Tag Archives: Family

End of the holidays

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Well funsters, normally round about now, at the tail end of the second week of spring break, I’d be gnashing my teeth about the holidays coming to an end. But – oh my lordy! – the complete and utter bliss of NOT being fully employed (without the usual stress of that situation). The Kid and I have had a lovely two weeks with about half of that time spent up the coast with her surfing and skating, and me enjoying watching her, and both of us sharing some lovely time with our friend, her coach, and other friends.

I have actually done some ‘other’ work in that time – having had a couple of paid writing commissions – jobs which I hope will parlay into more of the same. I have read LOTS and now have at least ten books piled up – from PBs to adult bios – for which to write reviews. That’s on the agenda for the next few days. I’m already booked for one day’s relief work (in a close-by library at a tasty school – yayy!) when term starts next week, and have to also write up The Kid’s home school program but I’m sure it will all work out just fine.

So stay tuned for some upcoming reviews of some fabulous reads and if you are just starting out your new school year in the northern hemisphere, all good fortune to you – and for my Aussie colleagues happy 4th term!

The Colourful World of Poppy Starr Olsen: A novel inspired by the life of the Australian Olympic skateboarder – Poppy Starr Olsen & Jess Black

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Penguin Australia

  • August 2022
  • ISBN: 9780143778837
  • Imprint: Puffin
  • RRP: $16.99

From the opening pages this is just a joyful experience and one that I binged in just two sessions. I’ll be honest here. I didn’t know of Poppy (I don’t watch or follow the Olympics) and I know – well knew – zilch about skateboarding so I didn’t really know what to expect. What I got is a delightful narrative (based on fact, presumably) that revolves around family and friends, following one’s dream, being adventurous, having self-belief and standing up for one’s rights and expectations.

Not only did I thoroughly enjoy Poppy’s story but I really did learn so much – as will readers – and not just via the interspersed facts, but also from the lively descriptions of skating and surfing. Of course, with The Kid now pursuing surfing, it was this connection between the two sports that really grabbed my full attention. Now Grom is the proud owner of a surf-skate carver skateboard and learning to use it is a priority in the agenda! And really it’s pretty fun when your surf coach demonstrates his own skateboard skills (notwithstanding the age he was turning the next day!)

sorry John, and you know you are the coolest guy we know! 😘😍

Poppy lives with her lively and adventurous family in beautiful Bondi and her passion is skateboarding, closely followed by surfing, along with art and craft, family adventures and hanging out with friends. She loves to skate and while she has entered competitions, they have been more about a fun one-off rather than serious events. But when her local skatepark is about to host an awesome comp, Poppy knows she wants to definitely be part of it and give it her best shot. Except it looks like she’s not allowed to compete! Feisty young Poppy is not going to let discrimination stand in her way and just as she wins that battle, another one looms when a local councillor tries to thwart the competition taking place.

It is totally engaging and exciting and the proof of that is that I did a first chapter read-aloud with my Year 6 relief class last week and even the ‘difficult’ boys were totally absorbed!!! WINNING!

I guarantee you will have just as much success promoting to your readers – from middle school right up to year 7 and as much fun doing so!

Highly recommended for kiddos from around ten years on.

Just watch this winning performance!

The Book of Wondrous Possibilities – Deborah Abela

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Penguin Australia

  • 2 August 2022
  • ISBN: 9781761044021
  • Imprint: Puffin
  • RRP: $16.99

From the opening paragraph this brilliant book simply sparkles with magic and adventure – unsurprisingly, for those of us who have followed Deborah Abela’s writing career for years!

My first encounter with this joyful creator was when, as the organiser of an extravaganza showcase at Marrickville Library, way back around 2004, I invited Deborah )who had just hit the kid lit lists with her Max Remy serie) to be our special guest for the kiddos. She was a huge drawcard then – and still is!

Your readers of such books as Inkspell and Pages & Co are going to flip out about this one. It has everything needed to enthrall and excite middle graders: a reluctant and self-doubting hero, a feisty girl to organise things, a sweet guardian, a nasty villain, a dubious pillar of society with a very strong-minded daughter – and a completely endearing pet mouse who will steal everyone’s heart – all tied up in a world of literary magic like no other.

Arlo Goodman has lived with his uncle Avery, in the bookshop, since his mother was tragically killed in a hit-and-run accident. When bolshie Lisette, runs into the shop and promptly hides from a particularly intimidating pursuer, Arlo’s quiet – and rather dull – existence is suddenly turned upside down. It appears his mother has left him a grimoire – a mysterious book in which the stories written are magically realised – and his own story is to help understand just how brave he truly is. Lisette’s grandmother has also died, under terrible circumstances, and now the girl’s inherited ability to magically write the stories of the grimoire is being sought by wealthy and sinister business tycoon, Marcellus, via his brutal henchman, Silas.

