Reviews

We review some of our favourite books ..

Reviews

Aussie Legends AlphabetAussie Legends Alphabet by Beck Feiner

Put simply, this is a traditional alphabet book with a fun, informative and patriotic twist!

From Adam Goodes to Steve Irwin, Aussie Legends Alphabet features an A-Z list of some of Australia’s most iconic personalities, visually depicted within the shape of their corresponding letter of the alphabet.

The letter Z is always the bane for any author attempting to write an alphabet book, and Beck Feiner uses it to deliver her comedic punch at the end of the book, celebrating everyday Aussies- the Shazzas, Wazzas, Kezzas and Bazzas- and giving a nod to our iconic shortening of names and words (of which I learned in this book there are over 5000 in our Australian lexicon).

Short and punchy descriptions of each icon sit alongside the bold and distinct graphic illustrations, with an appendix that can be found at the back of the book sharing more detailed mini biographies including birth dates, birth places and significant achievements.

'G is for Julia Gillard. She smashed the glass ceiling and achieved something that no Australian woman ever had.'

Beck Feiner does well to represent a cross-section of famous personalities, some immigrants and some born in Australia, covering a range of areas and industries including sport, politics, art, pop culture, medicine, human rights, literature, journalism, history, music, wildlife, conservation and science.

Beautifully presented with hardcover and matte pages, Aussie Legends Alphabet makes a great keepsake and is highly recommended for all readers- the young and the old, the curious and the nationalistic. It can be complemented with an Aussie Legends Alphabet Poster perfect for the home and the classroom.

By Jackie

Turtles All the Way Down by John Green

John Green has been very public about his struggle with mental illness and anxiety and it is this experience that he brings to the story of Aza. Sixteen-year-old Aza has lived with crippling anxiety for most of her life. Getting stuck in what she refers to as “thought spirals”, Aza obsesses over microbes carrying germs through her body and infecting her with disease. She knows this is not rational but is powerless to stop the thoughts from entering her mind. When billionaire Russell Pickett goes missing, Aza and her best friend Daisy become determined to solve the mystery and claim the $100,000 reward. Along the way, Aza reconnects with Pickett’s son Davis and is given a glimpse into his world of the super-rich. Aza tries to be the best daughter, student, friend, and even girlfriend, that she can but constantly finds herself derailed by uncontrollable thoughts that could ultimately put her in danger. Aza must learn to navigate her life and relationships with the constant presence of a mind that will not go quiet.

Turtles All the Way Down is classic Green – troubled teen narrator, quirky best friend, witty and sharp dialogue, romantic scenes under the stars – but it is also an unflinching look at mental illness. Parts of Aza’s story can feel repetitive, and she is at times frustrating – for herself, the people around her and the reader - but that is the nature of her anxiety. This book was five years in the making and I am not sure it is the masterpiece readers have been waiting for, but it is an ultimately enjoyable story, in the way John Green novels often are. Fans of The Fault in Our Stars will enjoy this one. Recommended.

                                                   By Erin 

 

 

Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein

In 1943 a British spy plane crash lands in Nazi occupied France. The pilot and passenger are best friends, two women navigating their roles in the second world war in a male dominated British armed forces. Julie was raised in the Scottish aristocracy. Young, smart, beautiful, with a knack for foreign languages and the ability to think quickly on her feet, it is not long before she is recruited as a spy. Maddie has always loved machines but it is aeroplanes that have won her heart. A talented pilot, she is unofficially recruited by the Airforce to transport aircraft to various bases in the cover of darkness. When the pilot for Julie’s mission never arrives for duty, it is Maddie who raises her hand in his place. It should be a straightforward flight but when it looks as though a crash landing is imminent, Julie parachutes from the plane, leaving Maddie to navigate the landing. From then on, the two women experience very different situations. Julie is captured by the Nazis. We hear her story as she tells it to her interrogators. Her battle is lost before it is even begun, the outcome inevitable. Maddie is rescued by the French resistance. Living in hiding, she works with the resistance to fulfil Julie’s mission while waiting for the opportunity to return to England. Both women display extraordinary courage and despite the distance between them, their love for each other is enduring.

This is an extraordinary novel and one of the best stories I have read in a long time. It is difficult to speak about without referencing the literary devices that make this such a compelling and ultimately devastating read. Based on true accounts of female pilots and spies during WWII, the author’s research adds a level of authenticity that is crucial. Along with their courage, the women display a fear that is tangible. They are human and therefore fallible, thrown into situations that most of us can not imagine, but the time was an unusual one and both women rise to the challenges that befall them as a result. The novel is divided in to two parts, told in turn by Julie and Maddie, their stories both complement and contradict each other. It is not long before we, as the reader, begin to question whether everything we are reading is true. This would make a worthy addition to a middle secondary classroom, both as a demonstration of historical fiction but also wonderful writing. Highly recommended. For more of Julie’s story, read the pre-qual The Pearl Thief.

By Erin

 

Wilder Country by Mark Smith

Wilder Country is the sequel to The Road to Winter, a post-apocalyptic story set on the Victorian coast, and begins a number of months after events in the previous novel. Finn, Kas and Willow have survived the winter in Finn’s home. After the death of Kas’s sister, Rose, during childbirth, and the subsequent kidnapping of Rose’s daughter Hope, Finn and Kas vowed to rescue the child and raise her. Now spring is coming and the time has arrived for them to embark on the dangerous journey to find Hope. Leader of the Wilders, Ramage, wants their blood and will do anything to find them. But to find Hope they must find Ramage, a journey that could end their lives in more than one way.

As a sequel, Wilder Country does not disappoint, you could almost read both books together as one continuous story. Smith revisits a dangerous and unforgiving environment during a time of desperation and survival. We are reminded of the catastrophic disease that caused the death of millions (including Finn’s parents) and the incarceration and enslavement of refugees like Kas and Rose. It is a life that Kas finds difficult to leave behind, one that was often violent and has left her wary of others. Finn, on the other hand, is navigating his journey to manhood alone. Unsure of how to address his feelings for Kas, he has also been saddled with the responsibility of looking after a child when he is barely out of childhood himself. He must make difficult decisions but despite several tests of his morality, survival is paramount. There is something gritty and raw about Australian dystopia that gives this story a sense of reality that is unnerving. I eagerly await further books from this author. Highly recommended.

By Erin

The Getaway: Diary of a Wimpy Kid by Jeff KinneyThe Getaway: Diary of a Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney

Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Getaway was a great book about Greg Heffley and his family. The Getaway is the 12th book in the Diary of a wimpy kid series so if you haven’t read the first 11 I would highly recommend them. It is about Greg, his two brothers and his mom and dad. They go to Isla de Corales for a holiday because that was where Greg, Rodrick  and Manny’s mom and dad had their honeymoon.  I bought this book and sat down straight away and started to read it . It was so funny and a brilliant mix of cartoons and words. A great read.

