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Not Here to Make You Comfortable

Not Here to Make You Comfortable

Not Here to Make You Comfortable

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Not Here to Make You Comfortable

50 Women Who Stand Up, Speak Out, Inspire Change

Puffin, 2023

176pp., pbk., RRP $A22.99

 9781761340581

In the vein of Shout Out to the Girls: A Celebration of Awesome Australian Women, this is a collection of one page vignettes of 50 women who ” did something brave. Something disruptive. Something exceptional.”

Featuring familiar names from the Australian landscape such as Ash Barty, Celeste Barber, Grace Tame, Turia Pitt,  Julia Gillard and Tayla Harris, as well as a host of contemporary women from around the world, this collection was inspired by the way that Grace Tame’s unsmiling face at a reception with then prime minister Scott Morrison was shared world wide and her behaviour dissected and demeaned around the world, diminishing both her and what she had fought so hard for.  Once again, just as with Tayla Harris, it was a female’s appearance and demeanour that became the news story rather than their accomplishments.

And so the women at PRH Young Readers publishing section have put together this compelling collection of stories of real young women, famous and not-so, who have had the courage to stand up for their beliefs, to be bold and true to themselves, “a celebration of assertiveness and certitude”. Each entry begins with the phrase, “There was that time when…” and continues with a description of the incident, its impact, a thumbnail sketch of the person and a full-page sketch from a new or emerging illustrator. 

Each is an affirmation of empowerment, often taking great courage, but resonating with today’s girls and encouraging them to be just as bold if needs be.

The activities of women in both World Wars I and II as they stepped into men’s shoes made great strides in changing the attitudes of men towards women, the activists of the 60s continued that and there have been decades of trail-blazers and game-changers since then, yet still 50% of the world’s population is subjected to irrelevant judgements, continual media coverage focusing on their appearance rather than their accomplishments, social media trolling, and toxic behaviour that is inevitably claimed to have been “consensual”. So while a book of this nature inspiring girls to be more than a pretty face and affirming their right to be so is still required, it is a grim indictment of society that it is.  While the treatment of women in countries like Iran and Afghanistan, is of huge concern as it should be, it is appalling that even in Australia in the 21st century, it is clear that misogyny is still alive and flourishing and our girls need role models like those in this book to tell the world, “We’re not here to make you comfortable.  We’re here to celebrate being ourselves.”

The Daring Tale of Gloria the Great

The Daring Tale of Gloria the Great

The Daring Tale of Gloria the Great

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Daring Tale of Gloria the Great

Jacqueline Harvey

Kate Isobel Scott

Puffin, 2023

32pp., hbk., RRP $A19.99

9781761043284

This is a tale of a chicken who wasn’t chicken.  In fact, Gloria was the opposite…

She was brave, she was bold, never did what she was told…

She ran her own face, she got in your face,,,

Then, one night she disappeared without trace! Although the family searched high and low when Gloria did not take her place on the perch, and feared the worst when they saw a no-longer-trim hawk circling, the other chooks were quite glad she wasn’t there because they didn’t really like her.  However, after a week they started to miss her and began accusing each other of being the one to scare her away. Will Gloria ever grace the henhouse again, or was that hawk not-so-trim for a reason?

This is an hilarious story from the versatile Jacqueline Harvey (Kensy and Max, Willa and Woof, Alice-Miranda and Clementine Rose)made even more special by the glorious illustrations of Kate Isobel Scott, the second time the two have partnered to produce a picture book.  Young readers who also march to the beat of their own drum will resonate with Gloria as will those who can be intimidated by such leadership potential, while adults of a certain vintage will appreciate the reference to, perhaps inspiration for, Gloria  Gaynor’s immortal song, I Will Survive.

Because, thankfully, Gloria does survive and lives to rule another roost!!! 

Scout and the Rescue Dogs

Scout and the Rescue Dogs

Scout and the Rescue Dogs

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Scout and the Rescue Dogs

Dianne Wolfer

Tony Flowers

Walker Books, 2023

224pp., pbk., RRP $A15.99

9781760655860

As the school year comes to an end at the Arcadia Boarding School for Young Ladies, Scout has only two plans for the long summer holidays – to enjoy the time with her trucker dad and to persuade him that Arcadia is not the best fit for her and she shouldn’t have to go back there.  She has only been there since her mother died from cancer and having kept that a secret from the other girls, she has found it hard to make friends.  And now her teacher has set  the class a summer project of reaching out to three others to establish stronger friendships… and , of course, two of her three assigned contacts are her greatest tormentors.

