Parvana – a graphic novel

Parvana - a graphic novel

Parvana – a graphic novel











Parvana – a graphic novel

Deborah Ellis

Allen & Unwin, 2018

80pp., graphic novel, RRP $A19.99


In 2000, Canadian author Deborah Ellis told the story of Parvana, an 11 year old girl who living in  Kabul, Afghanistan with her mother Fatana, her father, her older sister Nooria, and two younger siblings, Maryam and Ali when Taliban soldiers enter her house and arrest her father for having a foreign education and beginning a fascinating, intriguing, award-winning series of books which include Parvana’s Journey , Shauzia  and Parvana’s Promise that shone a spotlight on the conditions of women and girls in Afghanistan that continues to this day.

As a series it is an amazing, true-to-life story of a young girl living in circumstances that the rest of the world knew little about but which has now led to the establishment of international organisations which support not only Afghan women but the recognition and provision of education for girls in male-dominated countries like Afghanistan and Pakistan.  As a story, it is one of courage, resilience, determination and grit that is inspirational as well as educational.  So many young girls that I know who have read this have commented about how it puts their own issues into perspective.

Renamed The Breadwinner in the US, it was made into a film of the same name and now that has been adapted into graphic novel format which will enable so many more to learn about Parvana’s story and perhaps continue to read the entire series.

If this series is not on your shelves for your Year 5/6+ readers, it should be.  If it is but has not circulated, perhaps it is time to promote it to a new audience.   In my opinion, it is a modern classic that should be read by all as an introduction to the world beyond the Australian classroom.


NB If you are searching for the series it also has the titles The Breadwinner (1),  Mud City (3) and My Name is Parvana (4)















Morris Gleitzman

Viking, 2017

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


Once I escaped from an orphanage to find Mum and Dad…

Then I had a plan for me and Zelda…

After the Nazis took my parents I was scared…

Soon I hoped the Nazis would be defeated and they were…

Now Zelda learns her grandfather’s story…

Maybe there will peace and happiness for Felix at last…

Felix, Gabriek and Anya, who is now seven months pregnant, are once again on the run trying to get back to Gabriek’s farm and hide from Zliv, the murderous brother of Gogol the Polish patriot who vowed  ‘Poland has been crawling with vermin for centuries. Germans, Austrians, Jews, Ukrainians, Russians.  Now we’re cleaning them up.” and killed by Felix.

But there is a very rude and dangerous homecoming and once again they have to flee – this time on a treacherous journey that lands Felix in Australia. Maybe this will be the land of opportunity for a young boy who only wants to attend university to become a doctor. But…

The sixth in this family of books that tells the remarkable story of Felix in a way that it has to have a considerable element of truth, shows that when the guns fall silent the war is not necessarily over and sanctuary is elusive not guaranteed, Yet throughout both this book and the series, Felix maintains his humanity and resourcefulness and in cases, his child’s logic provides a touch of humour to lighten the dark which Gleitzman does not shy away from. He believes our children need to know about this history which is so recent if could be that of their grandparents’ and refuses to patronise them by glossing over the not-so-nice. 

Much has been written about the Holocaust that is inaccessible to our upper primary students because it is so factual and so foreign they can’t comprehend it – in this series written through the eyes of a child it becomes clearer and starts to develop a belief that this must never happen again, whether it be against a religion, a race, a gender or any other reason that people can be marginalised.  Sadly, now termed “ethnic cleansing” it does continue but no longer does the world turn such blind, uncaring eyes.  

For those who are venturing into the investigation of how Australian has developed in post-war times particularly with the immigration of so many from Europe, this series is essential reading to understand why people couldn’t just “return home”; why there were no homes to go to and why somewhere as faraway and foreign as Australia held such appeal.  For it is the Felixes of this world who established not only the town I live in but this multicultural, tolerant nation that we and those who follow must work hard to maintain. 

And now we await Always, the conclusion to an enriching and engrossing saga.














Sandra Dieckmann

Flying Eye Books, 2017

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



Crow saw it first. The strange white creature, carried upon the dark waves towards the shore…

When a polar bear arrives unexpectedly in the woods, a creature unlike anything the other animals  had seen, they fear and avoid him, suspecting him to be dangerous particularly when it began to collect leaves. They nicknamed him Leaf and desperately wanted him to leave because no one should live in fear.  Then one day Leaf burst through the forest covered in leaves and leapt off the hill with a giant roar.  Perhaps inspired by the crow’s feathers that helped it fly to freedom he has turned the leaves into wings, but sadly they lifted him but briefly and he tumbled into the lake. 

