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Lyla

Lyla

Lyla

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lyla

(Through My Eyes-Natural Disasters  series)

Fleur Beale

A & U Childrens, 2018

208pp., pbk., RRP $A 16.99

9781760113780

DISCLAIMER: This will be neither an impartial nor an unemotional review. For one who called Christchurch home for many years, particularly those formative years of my schooling and teacher education, and for whom so much that was so familiar is now gone, it is impossible to be objective when the places and events are so well-known.  Although I was not there during the earthquake I have made trips back and I still can’t get my head around it.

February 22, 2011 and life has returned to normal for Lyla and her friends Katie and Shona after the 7.1 magnitude earthquake struck – that’s if having the earth move under your feet several times a day and making a game of guessing the magnitude can be considered normal. Even the daily reminder of the main block of their school, Avonside Girls’ High, being damaged and unusable has been set aside as they try to do the things that 13 and 14 year olds students do. Caught in town at 12.51pm when ‘the big one’ hit, their lives are plunged into chaos as buildings collapse and  people panic as the air fills with dust making visibility almost impossible.

While it is possible to watch endless news coverage, read articles and information it is impossible to know what a natural disaster such as this is really like unless you are part of it and experience it for yourself.  So while I had watched and read and listened and learned, spoken to family and friends who were in the thick of it and even returned home and visited the backyard of such a major part of my life, it was not until reading Lyla that I got a real understanding of what it was to be in the moment.  Beale has drawn on stories of the events of the day and the months following and woven them into a narrative that is both scary and un-put-downable that illustrates not just individual heroism but that sense of community among strangers that seems to emerge when humans are put under such duress – made all the more haunting when you can picture the reality of the setting which is a well-known as the face in the mirror.

In the beginning, there is the fear for family and friends as both Lyla’s mother, a police officer and her father, a trauma nurse at Christchurch Hospital are unaccounted for and she is separated from Shona and Katie in the chaos as the SMS service goes into meltdown, and while they are eventually found to be OK that need to know family is safe means that all families have an earthquake plan much the same as Australians have a bushfire plan. The theme of needing to be with others is strong throughout as neighbours have a need to eat and sleep and be together even if they have a habitable home to go to, and enduring and unusual friendships and bonds are formed.   

There is also a strong thread of Lyla feeling powerless because of her age but finding things she can do that make a difference such as babysitting her neighbour’s children so their mother can return to the medical centre where she works; helping shovel the oozing, stinking liquefaction for elderly neighbours; setting up a charging station for those still without electricity… seemingly minor things within the big picture but nevertheless critical to her mental health at the time.

But like so many then and now, the situation becomes overwhelming. Despite hearing the harrowing tales of others and the rising death toll, and the news of the Japanese earthquake and tsunami and telling herself that compared to them she is in great shape, Lyla succumbs and needs qualified medical intervention.  This is another strength of the story – given that seven years on the city still has not recovered it was never going to have a happy, all-is-fine ending, so having Lyla denying help because the common thinking is that the people of Christchurch are somehow more resilient than others, that because her home isn’t munted she should be okay, but nevertheless accepting it and going some way towards recovery shines a light on the okay-ness of needing assistance to get things back in balance.  This particularly poignant in light of the subsequent increase in suicides, unprecedented demand for psychological help and the continuing need for support as there has been a 73% increase in the number of children who need support for mental health issues in Christchurch.

While this has been an emotional read for me, it and the others in both this series and its twin focusing on children living in conflict are essential elements of both the curriculum and the collection as they offer the ‘colour and detail’ to the stark monochrome sketches of news reports, websites and other information-only sources.  They are the blend of imagination and information that such fiction can offer that leads to insight and understanding.  

Seven years on, long after the event has disappeared from the news headlines and faded from the memories of those not directly involved,  the reality of that time is still in-your-face on every corner of Christchurch and will be for many years to come – Lyla and her friends will be 20 now, confronted by images and memories of that day still, just as anyone who has lived and loved Christchurch is.  For now Ruaumoko, the Maori god of earthquakes has settled a little (even though there were 25 quakes in the week preceding the anniversary, albeit peanuts compared to the 15669 on that day in 2011) but like her friends, family and all those who chose to remain in Christchurch to rebuild their lives and their city one wonders when he will wake again.

