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Lyla

Lyla

Lyla

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lyla

(Through My Eyes-Natural Disasters  series)

Fleur Beale

A & U Childrens, 2018

208pp., pbk., RRP $A 16.99

9781760113780

DISCLAIMER: This will be neither an impartial nor an unemotional review. For one who called Christchurch home for many years, particularly those formative years of my schooling and teacher education, and for whom so much that was so familiar is now gone, it is impossible to be objective when the places and events are so well-known.  Although I was not there during the earthquake I have made trips back and I still can’t get my head around it.

February 22, 2011 and life has returned to normal for Lyla and her friends Katie and Shona after the 7.1 magnitude earthquake struck – that’s if having the earth move under your feet several times a day and making a game of guessing the magnitude can be considered normal. Even the daily reminder of the main block of their school, Avonside Girls’ High, being damaged and unusable has been set aside as they try to do the things that 13 and 14 year olds students do. Caught in town at 12.51pm when ‘the big one’ hit, their lives are plunged into chaos as buildings collapse and  people panic as the air fills with dust making visibility almost impossible.

While it is possible to watch endless news coverage, read articles and information it is impossible to know what a natural disaster such as this is really like unless you are part of it and experience it for yourself.  So while I had watched and read and listened and learned, spoken to family and friends who were in the thick of it and even returned home and visited the backyard of such a major part of my life, it was not until reading Lyla that I got a real understanding of what it was to be in the moment.  Beale has drawn on stories of the events of the day and the months following and woven them into a narrative that is both scary and un-put-downable that illustrates not just individual heroism but that sense of community among strangers that seems to emerge when humans are put under such duress – made all the more haunting when you can picture the reality of the setting which is a well-known as the face in the mirror.

In the beginning, there is the fear for family and friends as both Lyla’s mother, a police officer and her father, a trauma nurse at Christchurch Hospital are unaccounted for and she is separated from Shona and Katie in the chaos as the SMS service goes into meltdown, and while they are eventually found to be OK that need to know family is safe means that all families have an earthquake plan much the same as Australians have a bushfire plan. The theme of needing to be with others is strong throughout as neighbours have a need to eat and sleep and be together even if they have a habitable home to go to, and enduring and unusual friendships and bonds are formed.   

There is also a strong thread of Lyla feeling powerless because of her age but finding things she can do that make a difference such as babysitting her neighbour’s children so their mother can return to the medical centre where she works; helping shovel the oozing, stinking liquefaction for elderly neighbours; setting up a charging station for those still without electricity… seemingly minor things within the big picture but nevertheless critical to her mental health at the time.

But like so many then and now, the situation becomes overwhelming. Despite hearing the harrowing tales of others and the rising death toll, and the news of the Japanese earthquake and tsunami and telling herself that compared to them she is in great shape, Lyla succumbs and needs qualified medical intervention.  This is another strength of the story – given that seven years on the city still has not recovered it was never going to have a happy, all-is-fine ending, so having Lyla denying help because the common thinking is that the people of Christchurch are somehow more resilient than others, that because her home isn’t munted she should be okay, but nevertheless accepting it and going some way towards recovery shines a light on the okay-ness of needing assistance to get things back in balance.  This particularly poignant in light of the subsequent increase in suicides, unprecedented demand for psychological help and the continuing need for support as there has been a 73% increase in the number of children who need support for mental health issues in Christchurch.

While this has been an emotional read for me, it and the others in both this series and its twin focusing on children living in conflict are essential elements of both the curriculum and the collection as they offer the ‘colour and detail’ to the stark monochrome sketches of news reports, websites and other information-only sources.  They are the blend of imagination and information that such fiction can offer that leads to insight and understanding.  

