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The Gift

The Gift

The Gift

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Gift

Michael Speechley

Puffin Books, 2019

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

9780143788980

Across the road from Rosie’s house is an old dilapidated house with an unloved garden that most people thought was deserted.  But Rosie knew someone lived there, even though she had never actually seen anyone.  Once, she’d seen a shadow in the old attic window and occasionally a hand would  reach through the door and grab the groceries that were delivered and she convinced herself there was an old woman living there, one who might be mean and cranky but could also be just lonely. Like Rosie was lonely sometimes when she missed her mum and the things they did together.  

Rosie decided she would give the old woman a gift – but what? She thought long and hard and her mum’s words echoed in her ears – If you look long and hard enough, you’ll see the beauty in everything. That gave her an idea and she went across the street and finally crept up the wonky steps and placed her gift at the front door.

But why would she leave her neighbour a great big prickly weed. roots and all, and tied with a ribbon? And how will her neighbour receive such a gift?

This is the second book from Michael Speechley, – his first, The All New Must Have Orange 430 was an Honours Books in the 2019 CBCA Picture Book of the Year – and it is as intriguing as his first, with its different and poignant storyline.  Sadly, too many of our students have lost a loved one but this story shows how reaching out with a simple act of kindness to someone else can help us manage, if not heal, our own grief . Illustrated using a colour palette that reflects Rosie’s mood and feelings as the story progresses, and with an ending that doesn’t need words to suggest what is happening,   this is something special that might well join its predecessor in the awards lists for 2020.

 

Fly

Fly

Fly

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fly

Jess McGeachin

Puffin, 2019

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

9781760892562

Lucy had always been good at fixing things, and Dad needed a bit of help. It was just the two of them after all. So when Lucy finds a bird with a broken wing, she’s sure she can fix him too…

Even though Dad diagnoses a broken wing and doubts that Flap will ever fly again, Lucy is determined that he will soar again like all the other birds.  So she thinks and draws and works until she has the perfect plan.  Flap does fly again, but not in the way we imagine, and Lucy learns that not all things that are broken can be fixed.

This is a beautiful story of resilience, determination and imagination that, on the surface, appears to be about a little girl, her dad and a bird with a broken wing, and given the creator’s full-time job at the Melbourne Museum and the final pages featuring birds of all countries and continents coming together, that is enough in itself. It shows the strong relationship between Lucy and her dad, which is not unique, but there is no mention of her mum and what might have happened to her. So perhaps this is an allegory for a broken relationship, a split family, a marriage that can’t be mended no matter how hard the child tries, whether the cause is death or divorce, and that together, those who are left have to cope, adapt and go forward in a different direction. Regardless of Flap’s undisclosed fate, there is a strong message of healing that may well offer a sense of hope to the other Lucys and their dads.

 

Roald Dahl’s Beastly Brutes & Heroic Human Beans

Roald Dahl’s Beastly Brutes & Heroic Human Beans

Roald Dahl’s Beastly Brutes & Heroic Human Beans

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Roald Dahl’s Beastly Brutes & Heroic Human Beans

Stella Caldwell & Roald Dahl

Quentin Blake

Puffin, 2019

64pp., hbk., RRP $A39.99

9781760891589

Whether your child’s favourite Dahl book is Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, The Twits, Matilda or The BFG, they will find their favourite characters brought to life in this unique book as they meet them face-to-face and learn more about what makes them tick.  From Grandpa Joe and Mike Teavee, to Mr and Mrs Twit and Muggle-Wump, to Sophie and the Fleshlumpeater. Miss Trunchbull and Bruce Bogtrotter, each has a special place in this collection that, as the title suggests. looks at Dahl’s most heroic human beans and beastly brutes, each created by Dahl to engage children and show them that children can have power over the adults. The main character from each book guides the reader around the story and introduces the rest of the cast. 

But, as the introduction states, “this is no ordinary book…it’s a press-out paper adventure” because there are lots of card press-outs of the characters and places that help the child describe the roles and personalities of the players and recreate and retell the story in their own words.  Making new from old. (And there’s a convenient envelope at the back to keep them in too.) Clever design means parts of the pages can be pressed out to reveal a glorious parade of characters, interacting with each other in quirky and mischievous ways. 