185 empty white chairs

185 empty white chairs surrounded by empty spaces, broken buildings and a gloomy sky – September 2015

 

 

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

Random House Australia, 2018

210pp., hbk., RRP  $A29.99

9780143789420

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mr Bambuckle’s Remarkables Fight Back

Mr Bambuckle's Remarkables Fight Back

Mr Bambuckle’s Remarkables Fight Back

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mr Bambuckle’s Remarkables Fight Back

Tim Harris

James Hart

Random House Australia, 2018

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

9780143785873

The 15 students in Room 12B are not happy.  As they walk into class, they discover the aptly-named Miss frost writing a list of rules on the board, none of which inspire positive behaviour but promise dire consequences for the opposite.  “Discipline is the new order” is her mantra and she further inspires their love and co-operation (not) by handing out 11 pages of handwriting exercises, and then walks around criticising everyone’s efforts. 

The class that had been labelled misfits and miserables who were just beginning to blossom and bloom with their quirky but beloved Mr Bambuckle, fired by Principal Sternblast, started to shrink back as though they had been sprayed with weedkiller. 

But Vex Vron has a plan and it’s time to put it into action… but he will need the help of his classmates and their particular and peculiar powers.

Readers who took a shine to Mr Bambuckle in the first of this new series will be glad to see him making a quick comeback – is there anything worse than having to wait a year for a sequel?- while others might be comparing their new year’s teacher with him and wishing they could be in 12B too! Ideal for independent readers with its humour, identifiable characters, short chapters, copious illustrations and other inserts that break up the text, this series is a perfect read-aloud to break the ice of the new school year and to encourage even reluctant readers that there is much fun to be had between the covers of books – they just have to open them!

Great thing that the ending of this one sets things up perfectly for yet another sequel.

 

Freaks on the Loose

Freaks on the Loose

Freaks on the Loose

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Freaks on the Loose

Leigh Hobbs

Allen & Unwin, 2018

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

9781760294311

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

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

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

 

Friday Barnes: Never Fear (series)

Friday Barnes: Never Fear

Friday Barnes: Never Fear

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Friday Barnes: Never Fear

R.A. Spratt

Random House, 2018

256pp., pbk., RRP $A15.99

9780143784203

A new school term and Friday is dismayed to discover all her stuff is being moved out of the room she shares with best friend Melanie.  There is another surprise when she goes to investigate why with the Headmaster and instead of curmudgeonly old man she is expecting, she is greeted by a “woman in the mid-thirties, not much taller than Friday, wearing a smart fashionable suit”. To Friday’s dismay, Dr Belcredi has ordered that she be promoted to Year 12, away from Melanie and Ian and into a clique that doesn’t like the status quo being threatened by a young upstart, and a seriously intelligent one at that. She is concerned that she is one step away from being ousted from the one place she regards as home and where, despite her social awkwardness, she is nevertheless now liked and admired.

Sneaking out of school with Melanie to visit the old headmaster in hospital where he is in the cardiac ward, Friday gets the first hint that all is not as it should be but he has been paid off by the School Council and cannot afford to say any more. Solving a mystery for the nurses while she is there, Friday’s detective antennae are bristling and she knows that there is something afoot.

Combined with strange men in grey suits and a government car, dodgy builders who blow up a barn full of asbestos, a new headmistress who is not what she appears on paper and the underlying mystery/legend of the gold of Sebastian Dowell the founder of Highcrest Academy, this is an intriguing finale to this popular series – one that Miss 11 was delighted to find in its entirety in her Santa Sack and then to discover #8 sitting in the review pile was too much.  I was given 48 hours to read and review it!!

With Friday being so much like Miss 11 and so many other young ladies -intelligent, quirky, and a bit different from her peers but very comfortable in her own skin, yet deep down wanting to be just like them – she will be missed by her legion of followers but the beauty of this series is that it is one that can be read and read again, each time offering something new. Spratt has hit the mark with her target audience in this series and we eagerly await the new one, The Peski Kids.

Marvellous Miss May: Queen of the Circus

Marvellous Miss May: Queen of the Circus

Marvellous Miss May: Queen of the Circus

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Marvellous Miss May: Queen of the Circus

Stephanie Owen Reeder

NLA Publishing

136pp., hbk., RRP $A24.99

9780642279156

What better way to share Australia Day than a look back to a significant part of our past when travelling circuses were a major source of entertainment, particularly in rural areas, and that of the Wirth Brothers was one of the most well known.  

