My give-away for January – the Heartstopper Yearbook – arrived at its destination on Friday and the tussle was on between Sally’s two daughters, who are both big fans! Congratulations and may it give everyone much pleasure!!
Author Archives: Sue Warren
Strong and Tough – Rico Hinson-King/Nick Sharratt
|Imprint||Bloomsbury Children’s Books|
This is a super story which I’ve now shared with several classes between Year 1 and 3, and all the kiddos have really enjoyed it, even though it deals with some tough issues. What is even more amazing is that it is written by an eleven year old.
Rico Hinson-King was taken into care at a very young age, along with his two sisters, when his natural parents were unable to care for them. The siblings weren’t all fostered together and at times, Rico found life very tough, even though he was being looked after. Like many boys he was mad about football but his big dream was to have a proper ‘forever’ family. Despite the times he wanted to scream and cry (and the times he did) he was always resilient and always loved his footy, and when finally he found a set of remarkable parents who not only wanted to be his forever family, but to also parent his sisters, Rico was able to relax into being loved and embraced.
He wrote his story firstly in homework club at Manchester City FC (where he is a Junior Premier League Academy student) , but quickly it became more than just a homework assignment. Rico could see this was a way to share with other kids in similar circumstances, to let them know there is hope for all, and that there are people who understand exactly what it feels like to be in foster care or in ‘limbo’ without the security of a forever family. For such a young writer, it is a remarkable achievement, and is both moving and powerful.
The children with whom I shared it, invariably had much to say and demonstrated great empathy which was wonderful to see. Nick Sharrat’s illustrative style will be familiar to many from his work on the Tracy Beaker stories and other Jacqueline Wilson books, and is exactly right for this, being quirky but en pointe for the emotions and changing situations. While it is told in a narrative style, it is non-fiction and I think the rich discussions to come out of this will be of great value to your readers.
Naturally, you would need to be mindful of any potential triggers should you have children who might be in similar situations or have had similar experiences. I just love that the book was published the week before National Adoption Week (UK) to highlight the need for more children like Rico and his sisters to find their place in a loving family.
Highly recommended for young readers from around 5 years upwards. Watch Rico read his story after winning the Junior Premier League Young Writer of the Year Award. What a remarkable boy!
All Four Quarters of the Moon – Shirley Marr
- ISBN: 9781760899554
- Imprint: Puffin
- RRP: $16.99
On the last day of her old life, Peijing makes moon cakes with Ah Ma for the Autumn Festival. The following Peijing and her family, Ba Ba, Ma Ma, little sister Biju and Ah Ma, move to Australia and their new lives begin. Moving house is always a time of upheaval but when that move is relocating to a whole new country, where everything is so very different, it causes a huge impact and can put an enormous strain on a family. And it does in this case.
Peijing is the big sister but more than that, she feels a great sense of responsibility for all her family, all of whom are finding things difficult in their new country. Really, her only escape from her worries, is Little World – a miniature paper world she has created with the help of Biju. It is their refuge and their joy, although one which completely bemuses their parents.
When things start to fall apart for the family, Peijing finds herself even more anxious. Ma Ma is not herself, with an inertia that speaks of depression – the unknown quantity of Australian life making her feel even more homesick, Ba Ba is, at first, a fish out of water no longer having to wear the suits and work seven days a week as he did in his old life, and Ah Ma, is becoming confused and even forgetting who she is. Peijing and Biju, while embracing their new situation and adapting quickly to everything from school to food to clothes, are finding it difficult to reconcile all this with their adults.
It is, essentially, the story of every immigrant family, I would think, as former habits, customs, language and culture are left behind and new ones are imposed. Told through a combination of realism, traditional myths and stories, narrative and story-telling, it makes for a beautiful exploration of the immigrant experience and the sharing of the Chinese traditional culture. There is so much to explore with readers here: family life and traditions, siblings, respect and honour, cultural differences, culture shock, assimilation, mythology, symbolism and imagery, and personal growth.
I could see this being a particular useful addition to a Year 6/7 reading program whether as a whole class novel or in literature circles. Highly recommended for discerning readers in Upper Primary.