By Toby Richardson, aged 9 (grade 3)

The antics continue in the Diary of a Wimpy Kid – The Getaway. This is the 12th book released in the series and the hilarious situations that Greg Heffley finds himself in are even more embarrassing than before. A family holiday to an amazing resort is planned for the Heffley family for Christmas, how exciting. Greg is looking forward to so many epic adventures by the seaside, but that is all about to change as danger and disaster follow. Too much sun, stomach upsets and dangerous creatures all set out to ruin the family’s Christmas Vacation. Will Greg find a way to redeem himself and turn this family holiday around?

By Tanya 

Fly Me Home by Polly Ho YenFly Me Home by Polly Ho-Yen

There was so little of us in these rooms.  Our things were here of course… But there were no happy memories made here, no stories that these walls could tell… It didn’t seem possible that this was now the place we called home.

Age: Upper Primary/Lower Secondary

Themes: Displacement, family, friendship and magic

After Leelu, her mother and brother are forced to flee their homeland, leaving behind her father, Leelu struggles to feel settled and happy in her new environment.  London feels cold and colourless compared to their real home, she feels out of her depth at school and she yearns for her father to join them.  The only comfort she gets in this alien place comes from mysterious objects she finds, seemingly hidden just for her.  She discovers that the objects hold a certain magic that she can use to get through difficult situations.

When her older brother Tiber gets caught up in a local gang and Leelu discovers that her father is actually incarcerated in their home country, Leelu, her mother and brother need to find a new equilibrium to survive.

Polly Ho-Yen manages to tackle some pretty complex themes in a way that is appropriate and engaging for young readers.  Leelu’s feeling of displacement is very easy to empathise with, and the family dynamic is relatable. It wasn’t until events spiralled towards the end that I started to feel the book would be more suited to a lower secondary audience, rather than a primary audience, with readers seeing the aftermath of a violent situation for Tiber and feeling Leelu’s fear.  That said, the language and tone of the book would suit younger readers and there are many uplifting moments to maintain a sense of hope for the reader.  Leelu’s friendships with her elderly neighbour Bo (which I couldn’t help but think was a reference to Boo Radley in To Kill a Mockingbird), the girl next door Betsy and a wonderful teacher Ms Doyle are highlights, and Ho-Yen manages to weave in magical elements to a very real story in a way that is both believable and effective.

Bring the tissues for this one, but you’ll be crying happy tears by the end.

 Review by Tegan 

 

The Goldfish Boy by Lisa ThompsonThe Goldfish Boy by Lisa Thompson

“If-if I don’t clean… If I don’t keep cleaning then I’ll get sick and someone around me could die.  Because of me.”

Age: Upper Primary/Lower Secondary (it’s quite long)

Themes:  OCD, grief, fitting in and a mystery

From his self-imposed confinement to his bedroom, 12 year old Matty feels like he can control the deadly germs that are everywhere in the world outside his bedroom window.  His OCD has reached a point where he can no longer attend school, and children in the neighbourhood have started to refer to him as the goldfish boy, as they only ever see him peering out his bedroom window.

His obsessive note taking and detached observations of the outside world become much more significant when Matty becomes the last person to see the toddler staying next door before he disappears.  The solving the mystery of the disappearance gives Matty a sense of purpose, gradually drawing him out of his sterile bubble, and facilitating connections with people from beyond the window.  His progress allows him to finally begin to tackle the heartbreaking root of his OCD – the death of his newborn brother when Matty was 7 and suffering from the chickenpox.

In the tradition of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time and Wonder, The Goldfish Boy invites young readers to view the world through a different lense.  Lisa Thompson introduces a range of quirky characters and encourages us to celebrate their differences rather than judge.  Perfect for lower secondary level students, the trickiest theme tackled is the death of Matty’s brother, but it’s in a very indirect and non-confronting way.  The only thing making it possibly too advanced for a classroom text in the upper primary levels is the length - it’s quite long for this level, but great for an enthusiastic reader.

Review by Tegan

 

Exchange of Heart by Darren Groth

Exchange of Heart by Darren Groth 

I’m not like all those made-for-TV teens.  I’m here because my little sister never made it, and I’m stuck with the fallout of her death.

Age: Middle-Senior Secondary

Themes: Grief, disability, mental health

Still facing the aftermath of his younger sister’s death, Munro embarks on a school exchange from Canada to Australia – his sister Evie’s favourite country.  While on the surface Munro initially seems to others as quite well adjusted and optimistic, he has an internal voice, the Coyote, who capitalises on Munro’s self doubt and grief, often causing panic attacks or angry episodes.  We realise that Munro has been floundering since Evie’s death – much of his identity had been in his role as an older brother and caregiver for Evie, and he doesn’t know who he is without her.

When Munro first finds out that as part of his exchange he will be volunteering at an assisted care residence, Fair Go, he doesn’t feel that he will cope.  His sister had had Down syndrome and he fears Fair-Go will bring his badly suppressed grief to the surface.  As it turns out, volunteering with the residents at Fair Go becomes the only solace Munro can get from the Coyote.

Of course, Fair Go is not really an escape from the realities of life.  Munro eventually has to face his grief, rather than hiding from it.  With the help of his Fair Go crew, Bernie, Shah, Blake, Dale, Iggy and Florence, Munro starts to rebuild and find direction again.

Darren Groth creates a really nice world for readers, with a lovely blend of humour and heartbreak.  I found it a little bit cheesy at times, but this actually made me like it more.  I’d happily recommend it for middle to senior secondary students – as while some points were quite emotional, the hope and optimism shone through at all times.

Review by Tegan

 

Superpowerless by Chris PriestleySuperpowerless by Chris Priestley

But with his mother out, David’s thoughts are uniformly dark. The certainties of his superhero comics and the lurid thoughts of sex flee his mind and all available space is filled with a cloying blackness.

Age: Senior Secondary

Themes: Grief, suicide, fantasy/reality, relationships

After the death of his father, sixteen-year-old David has shut himself off from others and favors the superhero fantasies in his head to the reality of his life.  He spends the majority of his time in his attic bedroom, that had originally been his father’s workspace, reading his father’s old comics.  His only real interest in the outside world is his view from the attic window, particularly perving on his young neighbor Holly who is often in her backyard sunbathing in a bikini.

It quickly becomes apparent that David’s recurring superhero fantasy is the closest he gets to grieving for his father.  He imagines himself in superhero form pulling a sinking car from a river, but constantly being thwarted by a blinding nemesis and failing to save the man in the car.  The chapters are broken up by comic strip drawings, sometimes depicting reality and sometimes depicting the superhero fantasy.

