A couple of years back I enthusiastically endorsed The Silver Arrow and I am very pleased to say that this second instalment is equally as enchanting for your middle school readers.
A year after they first encounter The Silver Arrow and begin their mission to save the world’s endangered animals via the Great Secret Intercontinental Railway, Kate and Tom are back on board as conductors, but this time things are different. The pair come across a very different train on the secret railway – The Golden Swift – which is also dropping off animals at stations. The problem is that these other conductors are delivering animals to the wrong stations and Kate is determined to find out the whole story.
The ensuing adventures range across the globe from the outback wilds of Australia to the depths of the Bering Sea in a magical submarine and once the identity of the rival conductors is known, Kate feels that they have formed an undeniably positive partnership – one which will change the course of nature for the better. But there’s a huge realisation coming their way – insights into themselves and their new friends, but also a deeper understanding of the complex intertwinings of the natural world – past, present and future.
Like the first, this is not simply about the exciting adventure and quirky characters (where else would you encounter a bossy cassowary who is the dispatcher for the railway or indeed a completely crazy wolverine?) but offers up much food for thought with rich discussions on ethics, brainstorming possible solutions to the terrible castrophe with which the world is faced, and strategies to avoid further damage.
Beautifully imaginative once again, this is a must to add to your collection and your astute readers from around ten upwards will adore it.
Yesterday at the EdSummit conference Brisbane, I had the great joy of hearing the amazing Aleesah Darlison deliver a lively and engaging presentation called “Saving the Environment through Story”. Uber-talented Aleesah has long been a huge advocate for the environment and has repeatedly taken up the cause of various creatures through her creative work. And what better time to write this review than following that experience on this, World Environment Day!!
This new series from Penguin/Puffin is going to be a real winner with little people, their parents and educators as it explores hitherto not-so-well-known Aussie critters.
First up is the adorable and really very special spotted handfish which is found only in the Derwent estuary near Hobart, Tasmania. Young children will love to hear about Coco and while this is not a narrative in the traditional sense it has a strong sense of story mixed in with the fascinating facts. These sweet and interesting little fish are critically endangered and it is imperative that we all do what we can to protect and conserve the most humblest and smallest of creatures – because they all have their important role to play.
Highlighting the information which is presented in such a palatable and easily accessible way are the absolutely tremendous illustrations from Mel Matthews. Having read the book last weekend, and then listening to Aleesah yesterday my mind immediately raced as to the many possibilities for activities, inquiry and action that one could undertake with kiddos. For those who are looking to focusing on Australian species and taking an active stance on conversation this series is going to be absolute gold, in my opinion.
I’m so thrilled to be able to count Aleesah amongst my literary friends – her talent, generosity of spirit and genuine commitment to educating and encouraging children to take up the challenge of protecting our fragile environment.
Read more about the series here and find teaching resources here – our junior library is about to populate a gifted fish tank with inhabitants and I think this is going to be a perfect accompaniment to that real-life activity.
I cannot recommend this highly enough and am so looking forward to seeing the forthcoming series titles!!! Well done Aleesah on another evident success!!
This is not only a terrific story for newly independent readers to enjoy on their own but if your junior classes are planning an environmental or recycling unit this would make a super introduction to some serial reading – with a chapter per session. This is particularly so as each chapter focuses on a different character and part of the whole in turn.
The Tindims (sorry but every time I looked at the cover, I immediately thought Tim Tams! haha!) are little people not entirely dissimilar to humans except for one very striking difference. The Tindims don’t throw rubbish, especially plastic, willy nilly all over the place. In fact, they rescue and recycle trash into creative and useful everyday objects. As a matter of fact, their entire island has been constructed from discarded waste acquired over hundreds of years.
In modern times however, the Tindims are facing a huge problem. The amount of plastic washing up on their island is becoming too much for them to re-purpose and they have no idea how to persuade the Long Legs (humans) how to change their ways.
As the book doesn’t offer a solution to that problem, I think there must be more in the pipeline but in the meantime, little ones will enjoy the creativity of the Tindims, their quirky personalities and will, no doubt, be able to come up with many ideas of their own.
Recommended for readers from around five years upwards.
