Tag Archives: Family relationships

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.

Ash Barty presents Little Ash…:Ash Barty with Jasmin McGaughey/Jade Goodwin

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Harper Collins

July 2022

Little Ash Perfect Match! #1

  • ISBN : 9781460762769
  • ISBN 10: 1460762762
  • Imprint: HarperCollins AU
  • List Price: 9.99 AUD

Little Ash Friendship Fix-it! #2

  • ISBN: 9781460762776
  • ISBN 10: 1460762770
  • Imprint: HarperCollins AU
  • List Price: 9.99 AUD

Little Ash Tennis Rush! #3

  • ISBN: 9781460762783
  • ISBN 10: 1460762789
  • Imprint: HarperCollins AU
  • List Price: 9.99 AUD

Little Ash Goal Getter #4

  • ISBN: 9781460762790
  • ISBN 10: 1460762797
  • Imprint: HarperCollins AU
  • List Price: 9.99 AUD

These little chapter books for your emerging readers are just great fun but, of course, also promote some terrific values and ideas – healthy exercise, friendship, sportsmanship, family values and school – along with the inspiration of one of our most celebrated sports stars. There is no doubt that Ash Barty has won hearts worldwide, not just for her prowess in her chosen sport but her unfailing good grace and exemplary behaviour. In a world of so-called ‘sports stars’ who behave far more like spoiled brats, Ash is a shining beacon of what we all hope for our children.

Beginning with her first foray into tennis, and her progess, and charming stories of friends, school and family, these will be a huge hit with any of your younger readers. Ash not only exemplifies the best of attitudes in sport but is such a huge inspiration in particular for young First Australian kiddos. She truly is a champion ‘on and off the court’.

I for one hope there are more to come in this series and would love to get it in the hands of some people (planning on doing that soon!). Highly recommended for small humans from around 6 years old.

Seven Days- Fleur Ferris

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Penguin Australia

May 2022

  • ISBN: 9781761043352
  • Imprint: Puffin
  • RRP: $16.99

I really do love a good countdown action/adventure and Fleur Ferris has brought her masterful manipulation of tension into a fantastic new narrative for middle school readers. In similar fashion to her hugely successful and popular suspenseful stories for YA kiddos, this one follows a cracking pace from the very first page.

Ben is really angry with his father, who seems to be far more interested in his high-flying corporate job crushing people and the environment, than in Ben. And now, much to his complete disgust, Ben is being packed off to the country to spend a week with his aunt, uncle and cousin – a fate too horrible to contemplate from this teen’s point of view. It’s not that he thinks his aunt and uncle are awful, it’s just that his cousin is so much more adept than him dealing with country type stuff like animals and motorbikes and physical activity. Ben is really far more citified than he cares to admit at times.

The very last thing that Ben imagines happening is to become embroiled in a generations-old family feud, a murder mystery and a treasure hunt which ends up in the enclosure of two very cranky hippos at the nearby zoo. Ben has set his watch the minute he arrives in Manibee to countdown until it’s time to go back home, but now that seven days ticking away is how long he has to solve a century-old crime, work out the location of an almost mythical cache of stolen jewelry – oh, and actually survive the dangers on all sides.

With the unexpected assistance of his cousin Josh, with whom he finally develops a far more friendly relationship, as well as the even more surprising aid from Josh’s crush, Olivia, of the very family that despises their own (a nice little Romeo & Juliet twist here), Ben manages to unearth the long lost stolen goods, prove the solution of the crime, and resolve the family feud but not without a dramatic plot twist that will make readers’ heads spin!

With lots to say about family, misleading appearances, values and beliefs, friendship and acceptance of differences, your readers from around Year 6 upwards will truly relish this fast-paced thrilling ride.

Highly recommended for middle primary/lower secondary – this is an author to whom your kiddos will love an introduction!

The Boy Who Hatched Monsters- T. C. Shelley

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Bloomsbury Publishing

March 2022

ISBN9781526600790
ImprintBloomsbury Children’s Books

RRP: $14.99

This is just an absolutely marvellous conclusion to T. C. Shelley’s trilogy and Sam’s struggle for both acceptance and a real family. Readers who love such stories as How to Train Your Dragon and The House with Chicken Legs (with rather more darkness) or Neil Gaiman’s magical fantasies (but with rather more light) will love this series. Don’t let your older readers be misled by the covers – which are gorgeous in themselves but lend themself to a more primary audience – because I’ve had a lot of Year 7s and 8s reading these and just loving them. I think they will be happy/sad that Sam’s epic journey has come to a beautiful end.