As David is deliberately written in a way that is distant from the reader, due to his depression and shut off personality, I found it quite hard to connect with the character until quite close to the end.  As meaningful human connections are challenging to him at this stage, his relationships to others are problematic, particularly to women.  He views his neighbor Holly as an object to be observed and saved and seems confused when she rejects this take.  His potential romantic suitor, Ellen, is also treated as a conquest and her personality is overlooked in favor of his feelings.  I was really hoping that Chris Priestley would rectify this through character growth, and he did to an extent, but it didn’t come until quite close to the end.

It’s definitely more for senior secondary students, as the sexual thoughts are quite blatant, infidelity is tackled, there’s a bit of swearing and the theme of suicide is explicit with David’s father and there are suggestions that David is being watched closely for this due to his depression.  I don’t think I am the target audience – while I appreciated how Priestley tackled the themes, I think older teenagers, particularly teenaged boys would have an easier time connecting to David.

Review by Tegan

 

The Great Rabbit Chase by Freya BlackwoodThe Great Rabbit Chase by Freya Blackwood

With endpapers that double as a board game, I was always going to love this book! And it’s the kind of ingenious feature that will have young readers choosing this book from the bookcase each and every time.

The clever use of the endpapers to extend the story certainly demonstrates the brilliant and creative mind of Freya Blackwood. Highly acclaimed, Freya has previously illustrated books such as My Two Blankets, The Runaway Hug and Go to Sleep, Jessie! The Great Rabbit Chase is unique though, in that Freya has written AND illustrated this divine picture book.

Freya’s talent for representing authentic and believable characters and families is evident in this book, starting with Mum, who has brought a home a rabbit from the shops,  instead of the gumboots she intended to buy, and is appropriately named Gumboots.

The rabbit runs away and the family makes a quick dash to chase him through the town. Along the way we are introduced to all the neighbours, strengths and quirks and all, who all pitch in to help including mum wrapped in a towel fresh from the shower, Edith with a walker and a plate of cakes, John the Lollipop Man and Mrs Finkel pushing her baby in a pram.

Gumboots leads the community to the big park where they stop, observe, giggle, paddle in the creek before he leads them home with a new litter of bunnies.

This is a sweet family story, with themes of family, community, pet ownership, team work and stopping to smell the roses. It is so beautifully executed with illustrations that complete the story and a subtle humour (because we’ve all been that mum…most needed just at that moment we’re in the shower!).

Highly recommended for families and children aged 3+

Review by Jackie

 

One of Us is LyingOne of Us is Lying by Karen M McManus

Five students at Bayview High School have been called to detention on the same afternoon. Bronwyn, the brain; Addy, the beauty; Nate, the bad boy; Cooper, the jock; and Simon, the outcast. At the end of detention Simon is dead. The publisher of a notorious gossip app, Simon has made many enemies. The police rule his death an accident, but the next day he had planned to post revealing secrets about the other four students. As the investigation progresses, the other four students become suspects and the centre of a media circus. Despite the stereotypes, none are what they seem and the more they get to know each other, they more they suspect that something is missing from the investigation.

This is a compelling and enjoyable read. Despite the use of tired clichés (the jock, the beauty, the bad boy, etc) and obvious comparisons to The Breakfast Club, as the novel progresses stereotypes are broken down and the characters develop some depth. The novel is narrated by our four suspects and follows them as they form unlikely friendships and work together to solve the mystery of Simon’s death. Is Bronwyn the good girl she always seems to be? Can Addy find her identity after breaking up with her boyfriend? Can Nate forgive his estranged mother? Can Cooper come to terms with the big secret that will change his life? There is just the right amount of romance and humour and I found myself reading into the wee hours on more than one occasion. This is a fairly predictable mystery, I worked out the ending not too far into the book, but it is captivating reading nonetheless. Recommended for fans of We Were Liars.

                                                   By Erin

 

Beautiful MessBeautiful Mess by Claire Christian

Since losing her best friend to suicide, Ava’s life has not been going well. Ava and Kelly were friends from primary school and lived in each other’s pockets. Ava doesn’t know who she is without Kelly and cannot reconcile her grief with her anger. For the last few months she has been wagging school to hang out with Kelly’s brother Lincoln, a relationship she does not fully understand or necessarily want, drinking too much and lashing out. She sees herself making destructive choices but is at a loss to stop. Gideon suffers from depression and anxiety. Painfully shy and constantly uncomfortable in social situations, Gideon relies on coping strategies to keep his anxiety at bay. But things are getting better, he is gradually getting braver and starting to make plans for his future. A group of amateur poets have become his saviours and close friends. When Gideon and Ava meet while working at Magic Kebab, they could not be more different. But as their friendship grows they begin to realise that they have come into each other’s lives at exactly the right moment.

This is a tender, funny and heart-felt novel about grief and mental illness and the healing power of friendship. Ava’s grief is raw, she is consumed by anger (both at Kelly and the world in general) and sadness and feels that no one understands her. As she finds moments of happiness with Gideon, she also feels guilt. How can she possibly laugh when Kelly is not around to laugh with her? Gideon is smart, funny and caring but an experience with bullying (one that triggered his mental illness) has made him wary of showing his true self to others. Ava seems unattainable – she is a beautiful enigma that he has only ever viewed from afar at school. However, when the two connect they realise that not only do they have more in common than not, but they have a lot to teach each other as well. Their relationship is gentle and warm but inevitably coloured by their past experiences and the realities of what they are going through. This is Claire Christian’s first novel (winner of the 2016 Text Prize) and an accomplished one at that. Ava and Gideon are likeable, though flawed, and complex. Surrounding them is a varied cast of characters that are diverse but never tokenistic, something that is not easily achieved. This is a really lovely and enjoyable read that could easily have become extremely dark, given the subject matter. There is always hope and humour to lift the tone and I found myself not wanting to let go of the characters. Highly recommended.

by Erin

 

Figgy Takes the CityFiggy Takes the City by Tamsin Janu

This is the third novel about Figgy, a loveable young girl with one eye growing up in Ghana, but can easily be read as a stand-alone novel. Figgy is an eleven-year-old girl living with her Grandma Ama, a number of cousins and her best friend Nana, a boy abandoned by his family. The village is relatively poor, money is always very tight, but Figgy is surrounded by love and seeks opportunities wherever she can find them. When she and Nana receive scholarships to a private school in the city, Figgy knows that she must go, though she will miss her family terribly. On arrival, Figgy is met with many challenges – difficult subjects, sharing a room with girls she doesn’t know, sleeping in a bed on her own, her first hot shower – but she meets each with humour and courage. Nana is determined and strong. After a failed attempt by his father to sell him into slavery, Nana has lived with Figgy and become one of her family, nurtured and loved by Grandma Ama. After a fight with Figgy’s uncle, with whom the children spend weekends, Nana runs away. On his return Nana is secretive and changed, no longer sharing everything with Figgy. Figgy is hurt but determined to find out what is going on. Where does Nana spend his weekends? Why does he come home covered in bruises and burns? What secrets is he hiding? Fed up with the lack of answers, Figgy follows Nana and finds him staying with a family in a slum and joining the children in sifting through the rubbish tip for items to sell. Nana has decided that he must pay back Grandma Ama for her kindness and will not stop working until he has done so. When bulldozers arrive to knock down the slum, and knowing the residents have nowhere else to go, Nana and Figgy become involved in an impromptu protest for their new friends.

