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The Unstoppable Flying Flanagan

The Unstoppable Flying Flanagan

The Unstoppable Flying Flanagan

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Unstoppable Flying Flanagan

Felice Arena

Puffin. 2022

192pp., pbk., RRP $A16.99

9781761044366

Before Daisy Pearce, Darcy Veccio and Tayla Harris, even before Barb Hampson, Lisa Hardeman, and Debbie Lee, there was Maggie Flanagan.

Melbourne, 1942. So many husbands, fathers and brothers have enlisted including Maggie’s older brother Patrick, whom she idolises, although she idolises his football skills more and treasures the ball he left in her safe-keeping. Wherever she goes, when she is not at school, it is with her and she continually practises her skills, keeping a running commentary of an invisible game going in her head. 

And so when the new parish priest inspires the Year 5/6 students at her very traditional Catholic school to hold a fund-raiser for the troops abroad, Maggie knows that the sew and bake stalls are not for her (and being a girl, she’s not allowed to enter the build-and-race billycart event) and so she decides to stage an all-female football match.  But while women are slowly emerging from the domestic drudgery imposed on them by men who believe a woman’s place is, “barefoot, pregnant and in the kitchen” as they take over the roles left vacant by those who are now soldiers, playing football is not seen as something females do and so Maggie is faced with the enormous task of finding enough players to field two teams who not only have the skills but also the courage to stand up against the prejudice and ridicule. Can Carrots (as she is known to her dad, as I was to mine) prevail? Will her praying to the picture of Mary in Sister Gertrude’s office give her the people she needs? If she does, will they be allowed to play?  Will there be enough people interested in watching to actually raise some money?   

Inspired by a chance reading of a discarded newspaper on a train to Scotland,  as much as this story is about Maggie’s struggles to find players as she contends with the fearsome Sister Gertrude, the bullying Mickey Mulligan and the disdain of her own female friends, it is also about having the courage to be yourself and follow your dreams in the face of such odds.  Arena offers us Gerald whose dream is to sing and dance on stage; Elena who, of Italian heritage, is seen as a traitor even though she was born in Australia; Nora who seems to be the shadow of the haughty Frances but who has her own secrets, and a host of other “miss-fits” who make this such an engaging read for everyone. Who would think that Maggie would ever have any sympathy for Mickey Mulligan or that Grumpy Gaffney could save the day?  What is Sister Clare’s secret? 

While this is a fictional story, it was the courage and determination of the Maggie Flanagans of yesteryear who refused to be pigeon-holed, who refused to accept that they were less intelligent and less capable than men who paved the way for what is now not only the very successful AFLW but also for all those in what have been traditionally men’s sports and occupations. (Being the daughter of one such pioneer, I empathise with her strongly.) It’s a thoroughly researched, totally absorbing insight into a time not so long ago that is about so much more than footy that will appeal to independent readers who like historical fiction.  As Maggie would say, “A-women.” 

 

The Girl Who Could Fix Anything: Beatrice Shilling, World War II Engineer

The Girl Who Could Fix Anything

The Girl Who Could Fix Anything

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Girl Who Could Fix Anything: Beatrice Shilling, World War II Engineer

Mara Rockliff

Daniel Duncan

Walker, 2022

48pp., hbk., RRP $A27.99

9781406399004

A century ago, as Britain emerged from the horrors of World War I,  Beatrice Shilling wasn’t quite like other children. Instead of spending any pocket money on sweets, she bought tools. She could make anything. She could fix anything. And when she took a thing apart, she put it back together better than before. When Beatrice left home to study engineering, she knew that as a girl she wouldn’t be quite like the other engineers – and she wasn’t. She was better. Still, it took hard work and perseverance to persuade the Royal Aircraft Establishment to give her a chance. But when World War II broke out and British fighter pilots took to the skies in a desperate struggle for survival against Hitler’s bombers, it was clearly time for new ideas. Could Beatrice solve an engine puzzle and help Britain win the war?

This is the intriguing story of a remarkable woman whose dismissal of other’s opinions about what women should/could do, and whose ingenuity, persistence, and way with a wrench (or spanner) made her quite unlike anyone else, adding to the growing list of remarkable women whose ground-breaking stories are only just being told. For even though she changed the course of the war and was awarded an OBE , she retired 20 years later never having held a top post in the Royal Aircraft Establishment because even then in 1969, those jobs were only awarded to men.  Shilling is another woman to introduce students to when they are looking for heroes to investigate and model, and because this has a clear explanation of the problem with the Hurricanes and Spitfires and how it was solved, it will appeal to those with an interest in engineering and mechanics as well.  

An extended biography and selected resources for further exploration round out this amazing story. 