A meeting of the other creatures was held and attitudes started to soften, but like many such meetings, the only outcome was an agreement to disagree and nothing was done. But when Leaf tried to fly again a few days later, this time landing in the ocean realisation dawned and  things begin to change…

There is a quote on the dedication page of this book…

“Deeper meaning resides in the fairy tales told to me in my childhood than in the truth that is taught in life.” -Friedrich Schiller

And so it is with this book which is one of those that resonates more and more with each reading.  Accompanied by the most stunning, memorable artwork which is rich in colour, pattern and details, on the surface it is a tale about a polar bear who wants to go home.  But what is the message behind the polar bear arriving on a shard of iceberg in the first place? Climate change? Refugee? And what can we learn about and from the forest creatures’ automatic fear and distrust of this unfamiliar, different animal in their midst? Or is the whole a metaphor for a child or adult with a terminal illness who wants to die but who must endure the intervention of science and medicine before finding release? The dedication suggests this…

While the polar bear is the subject, the story is told very much from an objective observer’s eye, a narrator that states the facts and actions without emotion,even though there is so much emotion embedded in the illustrations. An intriguing book that makes the reader ponder.


Pea Pod Lullaby

Pea Pod Lullaby

Pea Pod Lullaby









Pea Pod Lullaby

Glenda Millard

Stephen Michael King

Allen & Unwin, 2017

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


I am the lullaby

You are the melody

Sing me

It starts like a gentle lullaby, perhaps a story you would share with your very youngest children to help them slip into sleep at the end of a long happy day.  But turn the page and a different story emerges from this remarkable collaboration between author and illustrator that grew as a special project at the Manning Regional Art Gallery in NSW.

The first hint that this is not a traditional lullaby comes when you turn the page and you are confronted by the image of a baby being passed into a tiny boat despite the stormy sea, safe into the arms of a young boy, while high on the rugged, isolated cliff barbed wire tangles it way down, clearly designed to prevent such departures. Yet despite this ominous scenery, the words evoke a feeling of trust, safety and comfort…

I am the small green pea

You are the tender pod 

Hold me.

This message of security and belief that there will be protection threads throughout the rest of the story in its gentle, lyrical text and despite the pictures portraying a somewhat different, more threatening story, the inclusion of the red bird constantly with them and appearing somewhat like the dove from Noah’s Ark towards the end of the journey is reassuring.  

The symbolism is strong  – a polar bear found floating on a fridge is taken on board and returned to its family with the help of the whales, the boat expanding to accommodate all shows that this is a story about the planet, not just its people – and all the while the little peapod boat sails on towards it destination regardless of the sea’s moods, just as love carries us all through life. While the final stanza – I am the castaway, you are the journeys end. welcome me – might suggest the story is over, the final pages and the endpapers show that this is a bigger story than that of the family in that little boat. 

While the family in the boat give a focus to those who find literally launching themselves into and onto the great unknown a better prospect than staying where they are, this is about that uniquely human emotion of hope – the family believe they will reach a better destination and they will be welcomed with warmth and compassion and even in their midst of their own struggle they find the wherewithal to help others, just as they hope they would be helped.

There are teachers’ notes available that take this so much deeper than any review can, but don’t be surprised to see this amongst the CBCA Book of the Year winners in 2018.

Suri’s Wall

Suri's Wall

Suri’s Wall










Suri’s Wall

Lucy Estela

Matt Ottley

Penguin 2015

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


Suri lived a lonely life.  As if being isolated from the outside world in a citadel with a high wall and a guard on the gate wasn’t enough, being much taller than the other children has made them suspicious of her and she is shunned by them. She is so tall that she even has dinner at a special table and sleeps in a special bed. Her heart aches for their company but instead she has only the wall with its stones and mortar which gave her warmth when she touched them.  She even loved the iron gate!

Every month Suri measured herself against the wall until one day she discovered she was taller than it!  She could see over the top!  Not only that, she feels a tugging on her hand and as the feeling spread through her body, she discovers one of the children holding her hand begging her to tell her what she can see over the wall. 

 *Can you see, Suri?  Are you tall enough?”

“Yes, Eva, I can.”
“What’s there? What can you see?”

”What can I see?” Suri looked out over the wall.  “Oh, it’s beautiful, let me tell you all about it.”

As she tells the children of the beautiful sights she can see, they are entranced by her words.  Suddenly, the walls in Suri’s life are destroyed and at long last she is one of the children.  They were no longer afraid of her and she was no longer lonely.  And so the days go on and on and Suri entrances the children with stories of what she can see. 

