Archives

The Happiness Box

The Happiness Box

The Happiness Box

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Happiness Box

Mark Greenwood

Andrew McLean

Walker Books, 2018

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

 9781925081381

February, 1942.  Despite fierce battles, amazing resistance and extraordinary bravery, the fall of Singapore – known as “the Gibraltar of the east” because of its strategic position – was imminent as the Japanese steadily advanced through South East Asia. 

Amongst the women and children and more than 50 000 allied troops taken prisoner of war and herded into the notorious Changi Prison, was Sergeant David ‘Griff ‘ Griffin who tried to keep up the morale of the men by encouraging them to read and tell stories in what became a living hell for those interned, including my father-in-law.  Concerned for the children cooped up without books or toys and with Christmas approaching he and his colleague Captain Leslie Greener inspired the men to make toys with whatever they could find. Griffin was better with words than his hands so using paper scrounged from wherever he could find it, he crafted a story about three friends – Winston the lizard, Martin the Monkey and Wobbly the frog – who found a box that contained the secrets to happiness.  Greener illustrated it and it was typed and bound. 

But the Japanese commander had determined that he must inspect all the toys before they could be given to the children and when presented with The Happiness Box he declared it subversive because the lizard shared the same name as the British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and thus it must contain secret messages.  A mate stepped in and declared he would ensure the story was destroyed, and Griff braced himself for the inevitable beating, although the greater pain was knowing that none of the children received any gifts at all – the Japanese general exacting the greatest retribution.

The full story of The Happiness Box and its creators is told in the final pages of the book, one of the few stories of happiness and hope that emerged from the misery and brutality of Changi and the Japanese occupation – one that needed the mastery of both Greenwood and McLean to bring it to a new generation, although five years ago it was made into a musical for young people and for those in Sydney, there will be a one-off performance of it on November 4.

The book itself survived the war, having been buried rather than destroyed, and toured Australia along with Sir Don Bradman’s cricket bat and Ned Kelly’s helmet as part of the National Treasures exhibition from Australia’s great libraries. Griffin, who eventually became Lord Mayor of Sydney, donated it to the State Library of NSW where it is currently held.

The original

The original

If ever there were a book that fits the deeper meaning of this year’s CBCA Book Week theme Find Your Treasure then this is it!

 

Into the White – Scott’s Antarctic Odyssey

Into the White - Scott's Antarctic Odyssey

Into the White – Scott’s Antarctic Odyssey

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Into the White – Scott’s Antarctic Odyssey

Joanna Grochowicz

A&U Children’s, 2017

288pp., pbk., RRP $A16.99

9781760293659

In the early 1930s, living in the southernmost port in New Zealand, a young girl watched through her bedroom window at ships departing from the wharf heading south for Antarctica.  They fired her imagination and inspired her to learn all she could about this unknown continent and her personal hero, Robert Falcon Scott, vowing that one day she would follow in his footsteps.  This she did in 1968, becoming the first female journalist to go South and while she didn’t get to the South Pole like her hero, she did get to visit his memorial.

Dorothy Braxton - Scott's Memorial Cross, Observation Hill, Antarctica, 1968

Dorothy Braxton – Scott’s Memorial Cross, Observation Hill, Antarctica, 1968

Her love of the Antarctic was passed on to me, her daughter, and by the age of 10 I had already read The Worst Journey in the World by Apsley Cherry-Garrard, a member of Scott’s final expedition. One of my earliest writing memories was deciding to write my interpretation of that expedition, and an enlightened teacher allowing me to skip all the other lessons for the day as he realised I was gripped, on a mission and interruption would have been disastrous.  He even lent me his fountain pen so I didn’t have to keep dipping a nib into the inkwell and blotching my missive.  While that essay has disappeared somewhere in the last 57 years, I still remember the comment he wrote – “This is the best essay on this topic I’ve read from a child of your age, ever!”  Although my passion for the ice in general waned as other interests took over, my mum’s remained and the stories of Scott were common conversation in our household for many years.

So to see a new book emerge focusing on the events of 1910-1913 that would bring the story to a new generation, the great grandchildren of my mum, was exciting and I knew I had to read and review it, so other children could learn about real-life derring-do just over a century ago and Miss 7 and Miss 12 could have a better understanding of what had shaped them, the legacy that has been left and be inspired to create and chase their own dreams.