Mystery and adventure, humour and pathos all mix together to create this abundantly glorious new narrative from one of middle schoolers’ favourite writers. I, for one, would like to see more adventures from Arlo, Lisette and Herbert – just saying!. Congratulations Deborah on another superb read! Highly recommended for your kiddos from around Year 4 to Year 7.

Read more about Deborah’s wondrous writing during lockdown here and if you are a Sydneysider, get thee to the Glee party!

The Silver Sea – Belinda Murrell

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Penguin Australia

  • August 2022
  • ISBN: 9781761045554
  • Imprint: Puffin
  • RRP: $16.99
I really can’t rave enough over this new series of Belinda’s! The first The Golden Tower was a book that I literally gobbled up and this one took only a little bit longer (due to the fact that The Kid has been sick and I’ve been tired!). And how delightful it has been to re-visit Tuscia, the parallel world that Sophie has come to love.

Young Sophie is still living with her grandmother while her mum and brother are busy with Archie’s summer camp for young geniuses. During her summer sojourn Sophie has discovered, by complete accident, her Nanna’s connection with beautiful Tuscia and the Rossellana family. After one grand adventure, Sophie has been spending lots of time learning to fence and just generally enjoying the time with her grandmother.

Then one morning she wakes up to no Nanna, just a note explaining that her grandmother had to return to Tuscia to help her sister. That in itself would be strange enough – to leave Sophie without notice – but when grumpy cat Baccio arrives to tell a tale of kidnap and danger, Sophie knows it is not just strange but frightening. The only solution is for her to return to Tuscia herself and work with her Rossellana family to rescue the two old ladies.

Little does Sophie, or her family, know that the kidnapping is the tip of an iceberg of intrigues, long-held grudges, monstrous and cruel villains and devious plots.

Belinda Murrell takes her readers on another exciting and fascinating adventure through this fictitious, but almost real, land with a real focus on friendship, courage, resilience and initiative throughout. Sophie’s encounters with travelling players and evil sorcerers, a sea monsters and a winged lion and more make for thrilling reading, which is made all the more enjoyable for the introduction to Italian language and cultural references throughout.

Another cracking read (and series!) from this delightful author. If you missed the first, make sure you catch up and add this one. Highly recommended for readers from around Year 4 upwards.

Scorpion Falls – Martin Chatterton

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Ford St Publishing

August 2022

ISBN: 978781922696090

RRP: $18.99

Honestly, my first thought as I really got underway with this new offering from Martin Chatterton was: the Stranger Things fans are going to LOVE this!  Lo and behold when I visited Martin’s website before beginning to write this review, he makes the same comment. Always good to know you’ve got the right take on a book – haha!

It’s Australian Gothic horror/dark comedy at its best and if you have those readers who seek out the somewhat bizarre or unusual plot lines, make sure you get this on your orders list now.

14-year-old Theo Sumner lives in a Queensland mining town, Scorpion Falls, where he is a bit of a loner – and often a victim of school bullying. His best friend Ari and her parents run the Iguana Motel, where Theo works after school. His mother is wheelchair-bound with MS and things are exactly a picnic for Theo either at home or elsewhere.

When a creepy stranger moves into the motel and even creepier things start happening around Theo, he begins to see a very different side to dull and boring Scorpi (start thinking Upside Down style!). Cue the samecreepy stranger finding a pair of ‘gooey’ eyeballs on his bed, and Theo’s mum admitting she put them there – and away this twisting and turning plot goes! A mysterious white van, the apparent abduction but then re-appearance of Theo’s nemesis, a student (who has apparently never existed) being dragged into a store room and vanishing without a trace – all this and more is doing Theo’s head in.

Teenagers disappearing, fake cops, robotic spiders, winding subterranean tunnels, a kid literally laughing his head off – it’s all unravelling in a completely disturbing and spooky way in Theo’s world.

Chatterton explores themes of trust, friendship, exclusion, racism, identity and mortality.  The sting in the scorpion’s tail will completely blow readers away and I’m looking forward to my first kiddos to read it to see their reactions!

Pre-order now!

Highly recommended to your secondary readers who love the quirky or weird pseudo-supernatural particularly.