There is so much to love about this novel. Figgy and Nana are wonderful characters – cheeky, smart, caring, with a social conscience, a deep sense of community and respect for education. For many Australian children, life in Ghana will be eye opening to say the least. Readers will be confronted by the lack of electricity and accessible education in Figgy’s village. While she herself is relatively lucky, she talks about children who have to work rather than go to school and Nana’s brush with slavery (as detailed in Figgy and the President). There are absent parents (Figgy and her cousins are being raised by their Grandmother) and children who fend for themselves. But there is also opportunity, which is not taken for granted. Though she is scared and misses her family terribly, Figgy knows that to attend school in the city is a great opportunity that she must not squander. It is so refreshing to read a story about children who enjoy school and see it for the beneficial experience that it is, especially for children in low socio-economic areas. Grandma Ama is a fierce matriarch and protector and perhaps my favourite character. This book presents many opportunities for discussion around developing nations, education, slums, poverty and the family unity. Highly recommended.

By Erin

Take Three GirlsTake Three Girls by Cath Crowley, Simmone Howell and Fiona Wood

How exciting to have three award-winning YA authors writing together in the one book. Expectations were high with this one and definitely lived up to. Crowley, Howell and Wood have created three distinct female characters in Clem, Ady and Kate. Thrown together as part of their elite school’s Wellness Program (brought about as a response to cyber bullying) the three girls navigate new friendships, relationships and bullying together, discovering that they have more in common than they thought possible. Uber smart Kate is tempted to throw away her future in medicine to pursue her passion for music. Ady is one of the popular girls – rich and bitchy, they take apart everyone else and revel in their downfall. But Ady wants more, she wants to explore her creativity and is becoming tired of the fake persona she feels obligated to present to her “friends”. Clem is a champion swimmer but her passion is being redirected to a boy who may just be her first love. All three girls are targeted by PSST, a toxic and misogynistic blog that targets girls at their school with harmful gossip. No one knows who is behind the site, but the three girls are determined to find out and bring it down.

This is essentially a story about female friendship and those lasting friendships that are made during the formative years at school. It is also a look at the social norms that determine how the three girls would usually interact with each other and the gender stereotypes and misogyny that keep sites like PSST alive. PSST feels real, the kind of that occasionally pops up in the media and creates outrage for a time. Most interestingly in this portrayal is not only the role the boys play but also the reaction of fellow girls, who obviously relish the gossip and takedown of other female students. It is sickening, and not unrealistic. There are some hard lessons to be learned – the price of following your dreams, sibling relationships, first love, sex – but much hope for the future. Fans of all three authors will love this novel. Highly recommended.

By Erin 

Our Race for Reconciliation by Anita Heiss

Mel is a 10 year old Murri girl growing up in Ipswich. 2000 was an important one in Australian history, but for Mel it holds particular significance. Mel is a runner and her hero Cathy Freeman will be competing in the Sydney Olympics. When Mel’s parents announce that the family is to travel to Sydney, Mel is sure that her dream of seeing Cathy Freeman at the Olympics is about to come true. However, it turns out that the family will be taking part in Corroboree 2000 and the inaugural National Walk for Reconciliation across the Harbour Bridge and the experience turns out to be more important to Mel than she could have predicted. This is a lovely story of family, community and identity. Of a young girl striving to be her best and begin to find her place as a young Indigenous woman within society. The author touches on the stolen generation, Australian history (Mel is encouraged to think critically of a European version of events), racism and prejudice. She presents a family full of love and fiercely proud of their Indigenous identity. Through the actions of Mel’s twin brother, the author also suggests that ignorance should be met with grace, intelligence and dignity.

Great for year 7, particularly paired with Cathy Freeman’s Born to Run as they are of a similar level. The writing style makes large concepts – such as the stolen generation, the need for a National Apology, reconciliation and Indigenous Rights – accessible to younger readers and would be a worthwhile introduction to such topics. Recommended.

By Erin

The Fall by Tristan Bancks

After a recent leg operation, 12-year-old Sam is living with his estranged father for the first time. The pair are practically strangers, but Sam has been dreaming of this opportunity his whole life. Sam’s father, Harry, is a crime reporter and Sam imagines him to be a man of mystery and intrigue, but this is far from the reality. After a brief discussion, Harry leaves the dingy apartment one night, telling Sam he is going out for milk. He doesn’t return. Meanwhile, Sam is woken by loud voices in the apartment above and witnesses a body fall to the ground below. While leaning over the balcony for a better look, Sam is spotted by a mysterious man and instantly knows his life is in danger. What ensues is a suspenseful 24 hours played out within the apartment building. As Sam attempts to hide, survive and unravel the mystery, he is hampered by his wounded leg which adds another level to the suspense. The novel is easily accessible and fast paced, ideal for reluctant readers in lower secondary. Recommended.

By Erin

 

 

 

Living on Hope Street by Demet Divaroren

Set in the Western suburbs of Melbourne, Living on Hope Street follows six characters who all live on the same street. Kane and Sam are brothers who live with their mother. The victims of years of domestic violence, their father has finally gone too far and their mother has taken out a court order against him. But fear is never far away. Teenage Kane is determined to protect his family at any cost. 7-year-old Sam, however, is so terrified that he wets himself at school and finds it difficult to make friends. Their mother Angie feels like a failure as a mother but is determined to protect her children once and for all. Mrs Aslan lives next door. Having emigrated from Turkey 30 years before, her husband has died, she is estranged from her only daughter and longs for the granddaughter she hasn’t seen in ten years. The boys next door are her saviours and she dotes on them like any grandmother. She will protect them as best she can. Mrs Asla’s granddaughter Ada is growing up but feels stifled by her strict mother with her traditional views. After an embarrassing incident at a party, and a big falling out with her mother, Ada begins to wonder if all she has heard about her grandmother is true and sets out to find her. Gugulethu and her family are new to Australia from Sudan. Everything is different, the family has virtually nothing, but they are safe and grateful to be so. Despite the hardships of trying to fit in to a new country, the family remain dignified and united. Gugulethu misses the family she has lost and still has fears of the men who burnt down their house, a fear that unites her with Sam and the two become friends. Mr Bailey has lived in the same house since wedding his beloved wife. Back then life was simple. The “right” kind of migrants came to Australia, ones who assimilated and worked hard, not like the ones of recent years who hang onto their traditions and languages that Mr Bailey just can’t seem to understand. Flashbacks of his time during the Vietnam War are interspersed with his spying on the Sudanese family next door. He feels it is his duty, after all to make sure they are not getting up to anything untoward. Through a series of events, the citizens of Hope Street will come together and realise that there is more that unites them than divides them.