But, Dad has one last run to do before they can escape to their farm near Beechworth – a philanthropist has donated a load of dog food to be delivered to animal rescue shelters in anticipation of the increased numbers they experience over Christmas – and soon Scout’s school-based problems fade into perspective as she meets carers and dogs and even makes a new friend through Ms Lawler’s initiative, all the while facing the threat of bushfires sweeping the countryside. 

Set against the backdrop of the unprecedented fire season of 2019-2020 and travelling through south-eastern Australia through country that is so familiar to me – I’ve been to every one of the towns mentioned so many times – this was a story that kept me reading well past my bedtime and into the early hours.  Wolfer has created a character who tells the story of that dreadful time through a child’s eyes – the interminable days of smoke and ash, the concern for the native wildlife, the fear of ember attacks and worse – and while, as an adult who evacuated twice because of the imminent danger, I could cope with the memories, it may open wounds that are just beginning to have scar tissue for some readers. But, at the same time, it is a story of love,  the importance and power of memories,  friendship, the camaraderie amongst strangers as communities rally together as they do in dire times, and of hope as Scout comes to terms with her situation through her deepening relationship with her dad and her own philanthropic enterprises.  And threaded through it to lighten the mood as the real-life issues are addressed, is the greatest collection of the WORST Dad Jokes ever!!!

Burrumbuttock Hay Run

Burrumbuttock Hay Run

 

Last-Place Lin

Last-Place Lin

Last-Place Lin

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Last-Place Lin

Wai Chim

Freda Chiu

Allen & Unwin, 2023

32pp., hbk., RRP $A19.99

9781761067754

It’s Sports Day! Everyone has a different House colour.
I’m in the Red House. Go Red!

It’s time for the sack race. On your marks, get set, go!
But not everyone can come first.

The scenario for this story from  Australian Survivor contestant, Wai Chim, of the annual horror of school sports day will be familiar for many young readers, as will be the feeling of being Last-Place Lin. Coupled with the accurate, sometimes amusing illustrations, it will resonate with so many who will be able to put themselves in the place of any of the characters – except the winner’s.

With Australia awash with elite sports news at the moment from Victoria’s  cancellation of the 2026 Commonwealth Games to the FIFA Women’s World Cup, the Ashes series between Australia and England, the World Swimming Championships in Japan, and the looming finals series in the football codes, it could seem to many that the only people valued in this country are the elite sports competitors. And despite Australia’s reputation for cutting down its tall poppies, that doesn’t seem to apply to sport.  It couldn’t be a worse time for all the Last-Place Lins so this is a timely release to share to show that winning is fleeting and developing resilience, perseverance and endurance – even courage to try – are the values that will stand our young people in greatest stead.

As well as celebrating Lin’s persistence and that of her friend for running alongside her,  doing some simple maths that shows the proportion of how many will feel the euphoria of wining in a race of eight contestants can put things in perspective.  In a television interview with a young lad who had scored 80+ tries for his rugby league team this season, former Brisbane Broncos player Sam Thaiday reminded him of that euphoria of crossing the line and suggested that he might like to share it with his team mates by passing the ball to them too rather than focusing on the statistics.  What an important lesson for winners to learn!!!  

Earlier this year we were sharing real-life stories of those who tried and endured until they finished in conjunction with the National Simultaneous Storytime book, The Speedy Sloth as we encouraged students to identify and celebrate those things that they were good at if sport was not their forté and this is another worthy addition to that collection.  

 

Khawaja

Khawaja

Khawaja

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Khawaja

Paul Kelly

Avinash Weerasekera

Puffin, 2023

24pp., hbk., RRP $A19.99

9781761340611

As Australia’s men and women’s cricket teams continue to do amazing things in this year’s Ashes series in England, the name of Usman Khawaja is now well-known well beyond cricketing fans and families, if it wasn’t already.  The top scorer in both Australian innings in the first test, following his two centuries in the 2022 New Year’s game, having been recalled after being sensationally dropped from the team in 2019, Khawaja was headline news well beyond the sports pages.