But what Suri sees and what she tells the children are two different things… and even though she knows that they will find out that it’s not the rosy, dream-filled picture she has described, it will not be today that they discover the reality. Despite the war-torn town below, Suri tells the children what she knows they want to hear not what she can see.  Not only does it keep their spirits up, but ensures their friendship for a little longr.

Accompanied by stunning exquisite illustrations that capture Suri’s imagination, the mood and atmosphere perfectly, this is a most sensitive story about being different and being lonely. Within the wall, the palette is muted, almost gloomy but Suri’s visions are a riot of colour and joy. We don’t learn why the children are kept behind the wall but there are suggestions of children in detention centres in Australia peeking through, isolated through no fault of their own and desperately wondering what life is like on the other side of the fences that keep them confined.  But throughout there is a thread of hope, that the innate goodness of the human spirit will prevail as the children get to keep their innocence for a little longer.

This is a picture book for older children rather than the very young because those with a little more experience will appreciate the underlying story better, perhaps even understand that physical walls are not the only things that imprison us.  Just being different can be isolating in itself and hopefully something will crack the wall and open the heart.

A peek inside...

A peek inside…














Rebecca Young

Matt Ottley

Scholastic Press, 2015

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


“Once there was a boy who had to leave home…and find another.” As he climbs into an open rowboat, armed with just a book, a bottle and a blanket in his backpack he clutches a teacup filled with the earth from where he used to play.  As he sails over the seas, sometimes rough and wild, sometimes smooth and calm, through light and dark days constantly watching for a speck that would grow into a new land he is reminded of what he has left and understands how things can change with a whisper.  But throughout his seemingly endless journey he protects his teacup of soil and watches a miracle begin. 

Born from the story of her family’s own journey, Rebecca Young has created a most delicate and sensitive narrative that encapsulates the experience of leaving the familiar for the new, whether literal or metaphorical.  We don’t know learn why the boy has left home – that is up to the reader to speculate based on individual experience – but for anyone who has had to take that first step on an unfamiliar path, the shades of dark and light, the feeling of forward and backward, the heights of the ups and the depths of the downs will be familiar. But at no stage does the reader lose a feeling that there will be a positive ending.  Hope shines through both the words and the pictures and the final double spread captures the innate optimism of life.

Matt Ottley’s illustrations are exquisite. Using a carefully chosen palette and a remarkable vision, they echo the sparse text interpreting the mood and the theme. As well as the physical threat and comfort of the sea, they also symbolise the threats and comforts of life itself and the individual’s need and ability to navigate them. Ottley says, “…it was the most beautiful picture book I’d ever read. It is such a huge story about the human spirit, about loss and grief, love and joy, about beauty and also high adventure.” He describes being able to interpret the words as “an artist’s dream”.

This is a story that is rich in opportunities to accompany an inquiry unit about immigration and emigration as well as for older students to think about the journeys they are about to embark on as they become more independent and adventurous.  There are very useful teachers’ notes available that will enable this to be an enriching and enlightening read for those in Year 5+


My Two Blankets

My Two Blankets

My Two Blankets










My Two Blankets

Irena Kobald

Freya Blackwood

Little Hare, 2014

hbk., 32pp., RRP $A24.95


In the beginning she was a very happy little girl in her home village – so happy, her aunty called her Cartwheel. But then came the war and she finds herself in a new country where everything, even the wind, feels strange.  But strangest of all was the language.  Nobody spoke like she did –“it was like standing under a waterfall of strange sounds.  The waterfall was cold. It made me feel alone. I felt like I wasn’t me any more.”

So, at home, she wrapped herself in a blanket of familiar words and sounds and memories – a blanket that was warm and soft and covered her all over, letting her feel safe.  Until one day she goes to a park and a girl smiles at her and waves… and a new blanket is woven, one that is different but which becomes just as familiar and comfortable so she has the luxury of choosing the one she wants at the time.

This is a poignant story deliberately set in Any Place, Anywhere because its message is not confined by boundaries or borders.  It’s a universal story of anyone who has experienced change, even those for whom the change is to a different circumstance not setting and while the language may be familiar, it is different.  We don’t need to know the girl’s name, where she came from or went to – this is a story to fit the globe.

Illustrated by the amazing Freya Blackwood, you can read about how she interpreted the concepts into what are the perfect accompaniments to this story on her blog

If you are looking for titles which fit such themes as Belonging, Identity, Refugees and particularly the Australian Curriculum cross-curriculum priority Intercultural Understanding, this would be a perfect addition.

A peek inside...

A peek inside…