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Dragons of Hallow (series)

Dragons of Hallow (series)

Dragons of Hallow (series)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dragons of Hallow (series)

Spellhound

9781761180057

Fledgewitch

9781761067365

A & U Children’s, 2024

352pp., pbk., RRP $A17.99

The first in this series begins… There are Three Great Secrets in Hallow, a country that loves secrets almost as much as it loves green jellybabies. No, I’m not going to tell you anything more about them. I am a loyal citizen of Hallow, and would never betray—
Oh, you have jellybabies?
Green ones?
Well, I suppose I could tell you a little more.
Come closer. Open your ears and your heart, and pass the green jellybabies.
I will tell you a story about an enormous magical pup, a child Queen and a very small minch-wiggin with the unfortunate title of Destroyer-of-Dragons…

And continues with a tale of “falsehoods, fortitude and friendship” about how a minch-wiggin, a Queen, and a rather large magical pup need to find the dragon that has turned their worlds upside-down-even if it means revealing all they want to keep hidden…

Two years later in Fledgewitch, life has moved on and Queen Rose is now twelve, and ruling Hallow with the Regent, Uncle Edwin and this story centres on ten-year-old Brim taken by Count Zaccar and Countess Xantha  to the School for the Prevention of Witches  because are the three Laws of Quill, carved in stone outside every town hall, and learnt by every schoolchild:
There shall be No Witches.
There shall be No Dragons.
There shall be NO SECRETS.

But Brim, despite having feathers sprouting from her elbows, and being the only one who can remember Snort, the Horned Glob, doesn’t believe she is a witch, one to be feared and outcast because of their dangerous, evil ways.

And so the story unfolds in a tale deeply rooted with themes of family, faith, loyalty and courage with engaging characters who display all those traits that we expect as they are pitted against dastardly, devious villains.  With its length, its seemingly unrelated stories  as well as the twists and turns in the plot, and the opportunity to put clues together if they are picked up, this is a series for fantasy-loving independent readers looking for something to sustain them over long winter nights, best read in order and best to read the first to establish the characters and their history and relationships – although these may not be what they seem.  

For those who want to know more about the author and how the series came to life, read this Q&A

 

 

May I Hug You?

May I Hug You?

May I Hug You?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

May I Hug You?

Oleta Blunt

Katherine Appleby

Little Steps, 2024

32pp., pbk., RRP $A16.95

9781922678119

Isla is very excited because she has a new puppy and she rushes forward to greet him.  But this is a new situation for Basil and he is feeling very unsure so he heads back into his carry cage where she can’t reach him.  Isla is disappointed, not understanding why Basil seems scared of her, but her mother explains that he is feeling unsure because he doesn’t know her yet and Isla needs to take things quietly and build trust and friendship step-by-step.

This is a message-story for all young readers anticipating the arrival of a new pet – sometimes their excitement and enthusiasm can be overwhelming, particularly to something as small as a puppy or a kitten, and they need to take a step back and consider how the pet might construe their innocent actions as threatening.  But it could also be a lesson to the adult sharing it with them as together they think about consent. Is it okay for an adult to assume that it is okay to hug or kiss or even just touch kids they have just met?  Does being a relative afford them certain rights? Exploring the young person’s response through the lens of Basil offers opportunities to talk about relationship-building at arm’s length – and we can all learn a lesson about starting on their level from the Obama approach.

All Australian schools are now required to teach age-appropriate consent education from the first year of compulsory schooling to Year 10 and in 2022, a new Australian Curriculum was released with updated content and guidance for teaching about consent (ACARA 2022).  While each state has developed its own support materials, their resource suggestions seem to lack links to appropriate fiction so this story dovetails in nicely with teaching our youngest children about respectful relationships, especially those involving an “imbalance of power” because there are few times as little ones where they hold the upper hand.

A story with greater potential than just about a girl and her new pet.  