There is certainly a boom in books targeting young people to empower them to be their best selves and take action for the greater good. As it happens I have quite a pile of them here so have decided to compile them into this one post. All are very worthy additions either to a personal or library collection.
Perfectly Unique: Love Yourself Completely, Just as You Are – Annie F. Downs
Harper Collins Australia
ISBN 10: 0310768624
Imprint: HarperCollins Religious – US
As it would happen I had seen this book while browsing for other titles for our collection and added it some time ago. In particular for either Christian families or schools, you will find this a charming and heartfelt message for our young girls.
Each section takes a look at various parts of the body and the ways in which each has the potential for a girl to grow in her faith whilst understanding the often confusing and contradictory moods of her changing body.
Annie is a well-known podcaster and author based in Tennessee who strives to impart via her writing the presence of a loving and present God. For young girls the turbulent teens, the powerful influences via social media and peer pressure can be overwhelming and Annie’s mission is to provide these girls with the tools, skills and strength to withstand these and stand strong in faith.
Dare to be You: Defy Self-Doubt, Fearlessly Follow Your Own Path and Be Confidently You! – Matthew Syed. Illustrated by Toby Triumph
September 2020 | 9781526362377 | RRP $19.99
Following the runaway success of You are Awesome Matthew Syed continues to empower young people, providing them with the tools to employ their own positive thinking.
Combining his humour and personal insights with the stylistic illustrations, Matthew introduces real-life role models such as Greta Thunberg and Malala Yousafzai as an aide to encouraging diverse thinking.
Matthew wants children and young people to stop doubting themselves, accept that there is no such thing as ‘normal’ and embrace their own wonderful selves with confidence to grow into happy, well-adjusted adults.
Looking after your Health – Caroline Young
Harper Collins Australia
ISBN 10: 1474982751
Imprint: Usborne – GB
List Price: 14.99 AUD
It’s not just about mental health of course and this super little book is perfect for kiddos from around eight years upwards to teens, to encourage them to take care of their physical well-being as well as their mental health.
It takes a quirky, often humorous, approach to sharing useful information none of which is either too radical or ‘out there’ but more like a common sense approach to looking after themselves whether its diet, exercise, sleep, managing stress, maintaining and regulating friendships or relationships (so tricky at times!).
This not an onerous read and certainly not ‘preachy’ but quite fun to read with some solid advice for young people. This one is going to feature in the Kid’s home schooling this term part of which is focusing on the human body and health.
Helping our Planet – Jane Bingham
Harper Collins Australia
ISBN 10: 147498276X
Imprint: Usborne – GB
List Price: 14.99 AUD
I think this and the following book are perfect companions to those above because we know that many young people are increasingly anxious about the state of the world’s environment and also, that by becoming actively involved with relevant causes, they will of course also be aiding their own mental and physical health.
Offering some really simple to implement strategies any one, young or old, could benefit from these suggestions. For example:
Five Moves to beat ‘Hidden Plastic’
Stop buying wet ones, glitter and glittery things
Don’t buy chewing gum
Buy plastic-free teabags or go for loose tea
Try to avoid drink cans, take away coffee cups and cartons
Buy clothes made from natural fibres, such as bamboo or wool
Easy peasy! and there are loads more ideas as well as of course the facts behind important issues such as water conservation, planet-friendly shopping and waste management.
Hope: 50 Ways to Help Our Planet Every day
Did you know your food travels an average of 4000 kilometres to get to you? Have you ever wondered where exactly ‘away’ is when you throw something away? Or what happens to the 3 billion drink cans Australians go through in a year?
There will be many families as well as classes who are inspired and impassioned by the War on Waste series hosted by Craig Reucassel not to mention the thousands who are, quite rightly, extremely concerned about climate change and this is the perfect jumping-off point for readers from as young as eight years old but upwards to early secondary. In fact, I will be offering both these books to our Year 8 team for their unit on Waste (or as we call it at school the Rubbish unit – haha!).
Case studies (from kids), inspirational quotes from leading world figures, practical advice and simple activities will engage and involve classrooms, families and communities.
Most of all the premise of this little book is as the title says to offer ‘hope’ that it’s not too late to make the changes our world needs so badly.