Told in present-tense narrative that makes the reader feel part of the adventure, rather than an observer of facts or the consumer of a diary, it follows the journey of the Terra Nova from Dunedin’s Port Chalmers through the wild Southern Ocean and then the expedition to one of the last unconquered destinations that lured men like Robert Falcon Scott and his crew as they battled not only the extraordinarily difficult conditions with just ponies, dogs and wooden sleds but also time as they strove to be the first, knowing that Norwegian Roald Amundsen was on a similar mission coming from the other side of the Ross Ice Shelf.

The routes to the South Pole taken by Scott (green) and Amundsen (red), 1911–1912.

The routes to the South Pole taken by Scott (green) and Amundsen (red), 1911–1912.

Even though the outcome is known before reading starts -“If you’re into happy endings, you’d better look elsewhere. This story does not end well” – nevertheless the reader hopes against hope that history will be rewritten and that this band of men who so willingly followed another into the deepest of unknown territories, who never gave up on themselves or each other, would pull off a miracle like the recent rescues from that cave in Thailand.

A finalist in the New Zealand Book Awards 2018  this is one for those who like their superheroes to have been alive and real; who like to delve into a time gone by when the world was very different and who like real-life adventure.  But my copy is for two little girls who know and loved their own superhero, one who had a dream and followed it and inspired them to follow theirs. 

 

Kensy and Max – Breaking News

Kensy and Max

Kensy and Max

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Kensy and Max – Breaking News

Jacqueline Harvey

Random House Australia, 2018

366pp., pbk., RRP $A16.99  

9780143780656

Imagine getting in a car in one country and waking up in a strange place in another!  That’s the beginning of a whole new adventure for twins Kensy and Max who started their journey in Zermatt, Switzerland and 16 hours later find themselves in the grounds of an unfamiliar mansion in England.  While it seems their carer Fitz knows his way around as he follows an unfamiliar fellow wearing a red dressing gown with matching slippers inside and up the stairs, Max is mystified but the warmth and comfort of a large, soft bed is too tempting and he is soon asleep again.  But when they wake in the morning to find themselves locked in the mystery deepens and the adventures begin…

Breaking News is the first in a new series by the author of both Clementine Rose and Alice-Miranda series, featuring feisty twins Kensy and Max.  At just 11, Kensy is feisty, impulsive and has two speeds – full-tilt or out-cold – while Max is more measured and perceptive, They are smart and athletic and fiercely competitive, particularly between themselves, but also tough and determined, which seems a perfect combination of characteristics for amateur sleuths who find themselves in a strange and mysterious situation as the real truth about their parents’ employment emerges and they are separated from them for their own safety.

As well as writing another cracking story that will engage independent readers who love a good mystery, Harvey also invites the reader into the story by enabling them to try to solve the clues as they read and using the mysterious Caesar code to encrypt the chapter headings.

With the second in the series, Disappearing Act just weeks away from release this is the perfect time to hook young readers into an intriguing series from one of our best authors for the age group.

 

Migration: Incredible Animal Journeys

Migration: Incredible Animal Journeys

Migration: Incredible Animal Journeys

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Migration: Incredible Animal Journeys

Mike Unwin

Jenni Desmond

Bloomsbury, 2018

48pp., hbk., RRP $A22.99

9781408889916

“Animals of all shapes and sizes make epic journeys across our planet, through harsh weather, avoiding hungry predators, in their efforts to survive. Travel around the globe with some of the world’s most incredible animals and discover their unique migration stories. “

The stories of twenty creatures -Arctic tern, barn swallow, bar-headed goose, ruby-throated hummingbird, osprey, wandering albatross, whooping crane, emperor penguin, African elephant, blue wildebeest, caribou, straw-coloured fruit bat, humpback whale, green turtle, Southern pilchard, salmon, great white shark, monarch butterfly, globe skimmer dragonfly, Christmas Island red crab – are told in this large format book, each set on a double-page spread that has the creature and its habitat as its background.