You Don’t Know What War Is -Yeva Skalietska
The Diary of a Young Girl From Ukraine
|Imprint||Bloomsbury Children’s Books|
It is almost exactly a year ago that the Russia-Ukrainian war, which first started simmering in 2014, abruptly escalated with a full-scale invasion by Russia, in an unprecedented show of force against the smaller nation. The hostilities erupted into a crisis which has caused tens of thousands of deaths and the largest refugee crisis since World War II, with 8 million Ukrainians becoming displaced within their own country before June of that year, and by the reckoning this month, 8 million have now fled the country.
While the majority of us has rallied with support and watched with horror as events unfolded, we also admired the courage and dignity of the Ukrainian people and their indomitable leader, Volodymyr Zelenskyy. We have also been continually moved by the plight of the Ukrainian people as they struggle to regain some of the life they have lost, both within and outside their homeland.
One such is Yeva Skalietska, now 13 and living in Ireland, who poured her emotions, observations and fears into an intense memoir that follows the fortnight following the Russian invasion in February 2022. Yeva formerly lived in Kharkiv with her Granny but they were forced to flee when the bombing became too dangerous. Writing down her thoughts and observations, and comparing information with her friends on social media and via texts, Yeva incorporates all into this diary which was by chance picked up by journalists, who in turn became friends and rescuers.
For those of us who have never experienced the terror of such circumstances, this eyewitness account from a young and pragmatic observer offers us true insight into exactly what is happening in Ukraine. For Yeva and her Granny, there was a safe and happy solution when they were given sanctuary in Dublin but, even so, to be torn away from your homeland through such violence is a terrifying experience. When the evil that is responsible for this act of ruthless and callous violation of international peace is scourged, the world will, I have no doubt, rejoice. In the meantime, we continue to show our solidarity with Ukraine and her people, and support as much as we are able.
I would highly recommend this to your upper primary and early secondary readers as a very accessible to gain some understanding of this conflict and how it impacts onto ordinary citizens, as well as the global community.
Little People, Big Dreams: Freddie Mercury – Maria Isabel Sanchez Vegara
Quarto Publishing Group UK
To be honest, I really don’t think this needs too much promotion because realistically the Little People, Big Dreams series has been such a phenomenal success that kiddos love, and teacher-librarians simply cannot keep on the shelves (about which we are all very pleased really!)…but it’s Freddie so how could I resist asking for this one especially?
I find it almost inconceivable to comprehend that Freddie has been gone for 32 years but it is so marvellous to think that his incredible talent and natural flamboyance has, essentially, become the stuff of legend – a cultural icon loved not only by those who watched him perform throughout his career but have come to know him via video clips, recordings and, of course, more recently the Bohemian Rhapsody biopic.
The Little People, Big Dreams series has revolutionised biographies for younger readers providing them with salient facts and interesting insights into a wide variety of famous faces, past and present and has now sold 7.5 million copies worldwide – an utterly astonishing number! Each book follows the same format with a narrative based on the subject’s life, and facts, detailed profile plus photos at the back, with quirky and colourful illustrations (Ruby Taylor, in this instance). The entire premise of the series is that each of these achievers was a child once, just like the readers, and their successes grew from their dreams, aspirations and determination as they grew older.
For Freddie, it was an extraordinary journey from the tiny island of Zanzibar, through boarding school in India where he discovered his astonishing voice and became determined to be a rock&roll musician and onto to realising those dreams when he moved to London and formed a band called Queen. We, as adults, know that Freddie’s life was in many ways troubled but there is no denying his enormous talent and his zest for life, and it is this which is conveyed via this new addition to the series.
Unless you are one of the isolated few (yes, I am looking at you Mark!) who is not familiar with the series, I don’t need to sell it to you, but of course, it goes without saying that I give it my highest recommendation for your little readers, especially those fascinated with true-life stories, from around 7 years upwards.
The Last Whale – Chris Vick
Imprint: Head of Zeus
RRP: AU $26.99 NZ $29.99
This is a terrific read which combines a lot of very topical issues into a passionate call to arms in a vital environmental crisis.
Spanning three generations the story of the Kristensen family and their close connection with the great whales, the narrative starts in the present with Abi. Bordering on computer genius, feisty eco-activist Abi has modified the AI device she’s been given to use as part of her winning the Newtek Challenge. She has quite legitimately used it to collect data on bees and other nature aspects as was part of her winning brief but she has also used her IT creativity to alter the AI, dubbed Moonlight by Abi’s little sister, to respond to her commands above anyone else’s and to ignore any communication from Newtek – definitely not legitimate in the eyes of the mega-corporation.