Sam, half monster/half fairy, has not only that secret to keep but many others. For example, there’s the one about his pack – the gargoyles who protect him, and the one about his school friends, the shape shifters who can change into dogs at will. There’s also the one about the rumour that he is the new King of Ogres and that Queen Maggie, the very nasty faerie who purports to be his mother, is delighted to find out that has more powers than she had imagined. Not to mention that he’s hatched a tiny gargoyle just by sneezing – and that the Kavanagh family, with whom he is fostered, are, in fact, his real family, from whom he was stolen many years before. Sam is not one to bow down and do evil, no matter how high the stakes, so he must find a way forward to defeat Maggie and create a new world for monsterkind. With the aid of his pack and his own innate goodness and ability to express kindness to all, he is well on his way to a fitting climax to his arduous battle.

There is high drama, and much humour. There is unswerving belief in acting with integrity, and there is unshakeable loyalty. There is a wonderful lesson in diversity and accepting differences, and, above all, the importance of love, especially that for family and friends.

I have loved this series so much – and I am also happy/sad that it has come to an end but I do look forward very much to T. C. Shelley’s next foray into writing – particularly if it is for upper primary/lower secondary.

Highly recommended for your lovers of magical fantasy from around 9 years upwards.

Teaching notes from the author

James Gong: the Chinese Dragon – Paul Collins

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Hybrid Publishers

February 2022

ISBN: 9781925736793

RRP: $16.99

Your middle school kids will love this second instalment of James Gong (see James Gong: The Big Hit if you missed the first). Paul Collins has drawn on his experiences as a martial arts expert to bring another action-packed episode in the life of James Gong to readers with the same fun and verve as the first.

Since his big movie role of the earlier book, James has moved into virtual martial arts (I sure didn’t know that even existed!) and has been participating in competition, in which Ming Lee, the Chinese Dragon, is the undisputed virtso Queen. James’ friends, Ethan and Jay, are back as well as his nemesis Brian Tossa, but the new relationship that builds between James and Ming is a real plus. They make a very satisfyingly balanced combination – James, with his usual ham-fisted and often sketchy decisions, and Ming, who is far more considered and level-headed. Of course, nothing stops the pair from entering into the illegal virtso competitive field where the stakes, and dangers, are even higher but with any luck their combined ‘skills’ might win through.

I know nothing about martial arts, let alone the virtual kind, but it is very obvious that Paul’s expertise in this field is not exaggerated as his details provide authenticity to all the action, which is both exciting and tense. It is this that will prove the drawcard to your readers, particularly those who are reluctant to pick up novels. It is a very easily accessible text for the not-so-strong readers, with the non-stop exploits creating genuine engagement.

This is a definite promo for my new Year 9 English kiddos, many of whom have put their hands up to admit they are not readers. This could definitely be a winner with some of them I know.

Highly recommended for readers from around 12 years upwards.

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.

When the War Came Home – Lesley Parr

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Bloomsbury Australia

March 2022

ISBN: 9781526621009

Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing. Imprint: Bloomsbury Children’s Books

RRP: $14.99

A year ago I reviewed my first Lesley Parr historical fiction and absolutely loved it – I book-talked it for weeks afterwards to my kiddos, many of whom also enjoyed it hugely. So I was most excited to receive this new title, about to be published, and equally as fascinating, engaging and emotive.

This new tale is set post The Great War and 12-year-old Natty is a very truculent protagonist who has moved with her mother to the Welsh countryside. Her mother, Ffion, has been sacked from her factory job after sticking up for workers’ rights and, unable to afford the rent on their very humble lodgings, the pair must go and live with family, Natty’s aunt and uncle. For Natty, it’s a combination of everything that makes her so miserable and antagonistic – feeling like a charity case, having to change schools, living in the countryside and, above all, having to share a room with her cousin, Nerys, – the ultimate paragon and insufferable know-it-all. She gets on much better with her older cousin, Huw, but his terrible mental state after returning from the war has reduced his capacity to moderate his moods and to re-connect with his family and friends.

Then Natty encounters some of the convalescing soldiers hosted in the village and her friendship with them, along with her determination to help, especially, Johnny whose amnesia has robbed him of his entire life. Natty becomes more and more sure that not only might she be able to help Johnny solve the mystery of his past, but perhaps, along the way, she can help Huw as well.