The Ghost Locket – Allison Rushby

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Walker Books

April 1st 2022

ISBN: 9781760654153
Imprint: Walker Books Australia
Distributor: Walker Australia
Binding:
Release Date: April 1, 2022

Australian RRP: $17.99
New Zealand RRP: $19.99

Allison Rushby has repeatedly proven her gift for suspenseful spookiness for middle-grade readers and this new book, in my opinion, might just have tipped the scales of my favourite so far. Eleven-year-old Lolli (Olivia) has never known her mother, who died when she was just three months old. She knows that her mum had some mental health issues and a difficult life but that’s about all she knows. She’s been raised by her mum’s friend, Freya, somewhat by default really, but that hasn’t stopped the two developing a bond as close as any biological mother and child would have. Their other much-loved family member is Freya’s great-aunt, Elsie, owner of an extraordinary old house in Spitalfields, London.

The house is a museum that’s not a museum really. It’s an installation – a theatrical set, if you will – where each room reflects a different period of history, and how it might have looked when occupied by family. For the many visitors who come to see it, especially at Christmastime, it is a thing of wonder and joy. For Lolli, it is the source of nightmares. She knows that as a baby she screamed if taken into the house, and she remembers only too vividly her last visit when the ‘thing’ swooped down her and almost crushed her. Now Elsie needs her help, and Lolli must overcome her fears and panic, control her mind and bring all her energies to bear to solve the ages-old dark secret of the house.

Readers will absolutely love the slow reveal of clues and facts that help us to follow Lolli’s thoughts, and her reflections on her own life and her connections to both people and the world. As with Allison’s other books, the creepiness is at exactly the right pitch – enough to scare a young reader deliciously but not leave them traumatised. Parallel to the exquisite ghost story, is a warm and wondrous take on family, and what it means to each of us, whatever our circumstances.

For those who know my own, I read this paragraph and got very teary – as the seventh anniversary of my girl’s passing was last week, and The Kid’s 17th birthday is this week – and for this one passage I truly thank Allison for her words which are so applicable in our context.

“Your mother was a good person, [Lolli]. And don’t ever let anyone tell you otherwise. All she’d want for you in this life is for you to be a good person too. That you are always brave enough to be your best self. That you strive to do the right thing. The good thing. The loving thing. The helpful thing. The kind thing. That’s exactly what your mother would have done her whole life long if the world hadn’t broken her first.”

I was interested to read Allison’s notes at the back of the book and learn of the inspiration for the house in her story. You can read more about Dennis Severs’ House and understand the fascination for so many. For me this is exactly what ‘museums’ should be like – they should be living things as much as possible. [I don’t want to see a discarded object with a card tag attached to it, lying pointlessly on a shelf. I would much rather see it in its ‘actual’ setting! Canterbury Museum in NZ remains firmly in my memory after visiting when I was about 13 or so for the amazing Christchurch St collection and more.]

This is just one utterly fab read! – a little bit of history, a lot of creepiness, a bit of angst, a lot of love – all in all, a perfect package for any reader from around an astute 9 years up to 13 or so. I highly recommend it to you and I know I am looking forward to book talking it with my Year 7s before the holidays.

Ming & Flo Fight for the Future: (The Girls Who Changed the World #1) – Jackie French

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Harper Collins

March 2022

  • ISBN: 9781460760208
  • ISBN 10: 1460760204
  • List Price: 16.99 AUD

A brand new series from Jackie French is always cause for great excitement, and this one is going to be a corker, given this fabulous start!

We have all been awed by Jackie’s wealth of historical novels and her indomitable female characters over the years. Now younger readers have the opportunity to examine and reflect upon the past, with its many, often hidden, layers while becoming fully immersed in an exciting and engaging narrative.

Young Ming Qong wonders why so much of history fails to mention girls and women, because surely they also contributed to the events that have shaped both Australia and the world. She imagines what it would be like to step back in time and forge destinies as an intrepid explorer or a wise ruler. When a strange purple-robed character appears and introduces herself as “Herstory”, Ming’s chance to see and experience the past is at hand, though not at all as she might have pictured it.

Instead of some grand setting, Ming is transported back to a drought-stricken, barren farm in the late 19th century where young Flo and her mother, try desperately to survive while the man of the family is largely absent – thankfully, as on the rare occasions he is home, it means drunken rages and beatings. When Flo’s mother is killed by snake-bite, Ming/Flo seeks refuge with her mother’s sister, Aunt McTavish, who lives ‘comfortably’ in Sydney. Her stay with her wealthy aunt introduces Ming to many new revelations about the past, especially of pre-Federation Australia: the long fight for both federation and women’s suffrage, the plight of the poor, the lack of education or indeed any other opportunities for betterment, and a far more diverse population than Ming has ever read about.