While full of information and interest, this is one that will appeal to readers who prefer non fiction because the journey of each creature is told in a narrative format rather than one sorted under headings and topic sentences and so forth.  Some creatures, such as the humpback whale, will be familiar to young Australian readers but others will open new pathways to explore, perhaps even encourage the budding naturalist to start observing their own surrounds and investigate whether the wildlife changes as the months and seasons pass and why.

Fascinating.

The Day War Came

The Day War Came

The Day War Came

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Day War Came

Nicola Davies

Rebecca Cobb

Walker, 2018

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

9781406376326

It started as an ordinary day- there were flowers on the window sill, her father sang to her baby brother, her mother made her breakfast, kissed her nose and walked with her to school,  School was ordinary too – she learned about volcanoes, how tadpoles turned to frogs and she drew a picture of a bird.

But then, just after lunch war came.  The devastation and desperation was complete.  The only salvation was to run – through fields, roads,and mountains in the cold and the mud and the rain; riding on trucks, buses, even a leaky boat and eventually up a beach where shoes lay empty in the sand. 

But war had come to this nation too – not the bombs-and-bullets type of war but one where hearts and minds are closed to those seeking refuge – until there is one act of kindness that changes both thinking and lives…

It is tragic enough that here in Australia some think it is OK to  put desperate children in detention, children who have suffered more than the decision-makers can ever imagine; but to know that Australia is not alone in this as evident by the recent policies of the US administration and that this poem was inspired by UK government refusing sanctuary to 3000 unaccompanied child refugees in 2016 is heart-breaking and head-shaking.  How has humanity become so selfish it can’t give succour to a child?

Told through the eyes of the child it not only puts a face to all the children displaced by adult motives but also makes the stories and plight of these children accessible to young readers – readers who might be like the little boy in the story and start a groundswell of change.  It is a book that cannot be shared in isolation – it needs a conversation that focuses on the girl’s emotions and feelings; her resilience and determination; and the big question “what if this were you?” (and some of our students may well be able to tell us because it has been them.) 

In a world that seems to be driven by economics rather than empathy this is a book that might start to change things, if now now then perhaps for the future.  Perhaps it is time for another make-love-not-war generation, despite the current protagonists being the products of the previous one. 

Julian Is a Mermaid

Julian Is a Mermaid

Julian Is a Mermaid

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Julian Is a Mermaid

Jessica Love

Walker, 2018

40pp., hbk., RRP $A24.99

9781406380637

Going home on the subway with his grandmother, Julian spots three glamorous women dressed as mermaids and is immediately transported to his imaginary world living under the sea as a mermaid, at one with the creatures there.  He is pulled from his reverie as the train reaches his stop but the memory lingers and once he is home and his grandmother goes to have a bath, he uses the things in her apartment to transform himself – plant fronds for flowing, hair, lacy curtains for a splendid tail, and some lipstick. But then his grandmother comes out – will she scold him for becoming something so feminine or will she embrace his imagination and diversity?

In what is almost a wordless picture book, the reader has to immerse themselves in the pictures to really engage with this story that challenges the stereotype of being a mermaid being a girl’s dream and celebrates diversity, being true to yourself and accepted for that. 

One can imagine the eyebrows that would be raised on an Australian metro train should three glamorous women dressed as mermaids get on, each confident in themselves and their dress (reminiscent of the costumes of Priscilla, Queen of the desert)- but this is New York and instead of derision they encourage a young child to dream and then make that dream a reality. 

His grandmother, somewhat overweight but nevertheless flamboyant in her own style, is clearly very comfortable in her own skin, not driven by the expectations of others and definitely not the stereotype grey-hair-and-knitting that is so commonly portrayed in stories, and so it is not surprising that she embraces Julian’s desires and takes him to a place where he can truly belong. 

Because so much of the story is told in the illustrations, they have to be superb and they are. From the stunning undersea creature presenting the mermaid Julian with a coral necklace to the characters that Julian and his grandmother pass in the street, indeed even the women in the pool in the endpages, each with is imbued with personality and confidence and pride in who they are. 

This is a book that demands close reading and reflection so its riches are revealed; it is one that will raise questions and demand explanations; but to those who are like Julian and dream of things that are beyond the traditional stereotype bounded by gender, it will bring comfort and maybe confidence so they too can be themselves. 

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.