And it is this rise and fall and rise again that is captured by music legend Paul Kelly in this tribute to the man’s determination, patience and resilience, given that Khawaja himself thought he would never represent his country again. Now in picture book format so all little cricket lovers, and Khawaja fans especially, can have it forever at their fingertips, this is the print version of Kelly’s song that he wrote and released on social media after that 2022 performance.  

With the music based on the Hank Williams tune Kaw-liga, it is a catchy tune that will not only have young readers easily able to read the words for themselves, but also show them that perseverance and self-belief underpin success, regardless of whether it is cricket, sport or any dream. For even though Khawaja himself will likely be remembered for being the first Pakistani-born Australian and Muslim to wear the prized baggy green, it is the message of dedication, hard work, going-back-to-basics to make things better, application and commitment that will remain with the reader and inspire them. 

 

Where The River Takes Us

Where The River Takes Us

Where The River Takes Us

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Where The River Takes Us

Lesley Parr

Bloomsbury, 2023

320pp., pbk., RRP $A16.99

9781526647771

Wales, February 1974. The coal miners are on strike for better pay and conditions, and energy rationing is enforced with power to homes and businesses only being allowed at certain times of the day, and thus many businesses are working on a three-day week. It’s winter, it’s wet and cold.  And to add to this misery, in a small village 13-year-old Jason  and 18-year-old Richie are grieving the death of their parents in a car accident while struggling to stay together in their family home.  The mortgage is due again on March 1 but there will be no celebration for St David’s Day this year because Richie’s wages just aren’t enough.

When Jason learns how Richie has been tricked into making some extra money on the side, he is terrified his brother will end up in prison and they will be separated, regardless, and so when he learns about a reward being offered for proof of the existence of a wild beast roaming nearby mountains, it seems like a lifeline worth pursuing at all costs.  An idea is born and a quest begun.  With his best friends Jinx, Tam and Catrin, he sets off on adventure following the river up into the high country, determined to be the first to photograph the Beast with the camera Catrin has “borrowed” from her father. But they’re not the only ones on the hunt as they are dogged by their arch-enemies Gary and Dean, and so the trip is made even more hazardous…

Underpinned by the bonds between the four children, this is a brilliant, fresh, original story that kept me reading until I finished.  While the lure of the £100 reward which they have agreed will be used to pay the boys’ mortgage. is the carrot that keeps them going physically, it is as much an emotional journey for each of them as they learn so much about themselves, about each other and about the power of friendship and the complexity of grief.  Unbreakable ties are forged that will exist regardless of the outcome of the quest,  while both Jason and Richie begin to accept that they are not alone and it’s okay to let others in for support and guidance.  

Like The Valley of Lost Secrets, (the first chapter of which is included at the end), this is a superbly crafted story built on the interactions between the key characters – ordinary kids doing something as ordinary as an overnight camping trip in the school holidays, but who find themselves learning more than they ever imagined.  When questioned about what they are doing, rather than divulge their hunt for the Beast in case others are too, Catrin refers to the Duke of Edinburgh Award, one often associated with outdoor adventure, but if the reader examines the full purpose of it – “to explore their full potential and find their purpose, passion and place in the world, regardless of their location or circumstance” – then perhaps that’s exactly what they did, just without the formality.

Independent readers who like authentic stories with real body will adore this, as will class teachers looking for an absorbing read-aloud that will hook the entire class.

In the meantime, I am eagerly awaiting a copy of When the War Came Home because Lesley Parr is becoming a name I am always going to look for. 