Abi’s eco-terrorism has resulted in the family’s holiday (a bid to curb her passionate recklessness) on her grandmother’s remote Norwegian island where she discovers a whaling connection to the past. Her grandfather’s notes and recordings of the great whales, their migrations and family groups from a past in which he rejected whaling in favour of preserving these animals.
The narrative concludes in the future with Abi’s daughter, Tori, taking up the mantle of protecting, preserving and tracking the remaining great whales with the aid of a now almost fully conscious and independent thinking Moonlight.
This is lyrical and poignant with beautiful writing which compels the reader to fully absorb the implications of current human wilful disregard of warning signs. At the same time, it sends a very clear message about hope and the urgent need for us all to take on board the duty of care we have towards to our planet and all its inhabitants. It is powerful and reflects the author’s own commitment to dolphin and whale conversation as well as his involvement with Authors4Oceans.
You will have many takers for this one and it would work wonderfully with a unit of work focused on these important topics, as well as some interesting discussion (especially in light of recent developments) on ethical use of AI. I could also easily see students leading the way in forming some kind of active alliance to support the efforts in this direction. Highly recommended for astute readers from around 13 years upwards.
The Hidden Girl – Louise Bassett
Walker Books Australia
Imprint:Walker Books Australia
New Zealand RRP:$21.99
It is clear to see why Louise Bassett‘s debut novel was short-listed for the Ampersand Prize. It is a tense and gripping mystery/thriller that will hook readers in from the first page. Drawing on her real-life experience working in the justice system, particularly for women and international aid in Papua New Guinea, Cambodia and Vietnam, Louise has crafted a taut psychological thriller that explores the resilience and rebelliousness of young women, the conflicting emotions and frustrations of teens, friendships, and the dirty underbelly of human trafficking.
Melati Nelson, having won a scholarship to an elite school is striving to bury her ‘bad girl’ history but a chance encounter in the school counsellor’s office has her discovering, and subsequently stealing, a diary. The journal belongs to Devi, a young Indonesian girl, and as Mel begins to unravel the translation and piece together the story, she realises that Devi has been kidnapped and forced into sex work. Mel’s school trip to Indonesia becomes far more than a return to her early childhood when she and her parents lived in that country. It becomes a race against the clock to follow the scant clues and rescue Devi. At the same time, she finds herself up against the class bully which triggers her own defiant behaviours and leaves her open to finding herself to landing in a mess of her own making. Her burgeoning friendship with Melbourne boy, Michael, is a saving grace of the trip and he becomes her willing co-investigator, as determined as she is to uncover the truth and help Devi before it’s too late.
This is truly a high intensity page-turner which I couldn’t put down. The combination of the well-written and authentic characters, and the rise and fall of their interactions, along with awfulness of the human trafficking trade is the stuff that makes for completely compelling reading. The themes of moral responsibility, right and wrong, privilege and its abuse, exploitation are relevant and pertinent in today’s global society and would provide much fodder for rich discussion. I can easily see this being an engaging, powerful and fertile class novel (put it in the hands of your English faculty!).
Your readers from around 13 years upwards, particularly those who thrive on the thriller/mysteries/crime genres, will eat this up and be hungry for more. I highly recommend it to you for your discerning secondary readers. Read an interview with Louise.
My Dream Time – Ash Barty
Harper Collins Australia
- ISBN: 9781460762820
- ISBN 10: 1460762827
- Imprint: HarperSports AU
- List Price: 49.99 AUD
Like many others, I am a huge admirer of Ash -though I am no fan of tennis per se. This vibrant young woman has completely captivated the nation with her unfailing professionalism, humility, grace and low-key humour. She has become a stand-out role model for our young people, not only those who are First Nations but for any kid with dreams and aspirations.
I can tell you that having shared some of the Young Ash stories with little people, that even those youngsters not only know who she is but appreciate her athleticism and her style. Yet also like many others, I think, I have never really considered what went before those stellar wins at Grand Slam tournaments and although we are usually cognisant of the hard work athletes put in to achieve their peak, rarely do we consider the mental and physical toll this can take on a person.
Ash takes this opportunity to share the struggle and the triumphs, to thank her team and her family, and to reflect upon the ups and downs, the tears and frustrations and overcoming adversity in whatever shape it presents. It makes for an engrossing read and one which, certainly from my point of view, convinces me even more of the innate integrity, humanity and gutsy fortitude of this amazing athlete.