 

 

To and Fro

To and Fro

To and Fro

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

To and Fro

Anton Clifford-Motopi

A&U Children’s, 2024

304pp., pbk., RRP $A17.99

9781761180378

For twelve years, it has just been Sam, his mum and his Nanna (and Grandad when he was alive) and Sam has been okay with that.  He has survived his mum’s cooking, passion for second-hand things and dreadful driving; he visits his nanna often and copes with her religious beliefs, ornaments on every surface and gallery of photos of dead people on the mantelpiece; he fits in well at his school, has friends although they make fun of his Afro haircut especially Lachlan Bott, manages to rub along with his teacher Mr Peacock whose antics mimic his name and like most in Year 6, is counting down the days till primary school is over.  He has a dog called Trevor who has a haircut similar to his own, and altogether, he is just like everyone else he knows.

He has never met his dad although he knows he was a Black African who apparently left his mother when she was pregnant, and even that is unremarkable these days when family structures are so diverse.  But what he is not ready for is his dad suddenly appearing in his life, and his having to make the decision about whether he will meet him with all the ramifications that that will have. 

Most kids meet their parents when they’re born. All they need to do to impress them is poop, sleep and make goo-goo ga-ga sounds. But I’m twelve. None of that is going to impress my father.

And given that Mr Peacock has set the class a major investigation into “who am I and where do I come from?’ so Sam’s focus is already on his origins, it is a dilemma that only he can decide.  He does go ahead with the meeting but that just sets up more questions than answers – deep-seated questions that will shape his identity – but which provoke a lot of turmoil within and without.  Is he a white kid with a black dad? Or a black kid with white skin? Or half-black and half-white? How can he make his outside match his insides if he doesn’t know who he is?

This is an engaging novel for independent readers, many of whom may find themselves in Sam’s predicament whether the conflict be based on race, culture, religion, gender or something else.  As kids move through puberty, even those in the most “standard” of families, question who they are as they try to find and establish their place as independent individuals in the scheme of things, so it is going to have broad appeal.  Told by Sam himself, and being somewhat akin to the author’s own experience, the reader is drawn into Sam’s confusion from his perspective, rather than that of a narrator imposing their interpretation.  It’s funny, has a certain amount of toilet humour that appeals to the age and gives it authenticity, but more than anything, it is a compelling read that tackles deeper issues than just constructing a family tree because it takes that to the next level of looking at the relationships on it and their impact on the current generation.

While many modern stories for that upper end of primary often feature fantastic creatures, superheroes and good vs evil in some shape or form, my experience is that these readers also love contemporary realistic fiction like this – stories where they see themselves or put them in a position of asking what would they do, giving them an opportunity to work through genuine life issues at arm’s length.  They like being respected as intelligent, thoughtful readers, and through both the characters and the storyline of this one, the author has nailed it.  

The Kindness Project

The Kindness Project

The Kindness Project

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Kindness Project

Deborah Abela

Puffin, 2024

338pp., pbk., RRP $A16.99

9781761340185

Nicolette’s favourite time of the day is when she visits her grandmother in “Alcatraz” – the local nursing home – each afternoon and together they complete a jigsaw, every piece fitting perfectly with its neighbour, just like Nanna and Nicolette.  Because Nicolette is a loner and a worrier and believes that her copy of the how-to-make-friends manual either got lost in the post or given to someone else.  School is a misery, for although she loves her teacher Ms Skye, she has to deal daily with DJ the bully who has always called her “knickers” and Layla, perfect, pretty but condescending and who apparently snubbed Nicolette’s birthday years ago and it still hurts.  

When a new boy with a weird name, peastick legs and oversized glasses comes to school – a boy with an amazing talent for drawing and creating stories about superheroes – tiny, tender tendrils of friendship twine them together, giving Nicolette a little bit of hope.  But then Ms Skye announces The Kindness Project and deliberately pairs the four children together, which has to be a recipe for disaster. Or is it?  

When Nicolette and Nanna bust out of Alcatraz for a day at the beach there are consequences far more wide-reaching than the police searching for them, particularly when Nicolette’s mum bans Nanna and Nicolette from seeing each other… consequences that open eyes, minds, hearts and doors for more than just the four children.