Logan’s Big Move

Logan's Big Move

Logan’s Big Move

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Logan’s Big Move

Logan Martin & Jess Black

Shane McG

Puffin, 2023

32pp., hbk., RRP $A19.99

9780143778240

It’s tricky moving to a new place and knowing no one but the local skatepark offers a way to get to know the locals, and so Logan and his brother head there as soon as they’ve helped with the unpacking.  While his brother is inspired by the tricks of the skaters it is the BMX riders who attract Logan’s attention and he decides he’s wants to be just like them.  But even though he gets a coach, learns what to do, practises hard until he thinks he is ready to join his new friends at the park, he discovers there are a few more lessons to learn, including a really important one…

Inspired by the true story of Australia’s BMX freestyle Olympic gold medalist and 2021 Sports Dad of the Year, Logan Martin, this is a story that will appeal to young readers as the characters are all anthropomorphic with Logan himself portrayed as a lion, so that is a stand-alone story without knowing the backstory, but also those who have become fans of the athlete himself as he showed during the Tokyo Olympics in 2021 why BMX freestyle is a legitimate Olympic sport. 

“Gold Coast’s Logan Martin started freestyle BMX at the age of 12 after following his brother, Nathan, to the Crestmead Skate Park. Spending most of his spare time there, Martin started showing real talent at the age of 15, entering competitions with his parents, Donna and Sean, taking him to the events and buying bikes and parts. Logan first travelled overseas in 2012, where he won the first international event he entered. Martin won the International Festival of Extreme Sports (FISE) World Series title in both 2015 and 2016, following those titles up by claiming the inaugural BMX Freestyle world title at the UCI Urban World Championships in China in 2017. A stellar 2019 followed, which saw Logan win dual X Games gold, the Urban Games gold, and a World Championship silver behind teammate Brandon Loupos. He also built a BMX ramp in the backyard of his home to prepare for his Olympic run during lockdown. At the 2020 and 2021 National Championships in Melbourne, Martin won gold, and added a second career rainbow jersey when he took out the 2021 UCI World Championships in France. The culmination of Logan’s career so far was claiming gold at the Tokyo 2021 Olympic Games.”

Not all the sporting heroes of our students are footballers or cricketers even though there is a dearth of accessible stories about those who make the heights in other fields so this is an important addition to the collection for those who know who Logan Martin is, and who are inspired to be like him, just as he had his own role models to aspire to. More mature readers might also like his autobiography Logan Martin: Journey to Gold opening the door to a whole new genre of non fiction for them.

 

 

The Fix-it Princess

The Fix-it Princess

The Fix-it Princess

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Fix-it Princess

Janeen Brian

Cherie Dignam

Walker Books, 2023

160pp., pbk., RRP $A15.99

9781760654825

Princess Shona likes to solve problems, the bigger the better and particularly if they involve practical solutions like rebuilding the chook house.  She is a  is a princess with a Can-Do attitude bur right now she is facing the biggest problem she has ever had to solve.

For their joint birthdays, she made Mum-Queen and Dad-King a wing-thing and they were last seen two days ago soaring over the castle walls and haven’t returned.  Because hard times have fallen, there is no staff left at the castle and so Shona is on her own with 15 chickens (who at least lay eggs so she has food) and an old horse called Wildfire.  To make matters worse, the drawbridge is up and so she can’t get out to start looking for them, because surely if they could get back, they would be…

With all the elements of a good story about princesses including gloomy, scary woods nearby, a dragon who sings but apparently can’t fly, shysters who pretend to be her parents and so on, this is a great novel for any young independent reader who has dreamed of being a princess – but one who is resilient and resourceful rather than waiting for some handsome prince to rescue her.  They will relate to her bubbly personality that refuses to be daunted and like me, will want to keep reading to find out what really did happen to Mum-Queen and Dad-King and whether they are safe. Have they been kidnapped or has her Wing-Thing gone horribly wrong, as so many of her other “solutions” do? 

 

The Great Gallipoli Escape

The Great Gallipoli Escape

The Great Gallipoli Escape

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Great Gallipoli Escape

Jackie French

HarperCollins, 2023

224pp., hbk., RRP $A19.99

9781460764176

Sixteen-year-old Nipper and his Gallipoli mates Lanky, Spud, Bluey and Wallaby Joe are starving, freezing and ill-equipped. By November 1915 they know that that there is more to winning a war than courage, that the Gallipoli campaign has been lost, and that the reality of war is very different from the pictures and perceptions painted in the posters at home touting war as an adventure, a way out of inevitable unemployment, a ticket to see the world that few in isolated Australia would ever get, and that to fight “for King and country” was as noble as it gets for those with strong ties to England in early 20th century Australia – calls to arms that compelled many like Nipper to lie about their age so they would be allowed to join the army to defend their country.  