Suitable for years 8+, Living on Hope Street explores domestic violence, multiculturalism, prejudice, racism, family and friendship and would make a wonderful class text. From a contributing editor of Coming of Age: Growing Up Muslim in Australia, this book would sit very nicely with When Michael Met Mina by Randa Abdel Fattah and Becoming Aurora by Elizabeth Kasmer, both of which explore characters whose prejudicial ideas are challenged. Highly recommended.

By Erin

Release by Patrick Ness

Patrick Ness has become a heavyweight in children’s and young adult publishing and I have loved everything of his I have read. He is constantly surprising and things are rarely as they seem. In Release, we follow 17-year-old Adam on a Saturday in summer. Unbeknownst to him, his life is about to change and possibly not for the better. Adam is the gay son of a born again Christian pastor, one whose views on homosexuality have been made abundantly clear on many occasions. Adam is a model son in many ways and has meticulously managed to keep his sexuality a secret from his parents, though their ability to live in denial always helps. Throughout the story, Adam recounts his past relationships, first encounters and first love, and the current boy whom he desperately wants to love as much as the one who broke his heart. Adam is tender and romantic, floundering in young adulthood and trying to find where he fits in a family that does not seem to want or care for him. The story takes place over one day, but as I mentioned, not everything is straightforward. We also follow an otherworldly queen, caught in the body of a murdered girl who is looking for revenge. This storyline is a fantasy element woven into the modern world. Ness states that Release is his tribute to Judy Blume’s Forever, and the parallels are obvious. Some scenes are explicit without being gratuitous, they are more about love, connection and consent rather than sex. For some readers, this will be the perfect book at the perfect time, much in the way Forever was for many girls.

Suitable for middle to upper secondary, fans of this age who have enjoyed his previous books should enjoy this one. Recommended for fans of David Levithan’s Every Day or Will Grayson, Will Grayson. Highly recommended.

By Erin

Ballad for a Mad Girl by Vikki Wakefield

Seventeen-year-old Grace is always up for a laugh. She’ll do anything, risk anything, to be the life of the party. As part of a feud that goes back generations in her small town, Grace attempts a dangerous challenge and experiences something she can’t explain. 20 years ago a girl went missing, presumed murdered, and now she seems to be haunting Grace. The funny girl isn’t laughing anymore and as Grace spirals into a darkness that frightens her, she becomes obsessed with the missing girl’s story and becomes isolated from her family and friends. Vikki Wakefield is a wonderful writer and I have really enjoyed her previous novels. While this one is not my favourite of hers, it is delightfully creepy in parts and quite engaging. It certainly keeps you guessing.

For middle secondary readers and fans of contemporary fiction and light horror, it’s not terrifying. Should be good for engaging some reluctant readers. A plus, no romance! It’s nice to read a story about a teenage girl that does not include a romance angle. Recommended.

By Erin

 

 

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

It has not been easy to escape The Handmaid’s Tale recently, with the airing of the hugely successful mini-series. The book has always been on my “to read” list but after watching the series it got bumped to the top. Set in an alternate modern day. The Handmaid’s Tale follows a young woman, Offred, as she recounts the events leading to her current situation. In this reality, an ultra-conservative Christian organisation has taken over the United States Government, creating a totalitarian society. The Republic of Gilead, in which women are virtually enslaved to procreate. Severe environmental damage and what the government determines is the moral decay of society are the driving forces behind the coup, coupled with the sterilisation of most of the population. Women are either unable to become pregnant, lose pregnancies or babies are born deformed and do not live for long – in short, the human race is dying. As a woman who has proven her ability to bear children, Offred is billeted out to a wealthy Commander and his wife with the sole purpose of providing them with a child. What ensues is a chilling account of Offred’s situation – torn from her family and subjected to violence and humiliation.

This is a confronting and thought-provoking read that has been on the VCE and HCE lists a number of times, and with good reason. However, with the release of the series, it would also make a fantastic book to use with middle-secondary students who need to be extended. It is essentially a story about women – about oppression and power and the ways in which women are controlled (Atwood has often stated that everything in the book has happened somewhere in the world at some point in history). It is a book written for adults and this is reflected in the language and content, but I have no doubt that many teenagers will have watched the series and will be familiar with the story. It should provoke some very interesting discussions. Highly recommended.

By Erin

 

Before You ForgetBefore You Forget by Julia Lawrinson

Seventeen-year-old Ameila is embarking on year 12, a difficult year at the best of times. She longs to be an artist, but her art teacher hates everything she does. Her best friend has become withdrawn and her mother spends more time drinking wine in her room than talking to her family. But most of all, her father is not the man he used to be. He forgets things. At first it’s just where he put his keys or to lock the door when he goes out, but as things gradually become worse it is obvious that this is more than just forgetfulness. Amelia’s father is diagnosed with Early Onset Alzheimer’s Disease. Amelia doesn’t really understand. He’s only in his 40s, isn’t Alzheimer’s an old people’s disease? As her father’s condition slowly worsens, Amelia finds herself feeling more alone than ever. Can she hold her family together and mend her relationship with her best friend, all while trying to finish school?

This is a touching, sad and, at times, funny account of family and illness. Before You Forget is based on the experiences of Lawrinson’s daughter and this brings a depth to Amelia. We feel her anger and sadness at gradually losing her father, as well as the love she feels for him. Children who act as carers for sick parents is a story not often told, but it is a worthy one. Recommended for lower to middle secondary readers.

By Erin 

 

 

The Ones That Disappeared by Zana Fraillon

Esra, Miran and Isa are trafficked children. Forced into refugee camps by war and danger, they are tricked into thinking they are on a journey to freedom and safety, only to find themselves slaves to drug runners. They tend plants in the airless basement of a house they are not allowed to leave, supposedly working off their debt but moving ever further away from freedom. Beaten and starved, they tell stories of home, yearning for the day when they will return. When the opportunity finally comes, the children decide to make a run for it, knowing that the consequences will be dire if they are caught. When Miran is injured and caught by police, Esra and Isa take refuge in a riverside cave, determined to find Miran and rescue him. Here they meet Skeet, a local boy with difficulties of his own. Together they form a plan to travel the underground sewers to find Miran and, ultimately, freedom.