 

An Eagle in the Snow

An Eagle in the Snow

An Eagle in the Snow

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

An Eagle in the Snow

Michael Morpurgo

Michael Foreman

HarperCollins, 2016

272pp., pbk., RRP $A14.99

780008134174

November, 1940. Coventry has been bombed by the Germans and Barney and his mother have been left with nothing so they are on the train to London on their way to family and shelter in Cornwall.   But just as a neatly-dressed stranger enters their compartment, a lone Messerschmitt 109 begins strafing the train.  The engine driver makes a desperate dash to an upcoming tunnel, eventually stopping the train safely inside. 

But Barney is terrified of darkness and with no lights he can feel his panic rising.  The stranger has a box of matches but there are just five in it, and so, to distract Barney he lights one and begins to tell him a story…

There are two taglines on the front cover of this book, the first being “One moment that could have saved the world from war.”  And that is the story that the stranger tells Barney and his Ma.  An extraordinary tale based on the true story of Henry James Tandey, VC, DCM, MM, the most highly decorated private in the British Army in World War I, Morpurgo wrote the story after hearing of Tandey’s exploits and, like most of his stories, was compelled to  write it so that the unimaginable courage shown by those who have gone before becomes real for those of us who come after.

Which leads to the second tagline, this one from Jackie French- “Brilliant. Historical fiction at its most magnificent.” Because if there is an historical fiction novel with either Jackie French’s or Michael Morpurgo’s name on it then you know that not only are you in for a meticulously researched, intriguing read but that you will be changed for having read. And so it is  with this story.  Tagged as “the man who could have stopped World War II” Tandey’s story is woven into a narrative that reaches deep into the soul of anyone with direct ties to the carnage of the 39-45 conflict and makes them wonder how their own life might have been different if their father/uncle/brother/friend had not had to spend their youth in the hell that was Europe at the time. 

But this is not a facts-and-figures biography, although there is a brief synopsis of Tandey’s life included as a postscript – Morpurgo has taken the facts as they are known and woven them into a narrative that is as compelling for the reader as it is for Barney and his Ma.  Is there ever a time when doing the right thing could be the worst mistake you ever made?

This is a story for independent readers who enjoy real historical fiction (as opposed to a story set in another time) and who are ready to be entertained and educated at the same time.  It’s an easy read technically, but I, for one, wanted to know more and so new avenues have been opened for me to explore.  Not the least of which is once again, considering how my dad’s experiences as a POW in Stalag VIIIB and being force-marched across Poland as part of the German’s human shield shaped him and consequently, me.  

Australia Remembers 3: Len Waters Boundless and Born to Fly

Australia Remembers 3: Len Waters Boundless and Born to Fly

Australia Remembers 3: Len Waters Boundless and Born to Fly

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Australia Remembers 3: Len Waters Boundless and Born to Fly

Catherine Bauer

Big Sky, 2021 

60pp., pbk., RRP $A14.99

9781922488602

Kamilaroi man, Len Waters may have been born behind the gates of an Aboriginal reserve, but his big imagination and even bigger dreams took him soaring well beyond the reach of those who tried to confine him.

From his childhood days, Len Waters dreamed of taking to the skies. But being indigenous, born in the 1920s and with just a basic education restricted by rules and regulations, it was an unlikely dream at the time. However dreams can come true and from making his home-made model aeroplanes at his kitchen table,  his supportive family, determination, persistence and work ethic meant  he beat the odds to become Australia’s first known Aboriginal fighter pilot, flying RAAF fighter jets in the south west Pacific in World War II.

Len was a history maker, a young man who didn’t let society’s prejudice, his culture or skin colour stand in his way. But when WWII was over, Len sadly discovered that his service and courage did not result in equality. Len once said that, out of his RAAF uniform, he simply ‘returned to being a black fellow’.

Today, decades later, Len’s determination and achievements are recognised and honoured across Australia, his story now told in the third in this remarkable series that makes Australia’s military history accessible to younger readers. with its age-appropriate text, many coloured photos, and appealing layout. But more than that, it is one of a growing number of titles, which includes Dreaming Soldiers by the same author , that are at last, acknowledging the contribution made by our First Nations peoples and perhaps inspiring those of the current generation to also dream big. 

This series which includes Australia Remembers : ANZAC Day, Remembrance Day and War Memorials  and Australia Remembers 2: Customs and Traditions of the Australian Defence Force is a valuable addition to any library’s collection so that our students can learn about the significant events and people of the past that continue to shape us. Len Waters died in 1993, but books like this and The Missing Man are finally bringing his service to prominence and making him so much more than “a black fellow.”  I wonder what he would make of that. 