Seven years on, long after the event has disappeared from the news headlines and faded from the memories of those not directly involved,  the reality of that time is still in-your-face on every corner of Christchurch and will be for many years to come – Lyla and her friends will be 20 now, confronted by images and memories of that day still, just as anyone who has lived and loved Christchurch is.  For now Ruaumoko, the Maori god of earthquakes has settled a little (even though there were 25 quakes in the week preceding the anniversary, albeit peanuts compared to the 15669 on that day in 2011) but like her friends, family and all those who chose to remain in Christchurch to rebuild their lives and their city one wonders when he will wake again.

185 empty white chairs

185 empty white chairs surrounded by empty spaces, broken buildings and a gloomy sky – September 2015

 

 

Barney and the Secret of the French Spies

Barney and the Secret of the French Spies

Barney and the Secret of the French Spies

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Barney and the Secret of the French Spies

Jackie French

HarperCollins, 2018 

128pp., pbk., RRP $A14.99

 9781460751305

Barney first met the mysterious Elsie hiding under a rock and, like him, eking out an existence on the shores of Port Jackson in 1791 where he was an orphaned child, son of a convict and with no one and nowhere to call home.  Like Barney, she was eventually taken under the wing of the Reverend and Mrs Johnson but she remained an enigma for she never spoke.  On one or two very rare occasions, Barney did hear her utter something but it was so fleeting he thought he was hearing things. 

Now, in this 4th in this series that features Barney telling of his life while uncovering some of the secrets of this country’s early beginnings, Elsie’s story is told at last.  While Barney is beginning to prosper on his farm on the Parramatta River, Elsie has stayed in Sydney Town with the Johnsons and become a sought-after cook by the colony’s elite like Mrs Macarthur. But when word comes that she is desperately ill, perhaps with typhus, Barney hastens to her side in the isolation hut at the hospital and while she doesn’t have typhus it soon becomes clear why she has been put in isolation.  For in her delirium she cries out and while to Barney’s ear she is speaking gobbledygook, both Mrs Johnson and Mrs Macarthur recognise it as French!  They also recognise the dire consequences if Elsie’s nationality is discovered for once again, England and France are at war.

Acknowledging his  enduring love for Elsie and his intention to marry her, Barney stays by her side as she recuperates, encouraged by both women for they believe that he is the only one one that Elsie is likely to divulge her secrets to.  And what a secret it is….

The very best historical fiction weaves fact and fiction so closely together that the reader is left not only wondering what is true and what is imagined, but also wanting to discover more.  And so it is again with Jackie French’s masterful storytelling only this time the secret that Elsie discloses opens up so many pathways to wander down and explore that it is almost overwhelming.  Traditionally history has been told by men because only men were listened to and only the things men did were deemed important and so women and their achievements have been all but invisible. 

But they were there – often in disguise as Elsie’s great-aunt was – and making their mark in life if not in the history books! In the prologue the reader is warned that there are two secrets in this book – not just the story of Elsie but another one “every person needs to yell out loud” – the stories of the women in history that have been kept secret for centuries and generations; secrets that are slowly being uncovered and secrets that will never be discovered.   For it is only in this generation of women alive now that so many barriers have been battered down – even my own mother was expected to give up her hard-fought for job in journalism so a man returning from war could have employment –  that we can learn about the role of the women in our past and acknowledge and celebrate it. Through Elsie’s story and her author’s notes, Jackie not only builds awareness that the role of women goes far beyond anything we can imagine but also challenges us to expose it!

Whose secret will you share?

Butterfly Wishes (series)

Butterfly Wishes

Butterfly Wishes

 

 

 

 

 

Butterfly Wishes (series)

Jennifer Castle

Bloomsbury, 2018 

128pp., pbk., RRP $A9.99

Sisters Addie and Clara have just moved to a new house in the country, where they discover that their backyard is a gateway to the enchanted realm of magical butterflies called Wishing Wings. These special butterflies have the power to make wishes come true! 

Each story is complete with plenty of illustrations (the covers alone will inspire imagination) and contain a gentle life lesson as the problem and its resolution are explored.