The Bone Sparrow as a stand out novel of last year, being awarded many accolades around the world, so it was with great excitement that I picked up The Ones that Disappeared. Human trafficking is a difficult topic, especially in a book for children, but Fraillon has made it accessible and believable. However, I unfortunately found this book difficult to engage with. It was hard to place the setting – were the children Syrian? Have they been trafficked to Europe or Australia? – and the magical realism (the children build a man out of mud, who comes alive to lead them on their quest) felt out of place and unnecessary. That said, her writing is still lovely to read and it is certainly a topic that is worthy of introducing to children and will generate some interesting discussions. Ultimately, it is a story of hope and determination, themes that are always worth reading. Suitable for ages 11+.

by Erin

 

Doodle Cat is BoredDOODLE CAT IS BORED by Kat Patrick and Lauren Marriott

Dreading the school holidays and the ‘I’m bored’s? Never fear, we’ve got a book to cure that dread!

There are so many clever and interesting books to read and enjoy, but I truly think kids love the simple books most of all. Kat Patrick and Lauren Marriot, in their latest book collaboration, have once again nailed a meaningful message through the technique of simplicity.

Anyone who knows children (and you’ve all been one!) knows that they can toggle between a range of emotions throughout the day and boredom is an emotion that gets a really good run!

Readers fell in love with Doodle Cat’s innocence and enthusiasm for life in his first book, I am Doodle Cat. I can guarantee that Doodle Cat is just as lovable in his bored state of emotion.

 ‘EXCUSE ME EVERYONE I AM BORED!

HALLO?

Does anyone even care?

Anyone?’

Doodle Cat leaves us with a question worth pondering: is it a parent’s (or anyone else’s) responsibility to ensure children are constantly entertained, or is something lost on children by taking that away their autonomy?

Eventually Doodle Cat spies a crayon that leads to all sorts of wonderful and inquisitive experiences. It may initially present as a simple, silly book that children will enjoy, but readers see through Doodle Cat’s experience that enduring boredom gives us the opportunity to open our eyes and observe things that might normally go unnoticed, to ponder questions, to experiment, to get creative and find new hobbies and interests to love!

Doodle Cat is Bored is a winner, from the clever endpapers to its hidden humour throughout the pages. It’s perfect for children aged 2-8.

Here are 5 things the book has inspired me to try next time I feel bored:

1. Read Doodle Cat is Bored with the kids
2. Make a list of 100 things you can do with a crayon
3. Put crayons on our dining table and let them spark a creative idea
4. Make letters of the alphabet using your body
5. Find out about pangolins

Review by Jackie

Wonder by RJ PalacioWonder (Movie Tie-In) by RJ Palacio

I have been a huge fan of the book Wonder since I first read it a couple of years ago and could not be more excited about the film, which is due for release in Australia on 30 November (Watch the trailer).

Wonder is one of the most powerful stories a young person will read. It is a story of kindness, tolerance, friendship and identity. It’s a story that encourages us all to question what is ‘normal’ and challenge our perceptions of people based on physical appearance.

August (Auggie) has a facial abnormality and has had twenty-seven different operations to enable him to function relatively normally. But he is severely disfigured so when it comes time for him to attend a mainstream school, life becomes challenging for both him and his family. His perceptions of human-kindness are challenged and it is difficult to believe that he can ever live a ‘mainstream’ life without the distress of bullying and intolerance.

Auggie is made of pretty tough stuff and although it is often harrowing to take this journey with him, it is heartwarming to see him develop friendships and help shape more positive attitudes within his school community.

The tagline for this book and movie is ‘You can’t blend in when you were born to stand out’. It is brilliant and is the perfect writing prompt because it remains a relevant and powerful comment, even without reference to the book. In Auggie’s case, this tagline completely sums up who he is – he stands out because of his resilience, good humour and warmth.

What I love most about this book – and perhaps it’s because it is so topical right now - is that it is a book about ‘choosing kindness’.

For families and classrooms, there is much to discuss and attitudes to challenge. But, start by simply reading this book for the inspiring and heartfelt story that it is. You’ll be in tears but I guarantee they’ll be good tears and they’ll be worth it.

WONDER (FILM TIE-IN) IS DUE FOR RELEASE IN AUSTRALIA IN OCTOBER. PRE-ORDER YOUR COPY NOW

TEACHERS' NOTES ARE ALSO AVAILABLE HERE

 

Review by Kristin

 

Mr Romanov’s Garden by Robert Newton

Thirteen-year-old Lexi lives in a housing commission flat in Melbourne. Her beloved father died a year ago in a car accident, while her drug addict mother is often either absent or too high to care what Lexi gets up to. After witnessing the aftermath of a shocking and tragic event, Lexi seeks solace on the roof of the commission building. There she meets, for the first time, an old man people call “The Creeper”. Her sense of compassion overcomes her fear and she finds herself making an unlikely friend in the old man, Mr Romanov. Mr Romanov and Lexi both have pasts filled with tragedy but together, along with Lexi’s best friend Davey, they will go on an adventure to help Lexi fulfil her dream of seeing the Gold Coast.

Robert Newton is a lovely writer whose stories are always filled with heart. Despite her troubled situation, Lexi is a character with courage and kindness, a girl who looks past stereotype and rumour to see Mr Romanov as a person, rather than a scary old man. It is Lexi’s relationship with her mother that I wanted more of, I wanted to explore how the child of a drug addicted mother survives. Lexi is in the difficult position of having a mother she loves and wants to protect, but also knowing that she herself is entitled to have a parent who is capable and present. That said, the story of Lexi and her unlikely travel companions is one of courage, friendship, disappointment and hope. Perhaps Lexi’s story is not yet finished, I would certainly like to read more about her. Recommended for readers aged 10+

Review by Erin

 

Boy and the SpyThe Boy and the Spy by Felice Arena

Antonio is a rota, an orphan, always on the outer and never quite accepted despite having been adopted by Mamma Nina. Life has never been easy but since the war began times have been even tougher. German soldiers roam the streets of the town and rations mean there is never enough food. While running from German soldiers, Antonio seeks refuge in a seaside cave. There he meets Chris, an American spy whose plane has crashed. Despite his initial misgivings, Antonio decides to trust the US solider and agrees to help him. Thus, begins an adventure full of danger, new friendships, gangsters and secret organisations. The war will come terrifyingly close and Antonio’s life will change forever.

