Tag Archives: Family Life

Willa and Woof #2: Birthday Business – Jacqueline Harvey

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Penguin Australia

October 2022

  • ISBN: 9781761043321
  • Imprint: Puffin
Our newest favourites from JH are back in their second adventure – and just as delightful as when we first met them. Willa is a very sweet and very kind little girl who has several special friends. Most important of these are Woof, her large albino Irish wolfhound and Tae, her neighbour and best young friend, and, lastly, Frank, who lives in the aged care residence next door, can be a wee bit grumpy but is still Willa’s best old friend.

Willa happens to find out that it’s almost Frank’s birthday and it’s a super special significant one. She feels pretty sad when she knows that Frank’s family, son and his wife plus children, who live in England are unable to even be in touch on this special day so, of course, she decides to do something about it.

Determined Willa thinks a surprise party is just the right thing but organising it takes quite a lot of creative thinking as one obstacle after another is thrown up but finally, it’s all in place and despite Tae’s misgivings that they know Frank prefers ‘no fuss’ it seems like it’s going to just tick all the boxes. But the biggest surprise of all is even more exciting than a party – and that part has nothing to do with Willa at all!

Once again this is such a warm and feel-good narrative about family and friendships, kindness and thoughtfulness. I know that children really warm to Jacqueline’s stories and characters because of these recurring themes. And really, how badly are such values needed in modern society? It is so important that we try our very best to encourage our little ones to have such empathy and consideration for others.

Jacqueline’s knack for creating her engaging characters and making sure each adventure is new and fresh has deservedly earned her legion fans of all ages and this new series is certainly going to take it’s place alongside old favourites Clementine Rose, Alice-Miranda, Kensy and Max.

Be sure to add these to your collection, where they will be in constant demand I can promise you.

Highly recommended for your young readers, especially newly independent, from around 5 years upwards.

A Little Spark – Barry Jonsberg

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Allen & Unwin

August 2022

Imprint:A & U Children

ISBN:9781760526924

RRP: $16.99

Once again Barry Jonsberg has crafted a narrative that will speak volumes to middle grade readers. 13 year old Cate is in her first year of high school and her seventh of being the only child of divorced parents. Neither is too bad really. At school she has her best friend Elise, who is also now going through the whole parents splitting trauma. Outside school, she lives with her teacher mum and her new partner, Sam, who is an incredibly kind and understanding guy. Every fortnight she spends the weekend with her dad, who feeds her imagination with rich role-playing and theatrical wonder. Cate is a gifted writer despite her youth and already on her way to being a published and prize-winning author.

But, as can happen, life throws a curveball. Sam is offered a tantalising and life-changing work opportunity in the UK and Cate’s mum is determined they will all go. Cate is resistant to the whole idea, not least because she knows she will leave her dad with no one, not to mention abandoning Elise in her hour of dire need. And then, in one of their fun-filled adventures, Cate and her dad are involved in a major car crash which almost kills him and leaves her with some serious injuries. Understandably, Cate’s mum is even more determined that Cate will go to the UK. But this is one feisty and clever girl who resents being used as a pawn, so with her father’s assent, a court case begins to establish where Cate will live. But what seems like an almost 50/50 chance falls apart at the last minute and things just go from bad to worse. Without saying any more, or throwing in spoilers, Cate’s life changes for the better in some ways and then for the worse in others. Readers will laugh with her (and Elise) and they will cry in her moments of utter despair.

It is a truly magical story which will capture hearts and minds. I love that Barry has completely nailed authentic voices for both these teen girls (and in a way which will not date). With strong themes of family, domestic conflict, friendships, divorce, grief and self-belief, mature and discerning readers from around 11/12 years old will thoroughly enjoy this one. I absolutely loved it and I think it would make a superb title for a book club for your lower secondary readers.

Highly recommended for Year 6 upwards – there is some low level swearing, so if your school is particular about that, exercise caution. Grab teaching notes here.