Focusing on May Wirth, who as a seven-year-old growing up in poverty in Bundaberg in 1901, was given away to Marizles  Martin an equestrienne and a sister of the Wirth brothers. With big dreams and a desire to become the greatest bareback rider in the world, she transformed her ability for acrobatics into being able to perform them on horseback, even able to perform a Charleston as her horse moved around the ring!  Determined, resilient and tenacious she worked hard for perfection eventually performing for King George V and Queen Mary.  The Queen of the Circus was performing for the Kings and Queen of England.  Her dreams had come true!

Laced with photos and posters from the collection of the National Library of Australia, this new addition to the author’s Heritage Heroes series follows Miss May’s journey and introduces the reader to characters and times gone by which were so important to the shaping of this nation.  At a time when most young women were not encouraged to be more than a decorative appendage to men, May was a role model for an alternative lifestyle and she was a champion of women’s rights and suffrage and in 1964 she was one of just three Australians to ever be inducted into the American Circus Hall of Fame.

In 2016 Lennie the Legend: Solo to Sydney by Pony  won the CBCA Eve Pownall Award for Information Books, and my prediction is that Marvellous Miss May: Queen of the Circus will be amongst the awards this year.  But whether it is or not, this is an inspirational read that celebrates an Australian of the past, a heroine unknown to many in an entertainment unfamiliar to many in this age of screens, that adds yet another layer to this country’s history. 

For those wanting more…Wirth’s Circus Home Movies , Wirth’s Circus Archive, May Wirth  and of course, the collection at the National Library of Australia detailed in the acknowledgements.

The Susie K Files (series)

The Susie K Files

The Susie K Files

 

 

 

 

 

 

Life of the Party

9781760296681

Game Changer

9781760296698

Shamini Flint

Sally Beinrich

Allen & Unwin, 2018

112pp., pbk., RRP $A9.99

Susie K is nine years old and says she has mega-huge problems – problems as big as the Sydney Opera House, as tall as the Eiffel Tower and as massive as the pyramids of Egypt. But she is OK with that because she likes to use her scientific mind to solve them, and understanding the importance of keeping records of the trials she has to solve the problem, she has decided to keep a file on each one that she solves. 

Her first problem is that she loves animals but is allergic to fur so she has the class goldfish for her only pet.  Problems 2, 3 and 4 come in the shape of her family – firstly her dad who is a mad sports fanatic and Susie is not; then her brother Jack who is constantly putting her down;and  #4 is her mum who is a Sri Lankan refugee who had a very tough childhood and refers to it often so she now wants Susie to be a huge success at everything she tries, which would be impossible even if she didn’t have the ridiculous name of Susanna Saathiavanni Kanagaratnam-Smith. Why couldn’t she just be Susie Smith? But being like most little girls, Susie is keen to please her mum and does her best to do so.

At school, Susie prefers the people in books to the people in real life so she’s not the most popular person, which she doesn’t mind and is relieved when she is no longer invited to parties and other social occasions. But when her mum discovers she was the only one not at a class pool party, her mum decides to do something about it even though Susie begs her not to get involved because parents sticking their noses in does not always have a happy outcome. And so Operation: Life of the Party begins…

In the second in the series, Game Changer, her mother is thrilled that Susie is competing in the school sports carnival but when you are no good at sport and actually hate them, the problems start.

This is a new series that will really support newly-independent readers with its graphic-novel type format as much of Susie’s thoughts  and conversations are in a cartoon-like style that not only moves the action along but adds greater depth to Susie’s character as she works her way through the issues.  Many girls will see themselves in Susie’s shoes, if not with the family background but definitely with the problems she has and they will gain insight and perhaps hope that with some lateral thinking, there isn’t anything that can’t be negotiated or solved – without a parent interfering! 

A read-alone rather than a read-aloud, this is an intriguing new series that deserves a place in your collection.

100 scientists who made history

100 scientists who made history

100 scientists who made history

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

100 scientists who made history

Andrea Mills & Stella Caldwell

DK, 2018

128pp., hbk., RRP $A29.99

9780241304327

Throughout history there have been so many perceptive pioneers, brilliant biologists, medical masterminds, clever chemists, phenomenal physicists, incredible innovators and other scientific superstars who have challenged the known to change our lives that to choose just 100 of them must have been a taxing task. 

Nevertheless, in this brand new release from DK, the achievements of people as diverse as Aristotle, Alexander Fleming, Louis Pasteur, Ernest Rutherford, Alan Turing and Edwin Hubble are all described in typical DK format with it characteristic layout, top-quality photography, bite-sized information and accessible language.  But there is so much (and so many more). Although not being of a scientific bent, while many of the names of those in the clear contents pages were familiar, there were as many that were not, and sadly many of those not were women.