This is a nice adventure/war story for upper primary/lower secondary readers. With enough danger and intrigue to keep readers interested, there is also a lot of heart that gives the book depth. Throughout the book is the running theme that family comes in all shapes and sizes and is not necessarily determined by blood. Antonio is fiercely loyal to his adopted mother, protecting and looking after her. He is also a loyal friend who is willing to risk his own safety for others. Set in Nazi occupied Sicily, the historical aspect is lightly touched on but enough to pique the interest of the reader – it is not often that we are presented with an Italian view of WWII. This would also make a great introduction to historical fiction for younger readers. Recommended.

Review by Erin

 

Say Yes

Say Yes: A Story of Friendship, Fairness and a Vote for Hope by Jennifer Castles and Paul Seden

The importance of the 1967 Referendum is explored in Jennifer Castles’ Say Yes: A Story of Friendship, Fairness and a Vote for Hope, illustrated by Paul Seden.  Using minimal language, Jennifer Castles conveys the perspective of a little girl as she anticipates growing up with her best friend, only to realise the limitations her friend faces due to her Indigenous heritage.

“We’re going to be the smartest new kids at school.  We’re going to sit next to each other every day… But the teacher says NO… It’s the law.”

The innocence and powerlessness of a child is the perfect perspective from which to demonstrate the blatantly unjust circumstances that called for the referendum.  The repetition of, “NO”, and the cold, “It’s the law”, sum up the Indigenous Australian people's representation in the Constitution.

Seden’s simple, childlike illustrations echo Castles’ sparse text, while layering effectively with actual historical photographs and documents from the time.  Towards the end, these elements combine to create a sense of the hope and celebration that came with the outcome of the referendum - it’s the joy in the faces of people in the photographs, the words “A good beginning. Yes it is” and two little girls happily sharing ice-cream cones.

The language ofSay Yes makes the storysuitable for children to read with their parents, with scope for many questions about fairness and equality.  The subject matter of the story provides a fantastic basis for classroom discussion, linking to the curriculum at both primary and secondary levels, and is an excellent text to introduce for the 50th anniversary of the 1967 Referendum.

Highly recommended by The Kids’ Bookshop for National Reconciliation Week

 

I'm Australian TooI’M AUSTRALIAN TOO by Mem Fox and Ronojoy Ghosh

This is an incredibly meaningful and thoughtful collaboration by two Australians with unique backgrounds and experiences:  Mem Fox who was born in Melbourne but has lived in Southern Rhodesia, Zimbabwe and England before settling in Adelaide, and Ronojoy Ghosh who lives in Sydney but has also lived in India, Indonesia, New Zealand and Singapore. This intentional but creative partnership sends and incredible message to readers and aligns perfectly with the book’s message.

Mem Fox and Ronojoy Ghosh have, almost chronologically, presented the story of Australia and its multicultural fabric, featuring the the effortless rhyme and recurring phrases we’ve come to recognise in Mem’s work.

Mem’s trademark style and Ronojoy’s positive and hopeful illustrations make this a suitable book to read with ease to preschoolers;  in which rich and colourful double-page spreads represent families of different origins and traditions, including Indigenous Australia, Ireland, Italy, Greece, England, Lebanon, Vietnam, China, Somalia, Afghanistan and Syria.

‘What journeys we have travelled, from countries near and far!

Together now, we live in peace, beneath the Southern Star.’

The text and illustrations are not frightening or over-informative, but they are loaded with meaning, making it a wonderful book to use as a springboard for deep discussions with all primary-aged children. The history of migration to Australia is covered succinctly within the 32-page picture book; Circumstances such as war, famine and terrible plights are expressed using single words; Asylum Seekers and Refugees are recognized as worthy of a life in Australia; and questions of acceptance and humanity are asked of our younger generations.

‘Australia Fair is ours to share, where broken hearts can mend.’

Young readers can also explore the physical and human geography of Australia as the text refers to capital cities as places of settlement, and flags, star constellations and iconic landmarks feature in the illustrations.  

Ronojoy has bound the story and book together with clever and evocative endpapers. These, I feel, send the book’s strongest message: that every Australian has something to contribute to our nation and society. Each individual child on the opening endpaper matches an adult on the closing endpaper who is characterized by an occupation- the symbolism of this representing opportunity and success.

I'm Australian Too Endpapers

The hope, I’m sure, in the creation of this book is that children gain greater compassion for individuals and their journeys to Australia, and can acknowledge that every Australian, regardless of background, belongs and has something wonderful to contribute to society.

Highly recommended for home and classroom reading.

Review by Jackie

Everything, Everything by Nicola YoonEverything, Everything by Nicola Yoon

‘Maddy is allergic to the world. She hasn’t left her house in seventeen years.

Olly is the boy next door. He’s determined to find a way to reach her’

Despite Maddy’s inability to step out into the world, she is a mature and well-rounded young adult who seems to have accepted the limitations of being ‘allergic to the world’. She is relatively content with her life and the relationships she has with her nurse and her mother and her digital connection with the outside world.  It is, as you’d imagine, very insular but she knows no other life.

There is a sadness in the house with the knowledge that her father and younger brother were killed in a car accident when she was very young but her mother, who is a doctor, has focussed primarily on Maddy’s well-being and we sense this has given her some purpose and a reason to move on.

The simplicity of Maddy’s world is rocked when Olly and his family move in next door and Maddy becomes friends from afar with him. So begins her first romantic relationship– albeit via instant message and ‘mime’ through the windows.  Life suddenly becomes extraordinarily complicated and the outside world, more attractive than it has ever been before.

This is a love story; a love story complicated by illness, grief, lies and broken families. It asks questions not just of our main character but of all of us and what sustains us in life -   trust, love, loyalty and survival.

I was hooked on this story from the get go and readers will connect with both Maddy and Olly in so many ways - first love, broken relationships, and the importance of bucket lists. It is romantic and full of hope.

Highly recommended for readers aged 14+

THE FILM ADAPTATION OF EVERYTHING, EVERYTHING WILL HIT BIG SCREENS IN AUSTRALIA ON MAY 18, 2017. Watch the trailer. 

 

Lion: A Long Way Home by Saroo BrierleyLion: A Long Way Home- Young Reader's Edition by Saroo Brierley

Originally published as A Long Way Home is the chronicle of events, nothing short of miraculous, that saw a man cross the globe to reunite with the family he lost decades earlier.

Growing up in a life of poverty in India, Saroo Brierley became separated from his brother at a regional train station when he was just four or five years old.  He found himself lost on a train that would take him miles away to Kolkata. Through instinct he survived weeks on the street there before being taken in by an orphanage who promptly found him a new family and home in Tasmania.

Saroo loved his new family and felt grateful for his life in Australia but he always wondered about his origins and the visions he'd regularly have of another place.  He spent hours reliving visual memories, staring at the map of India on his bedroom wall, poring over Google Earth aerial images, seeking help through social media networks until, after years of searching, he miraculously found what he was looking for and he returned to India to reconnect with his family and seek closure on events and circumstances that haunted him for many years. With the help of technology, a task that otherwise seemed futile eventually became possible.