If that’s not enough, Natty and Nerys become reconciled through their joint campaign to demand equitable access for all the students at the local school, and in doing so, Natty develops a true understanding of her mother’s passion for equal rights and justice.

It’s a great read for sure and, more than that, explores so many important themes that will provide fodder for much rich discussion with your readers.

I highly recommend it for your readers from around Year 5 upwards, particularly those eternally fascinated with stories of children in difficult circumstances.

Pre-order now here

We Were Wolves – Jason Cockcroft

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Walker Books Australia

June 2021

ISBN: 9781839130571
Imprint: Andersen Press
Australian RRP: $26.99
New Zealand RRP: $28.99

There are some seriously fabulous YA books coming out of the UK recently – and I’m not trying to take anything away from our local authors at all – it’s just that every single UK title I’ve read, probably in the last year, has completely blown me away. This is another of them.

Dark and intense, it is the story of one boy’s relationship with his da, set amid the angst and terrible sadness of PTSD. The nameless narrator, referred to as Boy or the boy, relates the events he experiences living with his dad, in a caravan in the woods. Actually, it’s more the events he experiences once his dad is ‘banged up’ and he struggles to work things out on his own. It’s not that he can’t go home to his Mam, but more, the intense loyalty he feels towards his father, with his certainty that he is the only one who can ‘get through’ to his dad in the moments of danger. Boy knows he can manage in the caravan on his own but it’s the dark forces circling, like the Bad Man, Toomey, and the hidden beasts lurking that are his biggest enemy.

His meeting with Sophie is paramount in his struggle to keep a grip on some kind of hope and lifeline to normality but even more than this, has been the arrival of an elderly dog he calls Mol(ly) – both of these become his comfort and bolster in the danger he faces.

This is not an easy read. There are kids who will struggle with it – not because it’s difficult technically, but because it is quite confronting emotionally but those who persist will be well rewarded. There are many teens for whom life is not easy, but the lifeline/s offered by friends, family and others are so important , and equally important, is for us to put such books into the hands of young people.

This is another beautifully presented book I have read in the last week or so – with a striking dust jacket, fabulous end papers and evocative illustrations.

I will be definitely be book talking this one at our first ChocLit meeting when term begins and I highly recommend it for your astute readers from around 14 years upwards.

The Travelling Bookshop #1: Mim and the Baffling Bully – Katrina Nannestad

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Harper Collins Australia

July 2021

  • ISBN: 9781460713662
  • ISBN 10: 1460713664
  • Imprint: ABC Books
  • List Price: 8.99 AUD

I absolutely love this return to her whimsical, feel-good style from Katrina Nannestad, in this new and thoroughly delightful series. Although pitched at younger readers, I can absolutely see my older readers, who are keen fans of The Girl, the Dog, the Writer…taking this up with glee and loving it.

Mim Cohen travels with her father, little brother, a horse called Flossy and a cockatoo called Coco in their travelling bookshop caravan. Where ever Flossy leads them is where they are meant to be and when they arrive in a small Dutch village, it is clear that they are here for a reason and when Mim meets Willemina, a kind girl who is being horribly bullied, it seems to her that she needs to help. But is it just Willemina who needs help?

The travelling bookshop is a magical entity and visitors are always completely surprised when they first enter it to find how mysteriously capacious it is. After all it’s not every old wooden caravan that contains a basement is it? One of it’s greatest mysteries – or perhaps the mystery of Mim’s dad, sometimes known as Dreadful Zeddy – is the fact that the bookshop provides exactly the right book for the right customer, despite any thoughts to the contrary by either customer or Mim. So the woman who is looking for a crime novel but takes a book about termites, or the man who searched for a tome on tractors but ends up with Knitted Tea Cosies may be initially rather baffled but as it unfolds, have exactly what was needed.

Their sojourn in the pretty little Dutch village and their interactions with the inhabitants is heart-warming and joyous, full of imagination and wonder which will enchant readers from around 7 years upwards. I for one can’t wait to read more adventures of Mim and the travelling bookshop and look forward to the next instalment with great anticipation. And I certainly want to know more about Mim’s mother, the world-travelling civil engineer.

I’m going to really enjoy promoting this one to my middle/upper primary kiddos as well as my younger secondary ones who are already great fans of Katrina’s work.

Very heartily recommended for readers from around 7 years upwards.