This is a new series for newly independent readers, particularly girls, who are looking for something with sparkle, magic and the beginnings of fantasy.  While the first, The Wishing Wings,  is available now the others will be released in quick succession so these young readers do not have to wait too long to revisit this new magical world. 

A delightful new series that will encourage young readers to keep coming back for the next episodes.

 

Bobby the Plain-Faced Cattle Dog

Bobby the Plain-Faced Cattle Dog

Bobby the Plain-Faced Cattle Dog

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bobby the Plain-Faced Cattle Dog

Amy Curran

Pink Coffee Publishing, 2018

48pp., pbk., RRP $A14.95

9780646239307

Bobby was the last of Peggy’s litter of Australian cattle dogs to find a new home – some of his brothers and sisters had  already moved to new homes – but he was OK with that because he was just a puppy.  His mother consoled him and told him not to worry because he would find friends and “be accepted by others.”  Because Booby was different.  Instead of having the regular markings and patches of his breed, his face was plain.

He didn’t know he was a bit different until the other cattle dogs at his new home, when a farmer finally came to claim him, wouldn’t play with him and this saddened him  In fact it wasn’t until he befriended Mother Duck and she had him look in a pool of still water that he noticed the difference.  Was he going to spend his life being different and alone? It would seem so until something happens that makes Bobby a hero and finally he is accepted for who he is inside rather than what he looks like.

Based on a real dog and his experiences with other dogs, this story has a strong message of being accepted for who we are rather than what we look like.

Bullying, in all its facets, is certainly at the top of the agenda in these weeks following the suicide of Amy “Dolly’ Everett and there are calls from all quarters for it to be addressed, with the brunt of the expectations falling squarely on the shoulders of schools.  While the other dogs don’t nip or bite or otherwise abuse Bobby in what is the overt form of bullying, excluding him because of his looks is just as damaging and it makes a good discussion starter to raise the issue with young children so they can understand that bullying can take many forms and each can have unforeseen and unseen consequences.

Written for young, almost independent readers, this is the first in a proposed series that is designed to teach young children to look beyond exteriors because “It’s what on the inside that counts.”  There are teachers’ notes available as well as a plush toy that will give the story extra meaning.

 

 

 

 

Dino Diggers: Crane Calamity

Dino Diggers: Crane Calamity

Dino Diggers: Crane Calamity

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dino Diggers: Crane Calamity

Rose Impey

Chris Chatterton

Bloomsbury, 2018

24pp., pbk., RRP $A12.99

9781408872468

The Dino Diggers have a new project – this time they are building a new house for Mr and Mrs Triceratops and all the little ceratops. But not not all of them are working hard – Ricky Raptor the apprentice is day-dreaming about being a proper Dino Digger driver and he very nearly lands in all sorts of trouble because he is not concentrating.  Is he going to end up in the barrel of the cement mixer???

With its bright pictures and a cardboard model crane and brachiosaurus to build this will appeal to young readers who like big machines and dinosaurs.  Each dinosaur has its own personality so this series is great for encouraging young readers to recall what they already know and ponder on how the new story will evolve.

 

Mr Bambuckle’s Remarkables Fight Back

Mr Bambuckle's Remarkables Fight Back

Mr Bambuckle’s Remarkables Fight Back

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mr Bambuckle’s Remarkables Fight Back

Tim Harris

James Hart

Random House Australia, 2018

240pp., pbk., RRP $A14.99

9780143785873

The 15 students in Room 12B are not happy.  As they walk into class, they discover the aptly-named Miss frost writing a list of rules on the board, none of which inspire positive behaviour but promise dire consequences for the opposite.  “Discipline is the new order” is her mantra and she further inspires their love and co-operation (not) by handing out 11 pages of handwriting exercises, and then walks around criticising everyone’s efforts. 

The class that had been labelled misfits and miserables who were just beginning to blossom and bloom with their quirky but beloved Mr Bambuckle, fired by Principal Sternblast, started to shrink back as though they had been sprayed with weedkiller. 