Pax, Journey Home

Pax, Journey Home

Pax, Journey Home

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pax, Journey Home

Sara Pennypacker

Jon Klassen

HarperCollins, 2021

256pp., hbk., RRP $A19.99

9780008470289

A year has passed since Peter and Pax have seen each other, since the separation of a once inseparable pair.

The war is over but the land has been left desecrated and deserted as the water supplies have been poisoned by heavy metals. Peter’s father has died in questionable circumstances and although Peter is back living with Vola, and his grandfather visits regularly, he believes that everything he loves he hurts and they leave him so he is determined to shut the world out and live alone.  After all, he is nearly 14.  

And so, the boy-man sets out on a journey to reclaim his old home; to join the Water Warriors, a band of people painstakingly cleaning up the polluted waterways to restore life -flora, fauna and human – to it;  and to keep the world at arm’s length and out of his heart forever. That way he can keep those he might love, safe. But is that possible?  He certainly didn’t count on meeting Jade, let alone her insight and wisdom. 

Meanwhile, Pax has adapted to the wild he did not seek; and has become father to a litter of kits, one of whom is an inquisitive, feisty female whom he must protect at all costs, particularly after she drinks deeply of the contaminated water. And as they continue their long journey home, Pax continually picks up the scent of the boy who abandoned him…

This is one of those stories that stays with you long after you reluctantly turn the final page, not just because of the power of the surface story but because the layers and  currents that run through it,just like those of the river that is at its heart – the river that put Peter back into old territory and provides Pax with safe passage from humans and predators. Although Pennypacker believed that she would not write another novel after Pax, clearly deep within her she knew there was more of this story to be told and this is the compelling sequel, one that kept me up well past my bedtime as I immersed myself in it, wanting to finish but knowing that when I did I would be left with that feeling that comes when an absorbing plot and great writing come together.

If you have mature, independent readers who can appreciate the nuances and parallels of what is between and beyond the words  then this is the duo for them.  Less sophisticated readers will enjoy the story for what it is, but it is those who are able to reach down to the deeper waters below the surface who will most appreciate it. 

Outstanding. 

 

Pax

Pax

Pax

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pax

Sara Pennepacker

Jon Klassen

HarperCollins, 2017

298pp., pbk., RRP $A14.99

9780008158286

War is coming and Peter’s father is answering the call to arms. But first he must deliver Peter to his grandfather’s care 300 miles away and before that, they must return the fox that has been Peter’s pet since it was a kit to the wild.

Pax and Peter have been inseparable since Peter found him, his mother killed by a car (as was Peter’s and their friendship has helped him come to terms with his anger and grief as his father dealt with his) and  his siblings having starved to death, so to abandon Pax to the wild  is heart-breaking.  But while Peter sort of understands why, Pax is bewildered when the car roars off while he is searching for a beloved toy Peter has thrown…

And so begins one of the most heart-warming, heart-wrenching stories of the love between human and animal that I’ve read for a long time. Told in alternating chapters between them, we follow Pax’s gradual adaptation to his new surroundings as he slowly comes to accept that Peter is not coming back, at the same time as we follow Peter’s journey back from his grandfather’s home determined to find him and reunite.  Neither feels whole without the other.  The author worked closely with an expert in fox behaviour, and as well as celebrating that limitless affinity that a child can have with an animal, tame or wild, she uses the two-voice perspective to explore and explain the issues in the story.

This is one for independent readers, or even a class read-aloud, with much to consider and discuss.  At the end of it, Pennepacker was not going to write another novel but eventually she did.  That book is  a sequel to this one – Pax: the Journey Home  – and it was receiving that to review that had me requesting Pax.  I am so glad I did. 

 

Anzac Girl: The War Diaries of Alice Ross-King

Anzac Girl: The War Diaries of Alice Ross-King

Anzac Girl: The War Diaries of Alice Ross-King

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Anzac Girl: The War Diaries of Alice Ross-King

Kate Simpson

Jess Racklyeft

Allen & Unwin, 2020 

32pp., hbk., RRP $A24.99  

9781760637019

It is 1914 and war has broken out in Europe and because of its ties to England, Australia is mobilising. On one of the ships leaving port is Sister Alice Ross-King who is not going for the adventure like so many of the men, but because her passion was nursing and her country needed her.

She thought she was ready but as the entry in her diary for April 29th, 2015, just four days after the Gallipoli debacle, shows, they were not… “I shall never forget the shock when we saw the men arrive covered in blood, most of them with half their uniform shot or torn away. They kept coming, seven at a time.  Soon all our beds were full and new ones were being brought in and put in every available corner…”

Written by Alice’s great-granddaughter and taken from the actual diaries of Australia’s most decorated woman, this remarkable book, a seamless weaving of text, diary entries and illustrations, offers an extraordinary insight into life during World War I for those at the front line. It begins as a love story but when her fiance is killed, Alice has to find a way to carry on despite her grief, to put her duty before her personal loss and feelings. 