Overall I highly recommend all of these for either your family or your collection.
I think it fair to say that if Dr Jane Goodall is lending her endorsement to a book then you know it must be of the highest quality.
This is a beautiful volume packed with information and richly illustrated which addresses the growing desire among children to be part of the global saving of our planet.
Challenging the perception that trees are just ‘silent statues’, it focuses on four big ideas:
Trees give life to the planet.
Trees can help save us from climate change.
Trees are like beings.
Trees need our help and protection.
Through individual vignettes focused on people, past and present – the titular ‘tree beings’ – from professors to the nine-year-old boy determined to plant a trillion trees, readers will glean so much from both the inspirational accounts and the wealth of information.
In part, straight informational text but with these personal anecdotal pieces, fun facts and interactivity via in-text puzzles and mazes included this will both delight and amaze youngsters.
As a call to arms (branches?) this would be a marvellous addition to any classroom unit centred on conservation and protection of natural resources but is more likely to be taken up by individuals keen to explore its inherent beauty and subject matter. Readers will spend hours poring over the detailed illustrations and uncovering the grace, strength, science and spiritual importance of trees across cultures.
Over the past ten months the world has been forced to stop and take some stock of the mess we as humans have created as the sudden cessation of many aspects of contemporary life suddenly opened up a vista of ‘what could be’. Families and individuals alike have taken up an altered lifestyle more closely aligned to the natural world and it’s needs. How very perfect then is the timing for this outstanding volume which will encourage young readers to be more observant and to take action.
Highly recommended – indeed, I would say essential – for readers from around eight years upwards.
Teaching notes and sneak peeks available via the links below.
In my opinion it’s a rare middle-age novel that can transcend reading interests, age groups and genders but this is most definitely one that can. Certainly your middle grade readers will love it but it is just as appealing for older readers, including adults, as well as competent younger readers with its blend of whimsy and fantasy, strong conservation theme, friendship and family, humour and adventure.
Kate’s wealthy estranged uncle is considered ridiculously eccentric and irresponsible by her parents and really she knows very little about him. Certainly when she writes to him on a whim and asks for a birthday present she doesn’t expect to receive one. She definitely doesn’t expect the gift of a full-sized steam locomotive which appears in her back garden.
While her parents wrangle over what to do with such an unwanted and cumbersome gift, Kate and her younger brother Tom ignore parental doubts and distrust and board the engine in the middle of the night. The journey that ensues is both a revelation and a test of the children’s resilience, initiative and bravery.
To their complete astonishment the locomotive takes off through the night and guided by the engine’s own ‘voice’ they soon arrive at a station where a curious assortment of animal passengers wait patiently with valid tickets to board. The children do not take long to realise that their job is to ensure that each of these creatures, endangered due to various impacts on their natural habitats, are safely delivered to new homes where they can have some certainty of survival of their species. From the sweetest baby pangolin to a very cantankerous porcupine, a beautiful mamba to a sad and lost half-starved polar bear, the Silver Arrow has a mission – one that is filled with moments of danger and near-misses but ultimately the trip of a lifetime for all.
Readers will be thrilled by the excitement of the adventure and adore the laughs to be had but will also learn a great deal about the plight of many of the world’s most threatened animals. Like Kate and Tom, one might hope that they will also take action to do what they can to preserve and conserve the wonders of nature against loss of habitat, introduced invasive species and of course, humans.
I cannot recommend this highly enough for your readers from around 7 or 8 years upwards. It is both a joy and an inspiration and, in my opinion, destined to become a modern classic.
ISBN: 9781916180529 Imprint: Magic Cat Publishing Australian RRP: $24.99 New Zealand RRP: $27.99
Another fantastic book to inspire your kiddos who are always keen to be eco-warriors especially in their own ‘backyard’ so to speak. This book collates the stories of 12 real-life child environmental entrepreneurs who have identified problems within either their own sphere/locale or globally and engineered their individual responses to solve these.
Children as young as 9 year old Fink from Germany have responded both thoughtfully and successfully to address issues of climate change, habitats and animal protection.
From France to South Africa, India to Australia or Kenya to Ukraine these kids are the champions of the future preservation of the planet and your kiddos could be likewise.