Miss Penny Dreadful & the Midnight Kittens – Allison Rushby

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Walker Books Australia

August 2022

ISBN: 9781760654030

RRP: $15.99

Allison Rushby‘s delightful new book brings together a host of currently popular themes but presented for your lower primary readers. In the vein of Enola Holmes or Rose Ravensthorpe, this tricky mystery combines all the charm of Victorian quirkiness with strong female characters who possess both boldness and intelligence.

Young Penny Pickering is stuck in a miserable existence at Miss Strickland’s School for Girls of an Enquiring Mind while her scientist parents are who-knows-where busy with who-knows-what. Penny does not fit in at all with the school’s aims nor the other girls. She is far more interested in the type of activities frowned upon by Miss Strickland, for example, the avid reading of ‘penny dreadfuls’ such as those written by her famous Aunt Harriet.

When the celebrated authoress turns up in person and whisks Penny away – with a very evasive explanation that the girl’s parents are indisposed – Penny is only too keen to depart the much hated institution. Not so pleased is Aunt Harriet’s publisher, the rather surly Mr Crowley although there is little he can do about it. And so the first adventure begins as it has been arranged for Aunt Harriet to visit a Mr Toddington’s Museum of the Curious and Absurd where, reputedly, some taxidermied kittens come to life during the night and enjoy a tea party. The very bizarre nature of the exhibits in the museum are pure Victoriana and will fascinate, although likely repulse, young modern readers.

Penny may not have the sort of enquiring mind Miss Strickland expected from her young ladies but she certainly is canny enough to realise that stuffed kittens do not come alive on a nightly basis and begins to unravel the mystery in a very efficient manner. And not surprisingly, the unpleasant Mr Crowley is deeply involved in the whole dubious attempt at hoodwinking. Miss Penny Dreadful may have saved some helpless kittens and helped out the local Lord in doing so but she certainly hasn’t earned any brownie points from scowling Mr Crowley. Readers will very quickly realise that this odious man will continue regard Penny as his bête noire while the delightfully eccentric Aunt Harriet remains blissfully unaware of the undercurrents surrounding her.

All in all this is jolly good fun for readers from around 7 years upwards with adventure, mystery, humour and a splendid dash of history as well and I have every confidence that any reader will look forward to the next instalment with great anticipation.

Highly recommended for lower to middle primary kiddos.

Book Week is coming!

Pearly and Pig and the Great Hairy Beast – Sue Whiting

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Walker Books Australia

March 2022

ISBN: 9781760653590
Imprint: Walker Books Australia
Australian RRP: $15.99

This is quite simply, really good fun! For some reason, it put me very much in mind of the old Rocky & Bullwinkle cartoons (which those elderly people such as myself will recall) especially with the almost absurd characters and situations.

Pearly Woe is the epitome of anxiety-ridden child. From a long line of stealth adventurers, of The Adventurologists’ Guild, she feels she can never live up to the exploits or expectations of her parents or grandparents. Her constant worrying will certainly provide a fine opportunity to discuss mental hwell-being with children – increasing numbers of whom are becoming more and more prone to anxiety.

When her parents are kidnapped, it falls to Pearly and her trusty companion, Pig, to mount a rescue. Her ability to speak to animals is her greatest skill and Pig’s ability to literally sniff out danger, as well as truth, make them a potentially formidable pair – if only Pearly can find some self-confidence.

The nasty Emmeline Woods (every bit as despicable as Natasha Fatale ever was!) is not in pursuit of The Great Hairy Beast to film it for a documentary. She’s a big game hunter intent on the kill of the century and is completely ruthless about achieving her goal.

How on earth can one small girl and a talented pig defeat such a nemesis? Luckily, Pearly and Pig stumble across the Professor and once they do, the game plan changes, and plucky Pearly demonstrates that she is most worthy of membership of the Guild.

This really will delight your young readers from around Year 3 upwards – with its humour as well as the concepts of trust, self-belief, friendship and family.

Gus and the Starlight – Victoria Carless

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Harper Collins

May 2022

  • ISBN: 9781460760642
  • ISBN 10: 1460760646
  • Imprint: HarperCollins AU
  • List Price: 16.99 AUD

This is such a completely fresh take on both family stories and ghost stories. It is charming, poignant and thoroughly engaging for readers from around mid-primary to lower secondary.