This is probably not one for the general circulation shelves but it would be the most wonderful prop for any study of Dahl, who has been and will be a children’s favourite for generations, or the ideal gift for a Dahl fan.  Like Dahl’s writing which offers something new with every reading (wouldn’t mind a dollar for every time I’ve read or gifted The BFG), this is a gift that will keep on giving, especially it if it’s teamed with the featured books!. 

Ella and the Ocean

Ella and the Ocean

Ella and the Ocean

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ella and the Ocean

Lian Tanner

Jonathan Bentley

Allen & Unwin, 2019

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

9781760633691

Ella lived in the red-dirt country
where the earth was as dry as old bones
and it hadn’t rained 
for years
and years
and years.

One night, Ella dreamt of the ocean… and the image mesmerises her and she wants to know more. So she asks her dad,  her mum and Ben the farmhand, and while each has a distant memory to share it is viewed through the lens of the cracked red earth, the dust of the dry, dry, plains and the hungry hungry cows.  Her Gran hasn’t seen the ocean but dreamt about it once – ‘it picked me up and carried me from one side of sleep to the other and I have never forgotten it’- and so she sets about making Ella’s dream come true.

This is an uplifting story that will resonate with so many children from the front cover of the red-roofed house surrounded by vast dry, red, rain-starved land and gaunt gum trees to the family melancholy of hard work and no relief to the power of just a small break in routine to restore faith and hope.  You do not have to venture too far from the city to see the impact that this interminable drought is having on the land, and just as it sucks the life out of the land, so it has the people. Like Ella’s family, that impact is not as visible but is in their body language, their words and their perspective and while we city folk might pay some attention to their plight it is not long before we go back to our own lives, having put a few dollars in a tin or bought a more expensive bottle of milk.  Stories like Ella’s  and images like Bentley’s bring the reality home and depending where you live, will either help the children understand that they are not alone in this plight or perhaps inspire them to do something that might be ‘the trip to the ocean’ that turns a family around for a little while longer.  Or perhaps look a little closer to home. maybe the local nursing home, and think about what they can do to disrupt the routine of same-same boredom to put a light into someone’s life.

So often any unit of work about weather and its causes focuses on the scientific rather than the human, and Ella’s Ocean works to redress this, as readers are almost compelled to think about the what-if. and the what-can-I-do.  Another one of those great picture books that can work across all age groups.

Goodbye House, Hello House

Goodbye House, Hello House

Goodbye House, Hello House

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Goodbye House, Hello House

Margaret Wild

Ann James

Allen & Unwin, 2019

32pp., hbk., RRP $a24.99

9781743311103

This is the last time I’ll fish in this river. 
This is the last time I’ll run through these trees. 
This is the last time I’ll dream by this fire …  

In scenes familiar to many, Emma is saying goodbye to all the familiar places in her old home in the country as her family prepares to move to a new one in the city.  Perhaps the most poignant is when she  changes the writing on the wall from Emma lives here to  Emma lived here. But rather than being maudlin and upset, the story turns around as she arrives at the new house and she anticipates all the possibilities it offers. And this time changes the writing on the wall of her new room by changing the old Kim lives here to Emma lives here now, consolidating the idea that change happens and things move on. 

Even though Wild has used a minimum of text, James’s illustrations tell much of the story with the backgrounds depicting the juxtaposition of the two houses, with the unique depiction of Emma superimposed on them showing that she remains the same and the experiences she will have will still be familiar in many respects. Against the muted background, Emma really pops out with all her emotions on display, again demonstrating that the story of a little girl is what’s important rather than the place she finds herself in.  We are still who we are despite the circumstances that surround us. 

Many young readers will have stories to tell that are similar to Emma’s and this offers them the opportunity to open up about their experiences and emotions, particularly those around starting a new school as Emma will have to do. It may offer some insight into how scary things can be for those who have not had the experience.  

Everest: The Remarkable Story of Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay

Everest

Everest: The Remarkable Story of Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Everest: The Remarkable Story of Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay

Alexandra Stewart

Joe Todd-Stanton

Bloomsbury, 2019

64pp., hbk. RRP $A24.99

9781526600769

Prior to the lunar landing 50 years ago, climbing to the top of Everest was seen as perhaps the greatest physical feat that had been achieved.

In the late morning of May 29th 1953, the sun was shining brightly on the roof of the world, a gentle breeze was blowing and two men were there to witness it for the first time ever … Their names were Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay and the roof of the world was Everest.