But Vex Vron has a plan and it’s time to put it into action… but he will need the help of his classmates and their particular and peculiar powers.

Readers who took a shine to Mr Bambuckle in the first of this new series will be glad to see him making a quick comeback – is there anything worse than having to wait a year for a sequel?- while others might be comparing their new year’s teacher with him and wishing they could be in 12B too! Ideal for independent readers with its humour, identifiable characters, short chapters, copious illustrations and other inserts that break up the text, this series is a perfect read-aloud to break the ice of the new school year and to encourage even reluctant readers that there is much fun to be had between the covers of books – they just have to open them!

Great thing that the ending of this one sets things up perfectly for yet another sequel.

 

Friday Barnes: Never Fear (series)

Friday Barnes: Never Fear

Friday Barnes: Never Fear

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Friday Barnes: Never Fear

R.A. Spratt

Random House, 2018

256pp., pbk., RRP $A15.99

9780143784203

A new school term and Friday is dismayed to discover all her stuff is being moved out of the room she shares with best friend Melanie.  There is another surprise when she goes to investigate why with the Headmaster and instead of curmudgeonly old man she is expecting, she is greeted by a “woman in the mid-thirties, not much taller than Friday, wearing a smart fashionable suit”. To Friday’s dismay, Dr Belcredi has ordered that she be promoted to Year 12, away from Melanie and Ian and into a clique that doesn’t like the status quo being threatened by a young upstart, and a seriously intelligent one at that. She is concerned that she is one step away from being ousted from the one place she regards as home and where, despite her social awkwardness, she is nevertheless now liked and admired.

Sneaking out of school with Melanie to visit the old headmaster in hospital where he is in the cardiac ward, Friday gets the first hint that all is not as it should be but he has been paid off by the School Council and cannot afford to say any more. Solving a mystery for the nurses while she is there, Friday’s detective antennae are bristling and she knows that there is something afoot.

Combined with strange men in grey suits and a government car, dodgy builders who blow up a barn full of asbestos, a new headmistress who is not what she appears on paper and the underlying mystery/legend of the gold of Sebastian Dowell the founder of Highcrest Academy, this is an intriguing finale to this popular series – one that Miss 11 was delighted to find in its entirety in her Santa Sack and then to discover #8 sitting in the review pile was too much.  I was given 48 hours to read and review it!!

With Friday being so much like Miss 11 and so many other young ladies -intelligent, quirky, and a bit different from her peers but very comfortable in her own skin, yet deep down wanting to be just like them – she will be missed by her legion of followers but the beauty of this series is that it is one that can be read and read again, each time offering something new. Spratt has hit the mark with her target audience in this series and we eagerly await the new one, The Peski Kids.

The Susie K Files (series)

The Susie K Files

The Susie K Files

 

 

 

 

 

 

Life of the Party

9781760296681

Game Changer

9781760296698

Shamini Flint

Sally Beinrich

Allen & Unwin, 2018

112pp., pbk., RRP $A9.99

Susie K is nine years old and says she has mega-huge problems – problems as big as the Sydney Opera House, as tall as the Eiffel Tower and as massive as the pyramids of Egypt. But she is OK with that because she likes to use her scientific mind to solve them, and understanding the importance of keeping records of the trials she has to solve the problem, she has decided to keep a file on each one that she solves. 

Her first problem is that she loves animals but is allergic to fur so she has the class goldfish for her only pet.  Problems 2, 3 and 4 come in the shape of her family – firstly her dad who is a mad sports fanatic and Susie is not; then her brother Jack who is constantly putting her down;and  #4 is her mum who is a Sri Lankan refugee who had a very tough childhood and refers to it often so she now wants Susie to be a huge success at everything she tries, which would be impossible even if she didn’t have the ridiculous name of Susanna Saathiavanni Kanagaratnam-Smith. Why couldn’t she just be Susie Smith? But being like most little girls, Susie is keen to please her mum and does her best to do so.