Gus is tired of moving house and never belonging anywhere. It’s the reason she refuses to make friends. When her mother packs her, her older sister and younger brother, up yet again and they basically escape the ugly situation with Mum’s boyfriend, things don’t look like getting any better. They wind up in a little hick town, where they start living in an abandoned and reputedly haunted drive-in movie theatre in exchange for getting it up and running. Much to the surprise of the nasty employer (but not quite owner) and to Gus, her family actually begins to turn this enterprise into somewhat of a success. That doesn’t mean though, that she’s going to make friends. She’s choosing not to like her new teacher or the project she’s doing with her strange science partner, with whom she most certainly is not going to be friends. She really doesn’t want to love being the projectionist at the Starlight and she definitely does not want to hang out with the strange boy she sees around the drive-in.

There are all kinds of ghosts in life – the ones that are those who have passed on but also the ones who are very much alive but choose to pursue from the past. Gus learns to deal with both kinds as well as discovering new skills and depths to herself, of which she had no idea prior to coming to this quiet little town. As well, her family grows and slowly flourishes, like blooms in a freshly-dug garden bed, as they all find true acceptance in their new home.

This will definitely find an audience with your readers particularly around year 5-7, both boys and girls, as its appeal is wide.

Dear Greta – Yvette Poshoglian

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Penguin Australia

March 2022

  • ISBN: 9781761043789
  • Imprint: Puffin
  • RRP: $16.99
Like most kids in their last year of primary school, Alice Boghosian is hoping it will be her best one yet and that she will really stand out. What she doesn’t expect to do is stand up for what’s right, especially in the face of strong opposition, and with just everything (so it seems) going completely awry.

First of all, for their writing task, a collaborative project between library and classroom, Alice gets Greta Thunberg as her ‘significant person’ to whom she is meant to write fictional letters. Who wants to get a teen environmental activist to write to? Now a pop star, that would have been far easier and way more fun too.

Then because of the whole COVID thing, the annual Harmony Day Food Festival can’t take place in it’s usual actual on-site format (we all know those disappointments by now). Instead of an oval full of colourful stalls and delicious smells with loads of visitors and even media coverage, Alice is one of four kids tasked with creating a virtual event. So how the heck do you turn a food festival with real food into a virtual event that people will want to see – especially when one of your team is the school’s most annoying boy?

But her woes don’t end there. When her grandmother – her nene – has a heart attack, she comes to stay with Alice’s family – in Alice’s bedroom, where she proceeds to take over, even usurping Alice’s favourite trackpants!! How rude!

And then of course, there is the usual stuff with which to contend – her superior older sister, her dad’s disappointment over not being able to save the local wetlands from a freeway development and her best friend’s fragile health. In fact, just about every which way she turns, Alice is faced with seemingly impossible dilemmas.

But somehow, over the term, as she comes to research more about Greta and begins to share her thoughts and feelings in the format of the so-called fictional emails, Alice begins to see many things in a different light. The very fact of writing down her problems and emotions actually starts to open up a range of possibilities, empowering Alice to ultimately emulate Greta in standing up for what’s right and fair. And along the way, discovering that those other ‘problems’ weren’t impossible to solve after all. In fact, things seem to unravel easily once you change your mindset – a good lesson for us all, really.

This was a very enjoyable read, which I knocked over last night, and one which kiddos from around Year 4 to Year 7 would best enjoy. It’s not a difficult read, especially given the format of the emails telling the narrative but it has many layers to it, which I can see translating well to a shared reading for a class. Much rich discussion could arise on many topics: family life, relationships and heritage, multiculturalism, environmental issues both past and present, protests, sibling rivalry, and friendships among them.

I know it came in our standing order last week so some folks will already have a copy but if not, do yourself a favour, and add it to your list soon. I intend for it to be part of our Harmony Day display in our library!