Ash traces her journey from little kid in Brisbane who, from an early age, displayed an uncanny ability with a racquet and was actively encouraged and supported by family and friends to the proud woman who won the 2022 Australian Open, then gracefully exited the tennis spotlight. The doubts and bouts of depression, the loneliness of the tour, the teen years that were so very different to that of her mates, the solid and enduring friendships she has made are all here, told in a warm and conversational tone – makes me feel as though I’m sitting down with her chatting over a cold beer almost. She really leaves no stone unturned in that history and,throughout it all, we realise that her success may be the end result of a whole lot of teamwork but the essential personality has always been there.
What a champion she is and will continue to be, whatever is next in store for her – aside that is from parenthood – (wishing her all the very best for the forthcoming jarjum!)
Whether you are a sports fan, a tennis fan, a biography fan or just an admirer as I am, I highly recommend this to you. You certainly won’t regret the time spent enjoying the Ash story.
Wanderer – Victor Kelleher
Publisher: Eagle Books Imprint: Christmas Press
If I were to use the vernacular, I’d say it’s been a long time between drinks Victor, but it was certainly worth it. Multi-award winner, Victor Kelleher, has crafted his first middle grade novel in fifteen years with this gripping and absorbing post-apocalyptic narrative. If you think Waterworld for kids, you might get a little sense of the setting.
Orphaned Dane, spends most of his life since the devastation of his village, on his kayak. The world has shrunk to few habitable places and even those are not safe from the ravaging horde who call themselves The Clan. These self-styled warriors (more ruthless vigilantes) are determined to remove every last trace of the mythical ‘Golden Years’ a long-ago time when such things as books, knowledge and learning were held in high esteem.
Dane narrowly escapes an encounter with these dangerous killers and, guarding his sole treasure – a book given to him by his now-murdered mother – needs urgent repairs to his kayak, if he is to remain as safe as is possible. The rumour of an old man who can fix such craft leads him to Garth, and his granddaughter, Lana – a remarkable young girl with extraordinary gifts. Garth is not just a capable craftsman, he is a guardian of the old knowledge and a hoard of books. Knowing that time is limited as The Clan draw ever closer to discovering their hidden location, Garth entrusts the two young people to take the books to the last possible stronghold for such valuable treasures. But their journey is fraught with danger as The Clan pursues them for reasons that are revealed as well as their encounters with other survivors, all of them distrustful of strangers and focused on their own needs, and extremely unpredictable.
The novel explores themes of courage and tenacity, resilience and ingenuity, loyalty and friendship, survival and hope. And it is a celebration and testament to the power of story and books, and the wealth and comfort these provide to us mere mortals.
I highly recommend it for able readers from around Year 6 upwards – though be mindful that there are descriptive episodes of violence throughout.
Also on Kids Book Review
Tjitji Lullaby – Michael Ross and Zaachariaha Fielding/Original artwork by Lisa Kennedy
Harper Collins Australia
- ISBN: 9780733342783
- ISBN 10: 0733342787
- Imprint: ABC Books AU
- List Price: 19.99 AUD
Many readers will already be familiar with this favourite lullaby which features on ABC Kids and what a truly beautiful way to complete a day with your little peeps it is. Now you can also share this stunning board book with even the tiniest of humans with its lyrical text, our wonderful native animals and landscapes and the soothing comfortableness of recognition.
Tjitji (child in the Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara languages) Lullaby is the creation of the multiple award-winning Electric Dreams partnership. Michael Ross, producer and Zaachariaha Fielding, who regularly sings in his own Anangu language. Their unique fusion of electronic music and traditional culture has garnered acclaim across the world and spans music genres from eloquent pop ballads to contemporised traditional music. AFL fans will recognise their sound from the Dreamtime Round.
Their lullaby created for ABC Kids has literally struck a chord with all who hear it. Lisa Kennedy, First Nations storyteller/artist has brought the musical version of the lullaby to glorious full colour with her evocative illustrations, underlining the serenity and calm that a sunset merging to night sky provides. It is not only special because of its innate beauty but of course, a very simple way to introduce cross-cultural perspectives from an early age. And on this day, the 15th Anniversary of the National Apology, it seemed timely to post my review of this charming book.
What a superb gift this makes for any new jarjum in your circle or as an addition to your collection for Early Childhood readers. I cannot recommend it highly enough to you.
For another insight into First Nations lullabies check here for one in the language of my children and grandchildren, Wiradjuri.