At school, Susie prefers the people in books to the people in real life so she’s not the most popular person, which she doesn’t mind and is relieved when she is no longer invited to parties and other social occasions. But when her mum discovers she was the only one not at a class pool party, her mum decides to do something about it even though Susie begs her not to get involved because parents sticking their noses in does not always have a happy outcome. And so Operation: Life of the Party begins…

In the second in the series, Game Changer, her mother is thrilled that Susie is competing in the school sports carnival but when you are no good at sport and actually hate them, the problems start.

This is a new series that will really support newly-independent readers with its graphic-novel type format as much of Susie’s thoughts  and conversations are in a cartoon-like style that not only moves the action along but adds greater depth to Susie’s character as she works her way through the issues.  Many girls will see themselves in Susie’s shoes, if not with the family background but definitely with the problems she has and they will gain insight and perhaps hope that with some lateral thinking, there isn’t anything that can’t be negotiated or solved – without a parent interfering! 

A read-alone rather than a read-aloud, this is an intriguing new series that deserves a place in your collection.

Women in Science

Women in Science

Women in Science

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Women in Science

Jen Green

DK, 2018

64pp., hbk,, RRP $A14.99

9780241315958

More and more as news coverage reports scientific breakthroughs, it is a woman who is the face of the science rather than the stereotypical man in a white coat.  Women leading scientific discoveries is not a new phenomenon, as this new DK publication demonstrates with its introductory section about scientists of ancient times, but at last it is becoming understood and accepted that science is not “bizniz bilong men”.

Written especially for young readers who are verging on independence or who have made that journey, this book links the achievements of just a handful of women who have made significant contributions to their field of study.  Familiar and unfamiliar names are included as well as a brief introduction to just some of the fields that come under the science umbrella, encouraging the reader to perhaps be the next big name. There is a quiz to spark further investigations as well as the characteristic DK attention to detail in the layout and supporting clues and cues. 

As well as introducing young readers to the work of these remarkable women, there is scope for it to be the springboard as they answer the questions, “Who would you add? Why?’

Thomas & Friends Character Encyclopedia

Thomas & Friends Character Encyclopedia

Thomas & Friends Character Encyclopedia

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thomas & Friends Character Encyclopedia

Julia March & Rona Skene

DK Publishing, 2018

180oo., hbk., RRP $A129.99

9780241310106

One might wonder if the Reverend Wilbert Awdrey  ever thought that the stories about trains that he created in 1943 to amuse his son Christopher while he recovered from measles would still be creating such interest and joy all these years later.  While there are photos of him with the realisation of his creations not long before his death in 1997, 20 years on the characters and stories about them are as popular as ever.

Now, in this new release from DK, little ones are able to learn more about the Island of Sodor, its trusty railway system run by The Fat Controller and each of the steam engines he is in charge of, each with the common goal of being Really Useful.  There is the Steam Team comprising Thomas the Tank Engine,   Edward the Blue Engine, Henry the Green Engine, Gordon the Big Engine, James the Red Engine, Percy the Small Engine,Toby the Tram Engine and Emily the Stirling Single Engine as well as Harold the Helicopter, Sir Topham Hatt, and all the other steam engines, diesels, vehicles, and characters from Sodor.

Each has its own entry describing where they fit in, what they do and a lot of other information and photographs that will make them come alive for the young reader.  

Not only would this be a great addition to the home library of the young Thomas fan who can begin to relate to books as being sources of information as well as imagination using both the contents and index to find their favourites, but at this time of the year with thousands of littlies starting big school for the first time, it is a familiar link between the familiarity of home and preschool and this new, often overwhelming world that they are venturing into.  A display of Family Favourites featuring all those familiar faces was a top priority for the first few weeks of school and this one, with its cute little Thomas that rolls along the top of the book, would be the perfect addition.