As a footnote: for those of you who missed the Everyone’s an Author series, produced by NSW Dept of Ed (with which Yvette was involved), make sure you check it out. It was a valuable resource for our Write a Book in a Day kids last year!

Specky Magee- Felice Arena, Gary Lyons

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Penguin Australia

1st March 2022

  • ISBN: 9780143777168
  • Imprint: Puffin
  • RRP: $16.99

Seriously, these anniversaries always give me such a jolt – “Whaddya mean 20 years of Specky?” she says with disbelief as she opens the parcel. Yep, face it, you have been doing this job a long time! I’m the first to admit (much to the disgust of a couple of former gentleman friends) that I am not an AFL aficionado – hello!? born and bred in Sydney, right in the heart of Dragons territory and went to St George GHS – any surprise as to my football allegiance!?) but the Specky series is so much more than football.

Any youngster who is a keen follower or player loves this series – right from the start I can confirm – and it will be no different as a new generation pick them up. The footy aspect is integral, of course, and the story line is fortified by the technical ‘know-how’ inserted at relevant points. But the theme of Specky is so much more than this. Readers will relate with ease to Specky’s relationships with friends and family, at school or at home or on the footy field, and they will empathise with his dilemmas and concerns.

It is in this first Specky story that he discovers he is adopted, and as anyone could imagine, the whole unravelling of this (so far) family secret causes much disquiet all round but the sensitivity and understanding that underlies the text is so very affirmative and reassuring for any young reader.

Readers don’t need to know anything about the game (hey I’m testament to that point). If they are fans, they will love the footy details but even without that, they will thoroughly enjoy the well-paced plot, the interactions of family and friends and Specky’s very down-to-earth and utterly believable actions, speech, and responses to the situations in which he finds himself.

There is obviously a very valid reason why these books are still so popular. In fact, in my new library, while I’m dissing a lot of titles that, rightfully, should be in a primary library, I strongly defended Specky. If our Year 7s come in and haven’t yet discovered this legend, they should and I will be the first to recommend!

I highly recommend this series to you for your readers from around Year 4 upwards but please – bear in mind, if you are struggling to tempt some readers (boys or girls) in lower secondary who lack confidence and enthusiasm but are mad AFL players – give this the biggest plug ever!! I’m now trying to think what incentive I can add to a big promo of it in my new space!

The PM’s Daughter – Meredith Costain

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Penguin Australia

March 2022

  • ISBN: 9781761046704
  • Imprint: Puffin
  • RRP: $16.99

I’m well aware that many things just pass me by – especially when it comes to TV. To be fair, though The Kid is a teen, she would be way too engrossed with her horror movies to watch a show on the ABC but it appears that this series has been quite the hit.

Inspired by the series, Meredith Costain has brought her considerable talent and experience to crafting a book that will, most certainly, engage your tween/teen readers. This storyline really has something for everyone. Cat (otherwise known as Catalina) is the daughter of Australia’s first single parent/female/foreign-born PM – which, let’s face it is hugely significant in itself (and really, let’s hope prophetic, shall we?). After a tedious and tiring FIFO scenario, Cat and her PM mum, plus great-aunt Tia (who is totes adorable) are re-locating to Canberra from Perth.

The Lodge is not the most hip place to live for sure (and yes, I have seen inside it, so can vouch for that) and Cat is well miffed at leaving behind home, friends, and pets to be faced with protocols, antique furniture, hideous clothes and boring functions. Most of all, she’s full fed up that she is expected to put aside her own values and beliefs around important issues like climate change and the voting age to ‘toe the party line’ for the sake of her mum.

And, of course, it’s not because she doesn’t love her mum but, after all, she’s a teen girl – that’s her prerogative surely? – disagree and battle over everything! (Trust me, I’m on my second time around raising The Kid so I know of which I speak!).

Canberra is, as always, a heaving mass of fomenting discord with agitators – especially the youthful ones – as well as opposition to the new PM’s proposed policies, the threat of WA seceding and the usual hoi polloi of political media circus. And Cat ends up right in the middle of it all as she navigates new situations, tries to make friends whilst dancing around the trust issues and struggles to make her own voice heard.