Written as a verse novel where every word is devoted to the who and their here-and-now, the choice of language is sublime and with clever use of fonts    and formatting that enhances the reader’s understanding of Nicolette’s emotions, this is one that moved me to tears as I binge-read it early one morning, and not just because of the story itself.  If we ever needed a reminder to not judge a book by its cover, to look beyond the behaviour to the circumstances driving it, for the story behind the story, then this is it.  Dealing with  issues like a grandparent with dementia, a mum with a mental illness, divorce and dealing with new parents and siblings, parents absent because of work deployments, over-the-top anxiety and feeling isolated if not abandoned,  the author has not shied away from exposing the real-life concerns that confront our students daily, and thus, the stories within the stories will resonate with many of our students – some of whom who will relate directly to the characters’ situations, others who might rethink their own words and actions.  

But it not only demands that we think about what is happening in the lives of our friends (and students) but also sheds light on the stories of those behind them.  While Nicolette may be having to come to terms with a grandmother who can no longer look after herself safely, that grandmother wasn’t always that way – she has her own backstory that guides her to guiding Nicolette; Leaf’s mum doesn’t spend every day in hospital receiving treatment for schizophrenia, DJ’s dad has made choices for altruistic reasons that a young DJ can’t yet understand. – and thus they, too have a voice in a world that seldom hears them talking.

Ms Skye sets the class The Kindness Project as a “way to change the world” and while Nicolette and her classmates are sceptical, Ms Skye assures them that “big changes come from small beginnings”.  And so it could be with this book.  One story shared could become the catalyst for so many more. 

Grace the Amazing

Grace the Amazing

Grace the Amazing

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Grace the Amazing

Aleesah Darlison

Wombat Books, 2024

192pp., pbk., RRP $A14.99

 9781761111174

Like many 11-year-olds, Grace Marshall is struggling to straddle that divide between childhood and independent young woman. While she would like to be seen as Grace the Awesome, Grace the Incredible and Grace the Miraculous, she believes others have a different view of her, particularly her mum, a zookeeper who is juggling work and home almost as a solo parent. A chance remark to the “most popular girl in school” some time ago means she appears to have no friends at school, her little brother is a pain, and while her dad loves her to bits she misses him terribly, he is a FIFO worker only home one week in four.  

Grace recognises that she is different, perhaps eccentric, certainly straight-talking, a girl of “many moods [and] many colours” but never boring.  But sadly, she also believes that being just Grace is never enough. Currently, her passion is doing magic as she strives to be known as Grace the Amazing, and when she discovers her one true friend at school is Pamela, her art teacher, has been away for the past few weeks because she has terminal cancer, Grace is determined to find the magic to fix her.

But even though the reader secretly hopes for a different, miraculous ending, there can be only one and this is an engaging, endearing story of how a child deals with the news and its consequences, while at the same time learning much about herself and life, love and friendship along the way. From a little boy in a foster family with a weird name, to Dr Granger the Stranger, to Emma who she thought despised her, to Pamela herself, this is a coming-of-age story that will resonate with many who also feel isolated, a misfit and misunderstood, as once again, Darlison has created credible characters who could be the kids we know and so the reader fits right into the story.

In a Q&A with fellow reviewer TL Sue Warren, Darlison says, “A great story often starts with a simple idea.  Ideas for stories bombard me each and every day. Ideas are everywhere I go. In everything I see and do. And in everything I hear.  If you’re interested in writing stories, you can find ideas in the world around you too. You see, stories abound in all the many subtle nuances of our life – you just have to keep your eyes and ears and mind open to them…” Given the dedications in this book, there is a suggestion that this story is more than one of imagination -it’s one of those ideas that Darlison has seen or lived, and that, in itself, gives it a reality and poignancy that is going to have wide appeal. 

 

Some Families Change

Some Families Change

Some Families Change

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Some Families Change

Jess Galatola

Jenni Barrand

EK Books, 2024

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

9781922539670

For most children, their family is their safe haven and they expect it to be the same format/structure. arrangement that they know for ever and ever.  And, in the past, that was usually the case with perhaps the addition of a baby or the death of an elderly relative the only changes to their world. In the 50s, the term “nuclear family” was coined and it commonly consisted of two adults, a male and female, who were married, had 2.4children of their own making with the adult male being the patriarch. And sadly, for many, this remains the “norm” embedded in their social, cultural or religious value systems meaning that those who choose or have to live outside of that model can be ostracised if not condemned and the casualties are many.

