken

Walker Books, 2020

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

9781406387988

In a new town with only the robots she creates in a sagging backyard shed from the treasure she finds on her walks for company, it only takes a little bit of magic to change everything for eleven-year-old Penny Rose. With her new friend Lark – an eccentric tinkerer herself – the promise of joining a secret science club and her newly sentient robots, Penny Rose can’t imagine how she was ever lonely. But a fateful misstep means Penny Rose will have to choose between the club she’s always dreamed of and the best friend she’d always hoped for. And in the end, it may be her beloved little robots who pay the price

As the world waits in anticipation of the first manned space launch from US soil in nearly a decade, it is a very different one from the one I remember in 1969 as we waited for the launch of Apollo 11 and man’s attempt to land on the moon. In those days, it was very much man’s attempt for science, on the surface, appeared to be a man’s world – certainly very little, if any, public recognition was given to the women behind  the scenes. But this engaging, 21st century novel demonstrates so many changes the world has seen in those 50 years, not the least of which being that my granddaughter can openly engage in her passion for science, technology and construction and read about herself in a mainstream novel, The dreams I had for her in 69 have come true, not that at the age of 18 I was projecting myself forward to being a grandmother!  But for those of us with an interest in “boys’ subjects” at high school but who had been directed down other paths simply because of our gender, reading a book like this would not have been possible. 

Written for independent readers, there are indications that Penny Rose could be on the autism spectrum but even so, neither that nor her passion for science overwhelms that key theme of friendship and the choices that have to be made, that are so important to that age group.  Miss Amost-14, while still passionately interested in science and its possibilities, has moved beyond these sorts of illustrated novels, but had this been available three years ago she would have loved it!

ANZAC Sons: Five Brothers on the Western Front

ANZAC Sons: Five Brothers on the Western Front

ANZAC Sons: Five Brothers on the Western Front

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

ANZAC Sons: Five Brothers on the Western Front

Alison Marlow Paterson

Big Sky, 2015 

52pp., pbk., RRP $A14.99

9781925275148

In the years of 1914-1918 over 330,000 Australians served their country in a war far from their homeland, more than 60,000 of them died. Five of these Australians were brothers; three of them were destined to never return to the home they loved.

The Great War brought enormous sorrow to families all over the world. In Australia there were few who escaped the fear, nor the tragedy. This is the story of the Marlow brothers. This powerful children’s book brings their story to life for future generations. It is a tragic tale of mateship, bravery and sacrifice; a heartbreaking account of a family torn apart by a devastating war. It is a pledge to never forget.

Based on the original title Anzac Sons; the Story of Five Brothers in the War to End All Wars, this important children’s book compiled by the granddaughter of a surviving brother tells the true story of brothers’ service, the impact on the family and community and weaves through the facts and history of the Great War and battles.

Combining beautiful prose and imagery including photographs, maps, letters and facts, the book will reach children of a variety of ages. Children, teachers and parents can read the letters her ancestors wrote from the trenches, walk in their footsteps and remember all those who have served throughout the generations to defend our freedom and our way of life. This and Dreaming Soldiers have been released as a special 2020 ANZAC Day book pack with a number of accompanying resources.  Details are available here

As we prepare to commemorate an ANZAC Day like no other in living memory, with services online and driveway commemorations, this is a book to be shared at this time so we can think about the sacrifices made by those who have gone before to keep us safe, and renew our commitment to what we have to do now to keep others safe.  And if you can’t get this one in time for this year, there are plenty of other suggestions here

 

The Ghost of Howlers Beach

The Ghost of Howlers Beach

The Ghost of Howlers Beach

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Ghost of Howlers Beach

Jackie French

Angus $ Robertson, 2020 

272pp., pbk., RRP $A16.99

9781460757727

 

Butter O’Bryan lives in a Very Small Castle with his father and three aunts – Aunt Elephant, Aunt Cake and Aunt Peculiar. These aren’t their real names, of course, just as Butter’s father isn’t really called ‘Pongo’.