Any unit of work concerning this topic is always a rich source of real-life applications for children and their enthusiasm for embracing and organising change is amazing. Over the years I have seen many students take up the gauntlet of being change-agents whether in their schools, their homes or their communities and certainly these real-life stories will be a source of real inspiration to your own budding activists.
Each double spread features a particular child, their story and facts that not only relate to the environmental focus but include cultural or community details in easy-to-digest snippets.
This is just a marvellous book and I for one will be promoting it to my junior classes and their teachers.
HIghly recommended for readers from around 7 years upwards.
Emmeline Pankhurst must look over her descendant Kate very proudly as she brings to light the stories of so many ‘mighty girls’ to young readers. In this, the third in her series, Kate informs her audience of such outstanding and well-known environmentalists as Jane Goodall and Anita Roddick along with others not so famous such as Aboriginal elders Eileen Kampakuta Brown and Eileen Wani Wingfield who led the campaign to stop the government dumping nuclear waste on their traditional country near Woomera. Many of our students know very well Greta Thunberg’s name and work but for most these equally determined and passionate women will be new names.
Each double spread is packed with facts and vivid illustrations as the twelve superstars of the planet are introduced to the readers and will speak volumes to a young audience who proves themselves repeatedly as equally concerned and respectful of our planet. As an extra a useful list of definitions is included at the end of the book.
There is also a companion activity book which would be a super addition to value add to this title.
Whether you already have mini-conservationists in your circle or are promoting and advocating for the environment this would make a very impressive addition to your collection.
Highly recommended for readers from around eight years upwards.
Where to begin with this absolutely glorious book? Once again Tania has created a jewel of colour and style with her distinctive stylised illustrations and combined with information both fascinating and amazing this is a treasure for readers of all ages.
The wealth of facts about a wide variety of our unique animals is presented in bite-sized segments perfect for easy digestion by avid little naturalists from as young as seven. Each beautiful double spread is crammed with such detail yet easy to absorb with life-sized art of such things as teeth or eggs , annotated portrayals of the animal, scientific names, habitats, diet, appearance, distribution and much, much more all of which will delight and intrigue the reader.
The important issue of conservation is not neglected. Several pages conclude the book with vital information about endangered or extinct animals encouraging children to take action to prevent the loss of more of our natural wonders.
The lineage of animal life is included as is a beautiful spread describing the astonishment of European arrivals with reproductions of early representations of these curious creatures.
An extensive glossary and index complete the volume making this the complete package for young investigators and researchers.
Tania knows well that her books normally do not leave my own personal shelves. However I am going to make a supreme sacrifice with this particular title. This year I have had the pleasure of a little American girl who has been one of my keenest participants in library activities of all kinds. Sadly for us, her university lecturer dad has completed his exchange and she and her equally delightful family will be returning to the States. I can think of no better gift to give her as a keepsake of our shared year and know that she will truly love it.
My prediction is that this should definitely be a given for any award short-list and in my opinion a winner. I highly recommend it to you as a valuable addition to your shelves or a special gift for a child of your acquaintance. With Christmas fast approaching it would make a truly prized present in someone’s stocking!
Back in 2013 Norma MacDonald introduced us to the sprightly joy of a little Spinifex mouse, elusive tiny creature of the Pilbara region in Western Australia– a creature many of us will never otherwise know or see.
Now Norma turns our attention full square onto the dangerous plight that faces not only these adorable little animals but so many others of our natural fauna – feral cats.
I admit it. I’m a cat person. I love our two cats and have owned many before them but I’m also equally passionate about protecting our native animals from them. The prevalence of feral cats, irresponsibly caused by white Australians, has wreaked havoc and continues to do so in our wildlife populations.
Lucky and Spike are out on their nocturnal adventure in search of food and are pursued by one such feral cat as well as a hunting owl. Thankfully in their terror they are able to hide close to the people who are around their campfire. The camp dog takes care of the cat but they still have to evade the owl. It’s a close escape for the intrepid pair – predators abound for such tiny residents of the Pilbara.
This is a great insight into desert natural life and an excellent starting point for simple discussions about protecting our precious species.
Highly recommended for children from about five years upwards.