This is the breathtaking story of how two very different yet equally determined men battled frost-biting temperatures, tumbling ice rocks, powerful winds and death-defying ridges to climb the world’s highest mountain. Join these two unlikely heroes on the most amazing of adventures and discover the impact of hundreds of men and women that helped Hillary and Tenzing achieve their goal. But triumphs can be marred with tragedy as not everyone who climbs Everest survives …

With a  foreword by Sir Ranulph Fiennes, this  book combines fresh and contemporary illustrations by Joe Todd-Stanton with Alexandra Stewart’s captivating writing and has been published to concide with the celebrations of f Edmund Hillary‘s birth in New Zealand on January 20, 1919. This unique narrative tells the story of how Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay made their mark on the world from birth right up to their final days and the impact they’ve had on Nepal today.

Perhaps because Sir Edmund became a friend of my mother’s and once took her down Aoraki (Mt Cook in New Zealand) on the back of a skidoo so she could be home in time for my birthday, Everest has always held a fascination for me. So to learn about the story behind the climb that made him a household name at a time when New Zealand was not, has been a most fascinating read.

Something to capture the imagination of those who like their superheroes to be real.

The Good Son: A Story from the First World War, Told in Miniature

The Good Son: A Story from the First World War, Told in Miniature

The Good Son: A Story from the First World War, Told in Miniature

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Good Son: A Story from the First World War, Told in Miniature

Pierre-Jacques Ober

Jules Ober, Felicity Coonan

Candlewick Studio, 2019

104pp., hbk., RRP $A34.99

9781536204827

From the publisher… “About one hundred years ago, the whole world went to war. The war was supposed to last months. It lasted years. It is Christmastime, 1914, and World War I rages. A young French soldier named Pierre had quietly left his regiment to visit his family for two days, and when he returned, he was imprisoned. Now he faces execution for desertion, and as he waits in isolation, he meditates on big questions: the nature of patriotism, the horrors of war, the joys of friendship, the love of family, and how even in times of danger, there is a whole world inside every one of us. And how sometimes that world is the only refuge. “

Published to coincide with the centenary of the Treaty of Versailles, one of five treaties formulated at the Paris Peace Conference as part of the peace negotiations at the end of the First World War, the readership of this book is older than what is normally reviewed for this site, despite its sparse text.  However, it is a new and important addition to any collection about World War I  and there will be primary school students who will appreciate the conceptual issues it raises as they become more aware of “the difficult truths of humanity”.

Written by a Frenchman now living in Australia, and illustrated by miniature reenactments of the scenes that have then been photographed, the book is the winner of 1st Prize at the Prix Sorcières 2019, France’s most prestigious award for children’s books.   The story is based on true facts and its connection to the author and the illustrators and their processes have been detailed in the final pages. 

Different, intriguing and utterly absorbing,

 

 

Detention

Detention

Detention

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Detention

Tristan Bancks

Puffin, 2019

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

9780143791799

Sima and her family are pressed to the rough, cold ground among fifty others. They lie next to the tall fence designed to keep them in. The wires are cut one by one. 

When they make their escape, a guard raises the alarm. Shouting, smoke bombs, people tackled to the ground. In the chaos Sima loses her parents. 

Dad told her to run, so she does, hiding in a school and triggering a lockdown. A boy, Dan, finds her hiding in the toilet block. 

What should he do? Help her? Dob her in? She’s breaking the law, but is it right to lock kids up? And if he helps, should Sima trust him? Or run?

Whatever decisions are made will change their lives forever.

With the rise and spread of nationalist, right-wing conservative governments around the globe, xenophobia is alive and well in communities and countries around the world. In Australia it is always a hot topic particularly around election time and especially since former prime minister John Howard declared, “It’s about this nation saying to the world we are a generous open hearted people, taking more refugees on a per capita basis than any nation except Canada, we have a proud record of welcoming people from 140 different nations. But we will decide who comes to this country and the circumstances in which they come” in an election speech just weeks after the attacks on the World Trade Centre buildings in 2001.

Having just had another federal election with the rhetoric of asylum seekers, detention centres and people’s rights claiming a lot of media space and votes, this new book from Tristan Bancks is very timely. In it, through the students in the Reading Superstars class and their teacher Miss Aston, he asks the questions that need to be considered about the plight of refugees, particularly as much of what the children say is the echo of their parents’ perspectives. Bancks says he has tried to tell the story as “a human one, rather than a political one” and he has achieved this as the reader becomes very invested in the plights of Simi and Dan and constantly wonders what would they do if they were either of those characters.