Today’s lifestyles mean that this is very different from even the time when I was a child and to some kids, change can be confusing and challenging, and if the change is not a positive one, they can shoulder the responsibility and begin the “If only I…” tail-chasing blame game.  And so this book which covers scenarios including single-parent families, blended families, and the loss of a loved one, can be a reassuring guide for children experiencing such transitions using gentle verse and illustrations that clearly show a photo of any family in the class will be different to the photo of any other.  As Ms Molly said, so wisely in Heather has Two Mummies, “It doesn’t matter who makes up a family, the most important thing is that all the people in it love one another very much.”

The core Foundation Year unit of the Humanities and Social Sciences strand of the Australian Curriculum calls for children to know and understand “the people in their family, where they were born and raised, and how they are related to each other” and thus this book is an essential part of that understanding as they learn that not only are families different but also that theirs might change. 

 

Heather Has Two Mummies

Heather Has Two Mummies

Heather Has Two Mummies

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Heather Has Two Mummies

Lesléa Newman

Laura Cornell

Walker Books, 2016

32pp., pbk., RRP $A16.99

9781406365559

Heather’s favourite number is two – she has two arms, two legs, two pets and two lovely mummies, Mama Kate, a doctor, and Mama Jane, a carpenter, plus dog Midnight and cat Gingersnap.  But when Heather goes to school for the first time, someone asks her about her daddy … and Heather doesn’t have a daddy! But then the class all draw portraits of their families, and not one single drawing is the same. Heather and her classmates realize – it doesn’t matter who makes up a family, the most important thing is that all the people in it love one another very much.

In the international bestseller, Lessons in Chemistry, which focuses on the attitudes towards women in the 1950s and early 60s, Teacher Mudford asks her Year 1 class to fill in a diagram of their family tree including a photo, but not only does she share what she learns about some of the diverse families of her students with other parents, but she persecutes those children who don’t have the stock-standard, mother-father-child/ren arrangement that was the only accepted model of the times.

Fast forward 30 years to the 1990s and the original version of Heather Has Two Mummies is published, despite many rejections from mainstream publishers because it was considered too controversial because attitudes had scarcely changed, and is challenged, banned, the subject of public debate, attacked by clergy and politicians alike. By the end of the decade it was the 9th most challenged book in US literary history.  

Now, another 30* years on, the self-published first editions have become collectibles, and reprints are common in school libraries because diverse family structures are mostly more acceptable and children have both the right and the need to read about themselves. While as recently as 2015 teachers in some US states faced dismissal for sharing such stories, a situation that has become even more dire in some US states since the extreme right-wing presidency of Donald Trump with books with any sort of reference to sexual diversity being pulled from shelves and banned in state-sponsored legislation, nevertheless this book has persisted and has not been out of print for 35 years, indicating that there is clearly a demand for these sorts of stories that address the tricky topics that children live daily, that cause both confusion and anxiety, and which have to be shared if we are to normalise anything that is not the norm. 

For those for whom such stories might be problematic because of the ethos of their schools, I invite you to read both the discussions that were generated in 2015 when I wrote the tricky topics hat for my 500 Hats blog and how it has been addressed in the Sample Collection Policy under Diversity and Inclusion. The mental health of our students is more prominent now than it has been in the past and much stems from feelings of being different, excluded, not belonging and so, IMO, we as educators have a responsibility to embrace diversity, to show that there is so much more that includes rather than divides. As the wise MS Molly in the story says, “each family is special, The most important thing about a family is that all the people in it love one another.”

Everyone Starts Small

Everyone Starts Small

Everyone Starts Small

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Everyone Starts Small

Liz Garton Scanlon

Dominique Ramsey

Candlewick Press, 2024

40pp., hbk., RRP $A34.99

9781536226157

Sun grows beams
and Grass grows blades
and Cloud cannot contain herself.

Spring rains change Water from a tumbling creek to a roaring river and bring Tree nutrients it needs to stretch toward the sky. As Sun’s rays intensify, the sprouts and fruits and insects of the forest grow and bloom and develop, all working together in harmony. Even Fire, whose work causes Tree to ache from the inside, brings opportunity for the next generation of flora and fauna. This poetic tribute to our planet’s resilience, accompanied by its striking illustrations is a resonant story of life, death, and regeneration and demonstrates to young readers the interdependence of the elements of Nature and how without one, or too much of one, our planet cannot survive, let alone thrive.