As with Last Man Out, this story, based heavily on accounts in primary sources like letters, diaries, oral histories and memories, takes the reader into the disease, deprivation and desperation of life in the trenches that were the origins of “diggers” the nickname for Australian soldiers, and while Nipper and his mates are fictitious, what they experienced was real.  As author Jackie French, renowned for her research and attention to detail when she crafts historical fiction, says, this is “still only one story… there are possibly one hundred thousand stories, all of which might vary in many respects, but still be true.” 

Nipper has played cricket with the Turks in the opposing dugout, dodged rocket fire and rescued desperate and drowning men when the blizzard snow melted. He is one of the few trusted with the secret kept from even most of the officers: how an entire army of 150 000 men, their horses and equipment will vanish from the Peninsula, secretly moved to waiting ships over three impeccably planned nights without a single life lost – but a plan that leaves those still alive with the very mixed feelings of seeing an opportunity for their own salvation while being reluctant to leave behind those who endured so much and gave their lives for something seemingly futile. 

“Will we be remembered for holding the line here, in a campaign that has won nothing and lost so much?” 

And that question is just one of many philosophical discussion points that takes this book beyond an historic narrative. What was and is the legacy of Gallipoli? Why do we still commemorate a failed campaign more than a century later, and why is commemorating it in Gallipoli, itself, such a milestone for so many? 

Apart from the discussion points and activities that relate directly to the book raised in the teaching notes, there are some outstanding opportunities to explore some big-picture questions and really extend students’ thinking such as 

  • How does historical fiction (as opposed to fiction set in the past) enrich and enhance our understanding of life and living during significant events and times?
  • Given that the Turks were defending their families and livelihoods from invasion by the ‘Tommies’ and their allies, were they necessarily the enemy? Were the invaders in the wrong?
  • Are there parallels between the allies invading Turkey and the Russians invading Ukraine?  What are the differences in approach this time? 
  • The lads in the stories could be the older brothers of those reading it so, if Australia were to put “boots on the ground” in Ukraine, as they did in Iraq and Afghanistan, would they be as eager to join up today as Nipper and his mates were? Why?
  • Have attitudes to conflict changed in the past century, and if they have or haven’t, why?

To me, quality historical fiction inspires the reader to think beyond the story, to the what-ifs, and the why-dids, and this book has certainly done that on both the professional and personal level because between this and Last Man Out I am learning more and more about what my grandfather experienced and why he didn’t share his stories (even if I had known to ask) and how that shaped him, and ultimately me.  How being named after Lord Kitchener impacted my father’s life so that my brother, currently on his way to Villers-Bretonneux, will then make his way again to the  anniversary of the Battle of Crete where dad was captured on his 25th birthday – just two of those 100 000 stories that had their roots in those eight months on a remote Turkish beach. How many more will be inspired to investigate their own?

 

Easy Peasy

Easy Peasy

Easy Peasy

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Easy Peasy

Ky Garvey

Amy Calautti

EK Books, 2023

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

9781922539441 

When her dad gives her a pair of shiny, sparkly red roller skates for her birthday, Ruby is thrilled and can’t wait to try them out because she thinks roller-skating will be easy-peasy.  She rejects her dad’s offers of help even though she spends a lot of time wibbling and wobbling and crashing.  Luckily, she has all her safety gear on so her injuries are minimal although her pride is hurt and that night, instead of taking the skates to bed she throws them in the cupboard. Will she abandon them altogether, or will she be prepared to take her dad’s offer of help?

This is a story of resilience and perseverance as well as accepting that we can’t all be good at everything we try immediately.  That some things take instruction and practise and we need to be willing to put in the effort needed if we are to move forward and master the skill.  Sadly, some of our students have never experienced failure and so haven’t learned Ruby’s lessons yet, so this is a worthwhile discussion starter particularly as a new school year begins.  Growing and learning involves embracing new challenges and working at them one step at a time to maser them, understanding that mistakes are just opportunities to learn and develop.  Ruby can leave her new skates in the cupboard and never try again, or maybe she can have another go and discover a whole new world of friends and adventures.