But the authors have included many women in the lists – who knew that Hildegard of Bingen, aka the singing nun, born in 1098 could have had such an impact on medical treatments through her study of and writing about the medicinal uses of plants?  Or that of five of those credited with having such an influence on the development of computing, three were women? Or that Mary Somerville correctly predicted the existence of the planet Neptune in the early 19th century and that there were many 19th century astronomers who were female?

This is a wonderful book for everyone – not only because it will introduce a new generation to those who discovered so much of what we take for granted today – they didn’t make history because they became famous, they made the history we look back on so we can move forward-  but also to inspire – “If them, why not me?”  Challenge your students to find another scientist who could have been included and have them develop a page for them using the DK format as a model.

I know a budding scientist who needs this book!

Pippa’s Island: Kira Dreaming

Pippa's Island: Kira Dreaming

Pippa’s Island: Kira Dreaming

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pippa’s Island: Kira Dreaming

Belinda Murrell

Random House, 2018

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

9780143783701

Life could hardly be more different for Pippa.  From a seemingly happy family living in a Victorian terrace house in London to a caravan in her grandparents’ backyard on a tropical island off the Australian coast.  Forced to make changes when her husband decided to work in Switzerland without them, Pippa’s mother has uprooted the family to a totally new environment where she is now running the increasingly popular Beach Shack Cafe created from an old, abandoned boat shed – a huge contrast to being a stockbroker in London!.

Pippa has a new puppy called Summer, is learning to surf, has settled into school and now has a group of friends – Meg, Cici and Charlie- and they call themselves the Sassy Sisters. 

This, the third in this series for independent readers, focuses on Kira Cove Public School’s talent quest.and while her friends are excited about performing, Pippa is very nervous. Singing to an audience is not what she likes.  After a disastrous audition the girls get a second chance, but can Pippa find a way to smash her stage fright before the VIP concert?

Meanwhile, at the Beach Shack Cafe a mysterious visitor is causing havoc when backs are turned. When Pippa finds a clue, she is determined to track down the mischievous cafe thief.

This series was going to be in Miss 11’s Santa’s Sack but when that got too full, I decided to hold it back till that time in the holidays when there is a lull in the excitement – in her case, wedged between Christmas and a new bike and going on Scout camp.  And it was a great decision because as soon as I gave it to her she was off to read it and has now read all three books in 48 hours and demanding to know when the next one is coming out.  She tells me she loves them because the story “sounds just like me and my friends and the things we do.”  I could rave on about the quality of Murrell’s writing and the way she portrays the characters, but surely there is no better review than a big thumbs up and huge anticipation from one for whom the story was written!

If you don’t have this series in your collection, then put it at the top of your to-buy list and let your girls have at it. 

Lucky Button

Lucky Button

Lucky Button

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lucky Button

Michael Morpurgo

Michael Foreman

Walker, 2017

176pp., hbk., RRP $A19.99

 9781406371680

May 8th, the one day of the year that Jonah dreads because it is the anniversary of the accident that left his mother in a wheelchair two years previously and left him as her carer.

He regards it as ‘the day the music died’ because despite her love of music and American Pie being her favourite tune, his mother has not played or sung since the accident.  Jonah himself loves to sing and has been given an important role in the upcoming school play because of his voice. However, because of having to care for his mother – a fact he keeps secret although his teachers are aware of it and are compassionate – he finds it hard to fit in at school, has no friends except for the thread of one with Valeria, a newly-arrived Russian girl, and is teased and bullied because of his name.

During play practice one of the other boys deliberately injures him, and after being attended to by the school nurse, Jonah flees to the school chapel, his place of refuge where he can cry, and yell out his anger and sing his heart out till he gets back to a place of balance.  There on the floor he finds a brass button and as he picks it up, the church’s pipe organ begins to play and a remarkable story that impacts him profoundly unfolds…

As with stories like The Fox and the Ghost King, Morpurgo weaves the facts of history with the fiction of his imagination into an engaging, memorable story and Lucky Button is no exception.  Focusing on the story of Nathaniel Hogarth, an orphan of the Foundling Hospital, created by Thomas Coram in 1739 with help from William Hogarth and George Frideric Handel, music becomes the centre of the story as the young boy is befriended by the young Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and his sister during their time in England. Sensitively illustrated by Michael Foreman, this is a story for newly independent readers who like historical fiction and something a little bit different.