When her mum is in danger of losing her new post due to blatant sabotaging, it falls to Cat and her new chums to salvage a career – whilst maintaining their own values and beliefs, no easy ask.

This is a tremendously enjoyable read which I think kiddos from around 12/13 will greatly appreciate. It has action, tension, family relationships, friendships, a little romance and a good dash of suspense to keep the discerning reader interested.

I’m definitely going to talk this one up to my year 7s & 8s in particular, and already considering adding it the newly revamped lit circle program I’m creating.

Highly recommended for readers from 12 upwards – and those reluctant readers who can often be tempted by the film tie-in angle.

The Chime Seekers – Ross Montgomery

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Walker Books Australia

November 2021

ISBN: 9781406391190
Imprint: Walker

RRP: $18.99 Au , $21.99 NZ

Some of us of a certain vintage have enduring memories of Jareth, The Goblin King (aka the divine David Bowie) taking away baby Toby when Sarah becomes so frustrated with her little brother that she wishes him gone. Ross Montgomery has combined that idea with traditional English folklore of faerie and created a fantasy adventure that will thrill readers from the first page.

Yanni is angry. He is angry with his parents for taking him away from the little house in town where he has lived all his life, because it is too small. He is angry that their new place is not just in the country but in a horrible place called Fallow Hall, where everything is bleak and bare. He is angry because they have not gone for their usual summer holiday to visit his grandparents in Greece and he misses his Yiayia terribly. He is angry because now he has to put up with his annoying cousin, Amy. And most of all, he is angry because his parents have baby Ari and she alone is the reason for all the other calamities.

When Yanni and Amy are left to babysit Ari, all Yanni’s angry thoughts come together in a rush when the children accidentally allow an evil faerie into the house, and baby Ari is kidnapped, with a changeling left in her place. Despite his resentment of his little sister, Yanni cannot allow her to be trapped in the faerie world and together with Amy, he goes through the portal into a whole other Fallow Hall where the two cousins must use all their wits, skill and resilience to face down the trickery and cruelty of Lorde Renwin.

This is exciting and a tiny bit scary, thankfully with moment of humour to offset the tension, with so many rich characters and plot twists that able readers will thoroughly enjoy every moment of the perilous journey. Side by side with the quest are some lovely insights into family relationships, courage, sacrifice and ingenuity. It is the sort of book one just gobbles up because the unbearable urge to know what happens next is overwhelming. Sophisticated and astute readers from around ten years upwards will relish this and I thoroughly endorse it as a fabulous addition to your collection.

The Break – Phillip Gwynne

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Penguin Australia

  • September 2021
  • ISBN: 9780143789383
  • Imprint: Penguin
  • RRP: $19.99

I have to say Phillip is soooooo very good at the fast-paced action/adventure genre and, all the while, making it entirely believable. It did take me a while to work through the pile to get to this one but I absolutely gobbled it up when I did. Anyone who has read The Debt series or Deadly Unna, or others of Phillip’s back catalogue, will know how skilled he is with this high-octane coming-of-age narrative, that will always capture your readers – particularly, those hard to reach boys in their teens.

This really has it all. It’s a tightly woven story of Taj, who has grown up with the beaches of Bali and the best of everything, with his entrepreneurial mother who runs a swimwear empire. Downside of his life is that his dad is in an infamous Indonesian jail, on death row for drug smuggling, his case having been one of the most highly-publicised in the past decade. When the turbulent political climate of the country forces Taj into an impossible situation, with his father about to be executed, he takes action the only way he feels he can. He breaks his dad out of jail and they go on the run.

It is, of course, a desperate and dangerous course of action, and Taj is up against near impossible odds. He is far from certain who he can trust or who is hiding secrets but as the wild ride continues, friends appear as do traitors and, certainly, there is not a single dull moment in this narrative.

I was very pleased to arrive in my new library to find this already on the ‘new books’ display as it will be a great title to book-talk – though, for older students as there is a liberal use of swearing and some confronting issues raised – drug use, infidelity and so on.

Highly recommended for your older students from around 15 upwards.