It echoes the old Aesop fable of The North Wind and the Sun although the theme of this is not competition but the symbiosis of the elements, despite Tree warning that “it is not a race”.  As well as building a greater awareness of the world around them, it introduces young readers to the concept of life cycles and possibly sparking investigations of the connections between creatures and their habitats and what they can do to help such as making a bee motel.

For those more mature readers, the personification could be a metaphor for their own lives, a reassurance that despite all they might experience as they grow and mature into independence, like Tree, they have the resilience and wherewithal to cope with whatever they encounter no matter how bleak the immediate future might seem.  Despite the devastation of Fire and the harshness of Winter, following the devastation, the Earth renews itself, and new lives arise again, rife with fabulous potential – just as they can. 

Words Between Us

Words Between Us

Words Between Us

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Words Between Us

Angela Pham Krans

Dung Ho

HarperCollins US, 2024

40pp., hbk., RRP $A29.99

9780063224544

Felix and Grandma have always lived oceans apart—until the day Grandma arrives in the city from Vietnam. Felix is so excited to meet Grandma and spend time with her. But it’s tricky when he speaks no Vietnamese and she speaks no English. They get by with both showing each other special things like Felix’s pet iguana Pete and Grandma showing him how to care for the garden but one day, when Felix and Grandma are visiting a big festival,  Grandma gets lost and doesn’t know how to ask for help.  It is then that Felix decides to teach her English, and by working together and teaching each other, they bond closely as they learn to share words as well, culminating in their shared love of pizza.

With end papers that have flashcard translations of common words, (and Grandma’s recipe for pizza), this is another story like I Hear a Buho and Giovanni  that allows us to share and celebrate the languages spoken by our students as they take the opportunity to teach us the common words for the things that unite us regardless of our heritage.  Having bilingual books in our collections and actively promoting them is a way that we can build bridges and open doorways for those who are not native English speakers by showing them that we value what they can bring to the teaching and learning experience.  

For many newcomers to this country not speaking the common language can be a very isolating experience, compounding the difficulties of what must have already been a difficult decision, but if we can reach out to families through stories – perhaps even inviting them into the library to share the stories of their childhood in their own language to encourage those of the same background to hear them and learn about them – we show the parents, particularly the mothers, that we care and that their child will not be lost.  And, in return, we all gain so much!!!

Elephants Can’t Jump

Elephants Can't Jump

Elephants Can’t Jump

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Elephants Can’t Jump

Venita Dimos

Natasha Curtin

Walker Books, 2024

32pp., hbk., RRP $A25.99

9781760656140

All the animals have had fun at Mini the elephant’s birthday and now it is time to open the presents.  She deliberately saved opening her best friend Mila’s present until last because Milo always gave the best presents and this one, wrapped in her favourite shade of pink was very big and bulky.  

But she was SO disappointed when she opened it because it was a trampoline  and while all the others could have fun, Milo should have known the elephants can’t jump!  So what use was the present to her?  And she was so angry with Milo she stopped talking to him.  And she got angrier and angrier as Milo suggested other games like hopscotch and hide-and-seek that were no fun for elephants, and so she decided to have nothing to do with Milo, even running away from him.  The final straw came when she went to Milo’s place on Friday afternoon (because Milo always had the most scrumptious food) and all her other friends were having fun on a jumping castle. Will the two ever resolve their differences and be friends again? 

The tag on this book is “Big Skills for Mini People” and it is a series written for our youngest readers to not only help them manage their emotions but help them navigate their way through relationships as they venture into the world of friendships beyond family and have to learn about competitiveness, managing inner voices, learning to listen, and communicating effectively. Learning to negotiate, compromise and consider others as they emerge from that egocentric world of toddlerhood can be tricky and so books like these, read with sensitive adults who can ask questions like “What could Mini have done instead of getting angry?” can help develop skills and strategies that will provide well for the future.  

One for the mindfulness collection that will help young people learning about the issues associated with assuming things.