The language has been pared back in this Young Reader’s Edition, and the emotion replaced with a matter-of-fact voice to create a shorter and simpler memoir for young readers.

The book provides an insight into living conditions and social hierarchy in India. It also provides an opportunity for ethical and philosophical debate on a range of topics including international adoption and the effects on individuals, families and cultures, the strength of families and the influence of technology.

This Young Readers’ Edition has been published to tie in with the release of Lion, the major motion picture starring Dev Patel, David Wenham and Nicole Kidman, also providing teachers the opportunity to conduct a comparative study between the memoir and film adaptation.

 

 

School's First Day of SchoolSchool's First Day of School by Adam Rex and Christian Robinson

In all honestly, I was rather confused by the title of this book at first. On the contrary though, upon reading the story, I realised just how clever this book is for first time school starters.

Often our fears and anxieties are caused by our perception of events.

This book, written by Adam Rex, encourages children to view the experience of starting school from another perspective entirely. The result is a humorous and heart-warming story.

At first, the school is excited to be built. He likes his name and his friend, the janitor, but he starts to feel anxious when he is told children will soon be joining him.

He doesn’t like the way the children open all the doors, drink water from his taps, fill him with garbage or climb all over his playground equipment. He is also heartbroken to hear that some of the children don’t like him and he works hard to get to know them.

Eventually school realises how lucky he is to be a school, with all the sweet children to get to know and all the wonderful things to learn. 

Almost child-like and retro in style, the bold illustrations are also a strength for the book.

Highly recommended and ON SALE while stock lasts!

Review by Jackie

The Song from Somewhere ElseThe Song from Somewhere Else by A.F. Harrold and illustrated by Levi Pinfold

The Song from Somewhere Else is another tale from the wonderfully imaginative mind of A.F. Harrold, resulting in a story that is captivating and at times eerie and suspenseful. It’s an apt book for children 8-12 who enjoy speculative fiction.

In the same vein as The Imaginary, The Song from Somewhere Else explores other worlds and other worldly beings, provoking a philosophical discourse for readers regarding the possibility that beings exist beyond the narrow minds of humans. On a more relatable level, the impacts of bullying and characteristics of friendship and happiness are explored through the story and its characters.

Bullied on a regular basis by a mob of unkind school boys, Frank reluctantly befriends Nick: an outcast from school who rescues her from her bullies, and provides friendship and contentment she hasn’t experienced for some time.

Worrying what her peers might think, Frank initially has reservations about her impending friendship with Nick. However, the events of the story take place swiftly over the course of a week, and secrets are quickly revealed between the two new friends. Frank’s eyes are open to other worlds and other worldly creatures, both mesmerising and sinister, when she finds out that Nick was born in another place.  Frank is compelled to evaluate what is important and make decisions that her stomach doesn’t always agree with.

The take-away message of the story is that true friendships can be found in unlikely places and people, and are formed through conviction, loyalty, and by having open and accepting minds and hearts.

Tea and Sugar Christmas by Jane JollyTea and Sugar Christmas by Jane Jolly and Robert Ingpen

We've come to love Jane Jolly's historical and rarely-told tales at The Kids' Bookshop. Her research is thorough, her descriptive style is engaging and her chosen themes are suitable for rich and enlightening discussions.

Tea and Sugar Christmas tells a true Christmas story, one that is historically Australian and represents many Aboriginal and migrant workers of the outback.

Tea and Sugar Christmas is a story based on the Trans-Australian Railway train that would travel across the Nullarbor Plain. Its carriages provided groceries, meat, household provisions, medical staff and bank services to workers who lived in isolated settlements. Just once a week settlers could access the train, filling their wheelbarrows with stock to last them the week.

Once a year, the train also carried a very special visitor. One of the locomotive inspectors would dress as Father Christmas, bringing joy and gifts for each of the children who often dressed in their best clothes to meet him.

This story is Kathleen’s. Her anticipation, excitement, joy and gratefulness jump out from the words and illustrations. As readers we are right there with her as she waits for the train in the searing heat and when she first glimpses Father Christmas when the carriage door slides open.  We’re also reminded just how wondrous Christmas is for children, especially children who want for very little.

Black and white pages fold out to reveal exquisite large-scale colour illustrations by renowned illustrator, Robert Ingpen. The book features photos and images taken during the Sugar and Tea Train era. It truly provides a wonderful insight into an interesting aspect of Australian history, and has clear links with the Learning Area of Humanities and Social Sciences and the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Histories and Cultures Cross-Curriculum Priority outlined in the Australian Curriculum.

Although based on true events, Tea and Sugar Christmas is a sincerely magical story for adults and children alike. 

Highly recommended.

Black Sunday by Evan McHughMy Australian Story: Black Sunday by Evan McHugh

Black Sunday is the latest addition to the My Australian Story series.  Written as a series of diary entries dating between June 1937 and June 1938, Evan McHugh has written a story about the history of Australia’s most iconic surf lifesaving club. The plot builds to the historical recount and aftermath of one of Australia’s largest beach rescues, known as Black Sunday; in which 5 people died and 70- 100 lifesavers worked to rescue between 200-300 swimmers from freak waves that hit Bondi on Sunday 6 February 1938.

Black Sunday is the diary account of David McCutcheon, otherwise known as Nipper, who is a young Bondi local. The story sets the scene of Bondi during the later years of The Depression and reflects the values and society of Australian prior to WWII- a time when women weren’t permitted to be lifesavers, when entertainment took the form of shark-fishing or walking the promenade with your family during the summer evenings and when kids regularly left school early to join the workforce. The happenings in Europe were but mere and confused whispers amongst everyday Australians.

Nipper shares vivid details about his life: his attitude to school, his love of Bondi and Australia, his interests, dreams and daily challenges. Readers become onlookers of his strong relationships with his Grandpa Jack and local friends as well as his strained relationship with his teacher, Mrs Kearsley. They are privy to his thoughts and struggles as he becomes aware of his identity, inspirations, dreams and his place at school and in the world. The plot provides a wonderful comparative study into the lifestyle and challenges faced by young Australians over time.

Written from the perspective of a 12 year old boy, the vocabulary is simple. This, together with the book’s easy-to-read diary format, makes it a good text choice for reluctant readers. But lacking in rich content it is not. It’s an accessible read for all children aged 10-16 based on historical events and information (with more specific facts found on the final pages of the book) that explores domestic and global issues of beach safety, school-leaving age, heroism, gender equality, war, refugees and Aboriginal rights.

Issues presented in the story align with content prescribed in the History and Geography Learning Ares of the Australian Curriculum. The story allows readers to examine viewpoints on actio