And even though Butter is only twelve years old, and the grandson of one of Australia’s most successful Jam Kings, he is very aware of the hardship many people are experiencing.

Butter has been told there are ghosts at the nearby isolated Howlers Beach, but are there? And how can the children Butter plays cricket with on the beach simply vanish? Who are these children and why do they refuse his help?

The Ghost of Howlers Beach just sounds like one of those old-fashioned Secret Seven or Famous Five stories that generations have enjoyed for years, and in a way, it is. But this one has the unique Jackie French touch of magic, and rather than being a contemporary novel as those adventures were, this one takes the independent reader back to The Depression of the 1930s when the ramifications of World War I were still very evident and the realities of being unemployed, or worse, being a woman without a man but with a family, or even worse, being an indigenous person, are brought to light. With a light hand and intriguing characters, French brings to life life in the “susso camps” ; the great divide between the haves and the have-nots and the ever-present threat of diseases like polio before vaccines were available.

Read against the backdrop of today’s coronavirus pandemic and the worldwide economic collapse, it is very clear how far we have come in less than 100 years in both health, economic and social support and perhaps put things in perspective.

The subtitle to this novel is The Butter O’Bryan Mysteries, #1 and with the cast of characters now set hopefully more will follow quickly as we not only enjoy a good, meaty story but one that teaches us about a time not that long ago but eerily familiar all the same.

The timing of its release is remarkable (set long before the current virus was even heard of) and while there are comparisons that can be made between now and then, knowing that its setting and background are based on reality there is a sense of optimism that current times will pass and we will come out of the other side. Perhaps changed, but definitely intact.

Azaria: A True History

Azaria: A True History

Azaria: A True History

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Azaria: A True History

Maree Coote

Melbournestyle Books, 2020

44pp., hbk., RRP $A29.99

9780648568407

On a cool August night 40 years ago, in the shadow of Uluru, a mother laid her baby to sleep in a tent while she and her husband and her other two children sat under the stars outside – and unknowingly began a scandal that even today, still divides opinion. For that baby was Azaria Chamberlain and before the night was over, a story that made world headlines had begun.  Because when the mother heard a rustling in the tent she turned and saw a dingo making off with the baby and called out… sparking one of the most controversial episodes in modern Australian history.

For despite the baby’s jumpsuit being found by the Anangu trackers the very next day, people had not heard of a dingo taking a baby before and so the rumours and gossip started. Fuelled by media reports of a baby with an unconventional name, a family from a different religion and a mother in such deep grief she couldn’t cry, everyone had an opinion and so the story of Azaria Chamberlain captured the world’s imagination.  It would be 32 years before the truth was known and even then, many didn’t believe it. Still don’t.

At first when I received this book I wondered why this story would need to be known by our young readers, many of whom would have parents too young to remember the events. But as I read it it became clear – just as Uluru is “ten times bigger underground than it is above”, the message that we must look further and deeper for the truth than the surface headlines is very powerful, particularly in these days of fake news and deliberate manipulation and misinterpretation of facts. Azaria’s story, widely identified as Australia’s first modern trial-by-media, is just the vehicle that carries the more important concept that our older students need to bring to their research.  Look at sources for purpose, perspective, accuracy and  authority before accepting them  and relying on them as truth; that everyone brings something to a situation depending on their beliefs, values, attitudes and motives and that the truth can soon be lost under a myriad of layers.

The story of Azaria became “like a fairytale from long ago , with a wolf in the forest, a cruel king and angry townsfolk” and just like fairytales, a kernel of truth gets overlaid with embellishments and changes with every new teller. However in this beautifully illustrated picture book for older readers who now, more than ever, need to learn about the need to be critical thinkers and to not take things on face value Coote has demonstrated the evidence of every character in a story having its own perspective – even the dingo, often now maligned and vilified by humans, was just doing what dingoes do.

For those of you wanting to demonstrate why our students need to walk the extra mile, this would be the perfect introduction.