As we are unable to commemorate Alice and all our other men and women in familiar ANZAC Day activities this year, sharing this story and others like it, is one way we can take ourselves back in time to remember just how it was we have arrived at where we are, and perhaps put any current hardships into perspective.  Perhaps older students could research the stories of one of their family members, trace their family tree and write the diary that that person might have written as their contribution to honoring those who have gone before in the absence of traditional tributes.

The Voyage

The Voyage

The Voyage

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Voyage

Robert Vescio

Amanda Edmonds

EK Books, 2019

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

9781925820034

Fourteen words. If books were priced based on the number of words the story had, then you would probably ask for your money back with this one, but those 14 words document a life-changing episode in one family – a family that could be any one of a number of those whose children we teach and will teach as conflict continues to circle the world. Just fourteen words to tell such a story that are more powerful than if there were 10 or 100 times that many. 

War displaces the family and their pet duck and so they must escape on a boat into the unknown. At first there is the CHAOS of the conflict; then there is the WILD ocean as a storm tosses the boat and overturns it;but BEAUTY awaits as they finally sight land ahead and at last they are SAFE.

But words alone are not enough and it is the remarkable and powerful watercolour illustrations that meld with those 14 words to tell an all-too familiar story of despair, hope, courage, resilience and joy. In fact, more mature readers might be able to empathise with the family and retell the story using an emotion for each page, perhaps sparking greater understanding and compassion  for their peers who have lived the nightmare.  But while those illustrations have strong words to convey, they have soft lines and gentle colours so the humanity and reality of the people is maintained and the reader is not turned off by page after page of darkness.. Again, older students could compare the illustrations and mood of this book with those of the 2019 CBCA Honours Book The Mediterranean

Accompanying notes tell us that both author and illustrator were driven by the need to tell what is becoming a common story so that there is greater understanding and compassion amongst those whose lives are less traumatic and through that, build stronger, more cohesive communities so that life is better, enriched and enhanced for everyone. Edmonds deliberately chose a Middle Eastern family as her centrepiece because of the richness of the culture so that the reader can appreciate the depth and meaning of what is being left behind – the dilemma  of leaving  all that is known and loved for the uncertainty of the unknown and the heartache and danger that either choice will bring.

Beyond the storyline itself, this is a book that so clearly demonstrates the critical, integral relationship between text and illustration, that a picture really is “worth a thousand words” , and often the picture book format is the most powerful way to tell a story.

Look for this one in the 2020 awards lists.

 

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,

 

 

Sonam and the Silence

Sonam and the Silence

Sonam and the Silence

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sonam and the Silence

Eddie Ayres

Ronak Taher

Allen & Unwin, 2018

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

9781760293666

When Sonam turns seven, she is deemed no longer a child and her big brother orders her to cover her hair and begin to work. But the streets of Kabul and its market are too loud and scary for Sonam, the cacophony making a storm in her head and so she runs.  As she runs, she hears a strange sound and follows it, finding an old man with milky eyes and a curved spine in a garden of mulberry and pomegranate trees.  In his arms he is cradling a rubat, making music that Sonam has never heard before because in Taliban Afghanistan music has been banned.  

The music captures Sonam’s heart and each day she visits the old man, learning to play the rubat that he has given her – the one he played as a child.  But when her brother hears her humming and investigates further, he takes Sonam’s rubat forbidding her to sing or play again.  And as the noise builds in her head again, and the roar of gunfire and rockets is so close, she becomes withdrawn and her heart shrinks.  Until one day, she knows she just has to go back to the pomegranate garden…

This is “a lyrical fable-like story by the well-known musician, author and broadcaster Eddie Ayres, about the irrepressible power of music.” Based on his own experiences in Afghanistan and a young girl he knew there, he challenges the reader to think what a world without music would be like, particularly as it is often the key connection between peoples with no other common language. But as Sonam discovers, even if there is no audible external sound, there is still music.  

Illustrated by Iranian-Australian visual artist Ronak Taher using sombre colours and many layers and textures, which offer uplifting features like Sonam floating above the noise and chaos of the city, this is a thought-provoking story about how other children live in other parts of the world, and, indeed, how some of those in our classes have lived. While music has now been allowed in Afghanistan, the six years that the silence reigned must have been devastating for those for whom music is as essential as food. Readers are challenged to consider what their life would be like if something they held dear was banned, and if others prevented them from indulging in it because of the dangers such behaviour could invite.  Ayres suggest an Australia without sport, but what about a country without books? As with no music, how would the stories be told and continued?

As Christmas draws closer and the hype escalates, this is a book to share and consider those whose lives are very different and for whom joy comes from something other than a brightly wrapped present.