Can Ming help make a difference? She does her very best by helping Aunt McTavish in her mission to petition for a new referendum on the question of Federation but also, in her work with Louisa Lawson, for the advancement of women. As well, she instigates changes in her own right – teaching at the Raggedy School and rescuing orphaned Emily from dire circumstances.

It’s a cracking read all round. There is, of course, far more than the ‘big picture’ events enhancing this storyline, and Ming’s compassion, insight and empathy make for a terrific, positive example for readers – without any preachiness. The various characters who ably demonstrate that there are multiple aspects to anyone’s personality are memorable, and while we leave most of them behind at the end of the book, we do have the next one to deliciously anticipate, where Ming along with her brother, will be off on another time travel adventure.

This is eminently suited to your readers in Upper Primary up to Year7 or even 8, particularly your Mighty Girls, to whom I heartily recommend it. Congratulations Jackie on yet another fine series, again inspired by your own family “herstory”!

Banjo Tully – Justin D’Ath

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Ford St Publishing

September 2021

ISBN: 9781925804904

RRP: $17.95

It was a hair salon day and as usual, I took a book with me – one I’d only unpacked from its box this morning – although I have some others still half-read, because I always love Justin’s writing. And this was no exception – I read it from start to finish with barely any conversation with my stylist. After weeks of scowling in the direction of Year 9 boys, it was so good to read a story about one that is not a complete horror – even if only fictional LOL.

But seriously, in the past week three separate people have asked me for recommendations for teen boys in particular – including those who are either reluctant or not skilful readers – and here is a perfect example of such, and one which excludes no students. There is a significant female character who also happens to be from a different culture, there is some rich unpacking to be done around life in the country (versus life in the suburbs or city), family dramas, surviving crises, support from friends and others and, not least of all, climate change. Coming hot on the heels as it does of our government’s embarrassing presence at COP26 in Glasgow, this will spark intense and profitable discussions with your teens.

Banjo’s parents are doing it tough on their farm because of the ongoing drought, just as many others in their district and beyond are also. Their cattle are already sold off and now it looks like Banjo’s much-loved horse, Milly is next to go. He’s already had to drop out of the basketball team as the petrol costs of running back and forth to town prove difficult, although at least he can still attend Venturers. When Banjo decides to mount a protest against Ride to School Day, in which all the townie kids who ride the bikes will get a free movie pass, he takes Milly almost 30 kms into town to arrive in a different style altogether. However, problems arising from this escalate his statement into more of an escape, until he meets up with teenage conservationist, Mai Le, and suddenly he becomes the youth Eco Warrior riding his faithful horse to Canberra to tell the politicians exactly what he thinks should be happening – before the whole country, indeed the world, goes beyond the point of no return.

This is a well-paced narrative which will appeal across genders and abilities with ease and, given it’s setting and topical focus will also resonate with many. It would as easily make a successful read-aloud as a class novel and will certainly be on the list I am compiling at present for our Head of English. I highly recommend it to you for your readers from around Year 7 upwards. Thanks Justin for another cracking read that will have real impact for our young adult readers.

The Magical Bookshop – Katja Frixe. Illustrated by Florentine Prechtel. Translated by Ruth Ahmedzal Kemp.

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Bloomsbury

September 2021

Imprint: OneWorld

ISBN: 9781786075666

RRP: $14.99

Such a sweet and happy book this is! Translated from the German with great dexterity while retaining just the right amount of that quirkiness of expression that European children’s books often have, this is just a delight from start to finish.

Mrs Owl’s bookshop is full of magic and it is Clara’s favourite place to be. She loves her family very much but it can get very noisy in a full house. The bookshop gives Clara a space to just be – curled up in a favourite spot with a favourite book or chatting quietly with Mrs Owl, not to mention Mr King, the mirror, and Gustav, the cat – both of whom also talk! They are the greatest comfort to Clara, especially now when her very best friend forever, Lottie, is moving away. It’s all because Lottie’s father has a new girlfriend and Lottie’s mum does not want to stay in the same town as the new couple.

How can the two girls bear to be separated? It is just not fair. And then there’s Clara’s new teacher who might be pretty but Clara is not convinced of her friendliness. New boy Leo is no substitute for Lottie in the classroom and all in all, things are feeling pretty grim. Then there’s the very worst thing about this new year, is that someone is determined to close down the bookshop with some very nasty tricks and underhanded actions.

It soon becomes apparent that even with Lottie gone, Clara still has friends and those friends need her help badly. Maybe, in doing that, things might just get a little easier to bear in the light of Lottie’s move so far away.

This has such a lovely feel of friendship and community about it and readers from around 7 years upwards will enjoy it for not only the mystery but also the humour and magic.

Highly recommend for independent readers from around Year 2 upwards.