In my opinion, the greatest power of this book is in the hands of a class teacher reading it aloud and discussing the issues as Miss Aston does while she and her charges are in lockdown. That way, a range of points of view can be explored and explained, taking the story to a whole new level, rather than being an individual read that throws up questions but for which the reader doesn’t seek answers. And that teacher should be prepared to answer the inevitable, “What would you do if you were Miss Aston?”

Books for this age group are rarely the focus of reviews on this blog, but I believe that this is such an essential read as part of any study about migration and refugees, it deserves all the publicity it can get. Superb.

 

 

The Boy in the Big Blue Glasses

The Boy in the Big Blue Glasses

The Boy in the Big Blue Glasses

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Boy in the Big Blue Glasses

Susanne Gervay

Marjorie Crosby-Fairall

EK Books, 2019

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

9781925335996

Superhero Sam has had to get glasses – big blue ones – but he doesn’t like them. They make his ears hurt and even though, his well-meaning parents and  grandparents and even his teacher say he looks handsome in them, he hates that.  It’s as though it’s all about his glasses and he, himself, is invisible. They make such a fuss about this new superhero, it’s as though they’ve forgotten the old superhero he was before.  

His best friend George still knows him and plays with him though, but then the day comes when George is not at school and the other children start to make fun of him…

Every now and then you pick up a story that really resonates with you and Sam was me 60+ years ago, my son 40 years ago and my granddaughter seven years ago.  Each of us had to go through the trauma of appearing in public wearing glasses, and despite the well-intended comments of others, it’s tricky to know who you are when you don’t recognise yourself in the mirror but you know you are still you inside.

Sam is just one of hundreds of other kids who face this situation, and author Susanne Gervay is well-known for taking those everyday but confronting situations and putting them into the spotlight so the extraordinary becomes ordinary, and inspiring hope for happiness ahead.  No one likes to be different when they are little and wearing glasses seems like a huge placard that tells others you are not 100% perfect and that somehow you are less than the other children in your class.  Yet inside you know you are just the same person you were the day before when you didn’t have glasses.

Superbly and sensitively illustrated, this is a book that not only belongs in any collection for young readers and which should be actively promoted because so many children will see it as a mirror and learn to love reading even more as they read about themselves. Others might see it as a window and begin to understand how self-conscious Sam and others feel and how they can be more empathetic, rather than unkind like the children in the story who call Sam “googly-eyes” and “pufferfish”. It might even be an opportunity to  explore other “disabilities” and the sorts of ways that science and technology can now assist in overcoming them comparing the advances to the days when no such help was available and life became a misery. 

Excellent, down-to-earth, and one for everyone, glasses or not!

Pippa

Pippa

Pippa

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pippa

Dimity Powell

Andrew Plant

Ford St, 2019

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

9781925804270

Pippa the pigeon thinks she is ready to fly the skies by herself and have adventures. Rather than being hesitant to go out of her comfort zone, Pippa wants to experience the world for herself.  But her parents have other ideas. They are worried she is too young and do all sorts of things to keep her  at home and safe . But one day while they are out foraging for food, she flaps her wings and soars.  Over the town, the river and the paddocks she sails, going further and further from home.  But then fatigue and hunger set in and she discovers that while this big wide world is beautiful there are perils in it! Will she make it home safely?

A tender tale about parents wanting to keep their children safe, this is a story that cuts through the middle of parental protection and childish curiosity.  Our children need to be allow to fly; they need to face and conquer the obstacles they encounter if they are to be resourceful and resilient, but they also need to know there is a soft place to fall when it all gets too much.  

Dimity Powell has created a story that reflects both the parents’ perspective and that of Pippa – offering much to talk about as readers think about what they would like to do, whether they are ready and what they might learn as they try. It’s about striking a balance between independence and the security of home and Andrew Plant’s illustrations are perfect. Who wouldn’t be terrified seeing the face of the falcon coming towards you or those malevolent red eyes glowing in the dark?

As our young readers go through a number of stages where their desire for independence becomes overwhelming, this is a book that spans many age groups and there are excellent teaching notes which support this sort of use.  Perfect for teaching about being prepared, being resilient and being able to overcome obstacles without panicking.