Tag Archives: Family

Well, That Was Unexpected – Jesse Q. Sutanto

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Harper Collins Australia

November 2022

  • ISBN: 9780008501464
  • ISBN 10: 0008501467
  • Imprint: Electric Monkey
  • List Price: 19.99 AUD

In actual fact, this is hands down the most enjoyable YA novel I’ve read in a long time. Coincidentally, it is one of a posse of recent YAs that are Asian-focused in one way or another. Even more interesting perhaps is that it’s the second with an Indonesian setting I’ve read in a relatively short space of time, and given Indo is our very near neighbour – plus, also because I have a very dear Indo friend (Hello Miss Lily!), it’s great to learn some more about this country and the culture, even the difficult or unpleasant parts. I love all of the background to this one: the backdrop of Chinese Indo family dynamics, the Indonesian culture with the strict (and yes, to our sensibilities) sometimes brutal restrictions, the exploration of more than just the tourist sites (which is the knowledge extent of most Aussies I’d say), the focus on topics that have run hot, particularly in the past year or so, such as toxic masculinity, slut-shaming and gender diversity. That is to say, they have run hot in much of the Western world with much positivity arising from strong advocacy – not so much in Indonesia where the religious implications and traditional family values are paramount.

But more than all of this – I love that this is, at its heart, an utterly adorable and engaging rom com with a hetero couple. {Don’t shoot me. I have many gender diverse friends and have always actively supported the LGBQT+ movement – but seriously, it was getting harder and harder to find a YA Romance that had a boy/girl relationship – and you know what? they do still exist!} Sharlot has been raised in LA by her single Indonesian mother without ever having contact either with the country of her heritage or her extended family. When she decides that she will sleep with her (secret) boyfriend after much careful consideration, she’s quite unprepared for the reality and backs out at the last minute – no awful consequences from the b/f but her mum walks in to discover a very compromising scene and in a kneejerk reaction, has Sharlot hustled onto a plane pronto ,and they are both bound for Indonesia and traditional family. Meanwhile, in Jakarta George Clooney Tanuwijaya (yes, that is correct) is caught by his father in an equally compromising, albeit solo, situation.

So what would any concerned, traditional Chinese Indo parent do? They would try to find their child a ‘suitable’ romantic interest. And so, begins a complete comedy of errors – with George’s dad, along with his 13 year old sister, and Sharlot’s mum ‘catfishing’ on the local social media app with a view to sparking a relationship. Their feeble attempts to be hip and attractive to the other person are highly entertaining, but become even more so when George and Sharlot finally meet via the engineering of their respective families.

Those families are far more complex than first imagined. Sharlot’s mum and George’s Eighth Aunt are long-lost best friends – in fact,much more than that. Their sapphic friendship was the impetus for Sharlot’s mum leaving Indo, although not in and of itself. Add into this mix, George’s attempts to please his father by being more interested in the family business – they just happen to be the second wealthiest family in Indonesia!- by creating an app called OneLiner aimed at educating and encouraging young men to shed their toxic attitudes and behaviours. There’s a lot going on but, trust me, it’s really not as complicated as it sounds – and it totally is hilarious. The secondary characters are just as quirky as the plot and there is plenty of diversity (both gender and cultural) to offset the main couple and the main plot. I loved it very much and read it very quickly. I especially love that Sharlot has as fine a command of the Anglo-Saxon vernacular as I do and her conversations are literally peppered by expletives. On that note, the publishers have a 12 years suggested age for it but, conservatively and mindful of all my library cohorts, I would not be handing it to anyone under Year 9. Lots of swearing and sexual references which would easily rouse the ire of not-so-tolerant parents (or admins).

Highly recommended for your older or suitably mature readers.

Christmas Goodies

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Zola and the Christmas Lights – Melina Marchetta/Deb Hudson

Penguin Australia

October 2022

  • ISBN: 9780143777649
  • Imprint: Puffin
  • RRP: $19.99

For the entirety of the delightful What Zola did On… series, Melina Marchetta consistently delivered such beautiful and meaningful messages to young readers around diversity, community, empathy, friendship and family, all without once becoming preachy or tedious. It truly was joyful to read each new instalment. Now Zola has her very first (and let’s hope, not last) picture book and once again Zola’s story embodies all that made the chapter books so special.

Before school finished up I had the pleasure of sharing this gorgeous book with at least five different classes from Prep to Year 3 and all not only loved it, but also keenly participated in predicting and postulating. It was a highlight of my last few weeks of casual teaching.

Best of all for the very diverse population of children with whom I shared this, there was not one who could not identify with some aspect of this Australian celebration, from my sweet girl who so excitedly told me ‘we have a lantern just like that for Ramadan and my mum wears [that]’ i.e.a hijab, to the ones who could talk earnestly about some people finding it hard to buy groceries, to the ones who had already put up Xmas decorations. We really did have such fun and such richness from it.

Of course the narrative is beautifully illustrated by Deb Hudson, whose work enhanced the chapter books so ably but now explodes into a perfect riot of colour and detail.

It’s not too late to pick up a copy and share with your own little people – and enjoy the talk about what our various celebrations mean to us all.

Highly recommended for readers from 4 years upwards.

Two Puggles – Michelle Guzel and Andrew Plant

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Ford St

October 2022

ISBN 9781922696168

RRP $16.95

Over the years there have been numerous books about adoption or foster families which, of course, are terrific for both children to whom that applies as well as those who can gain an understanding of the differences in families.

This is a really adorable ‘switched at birth’ story that will have children both fascinated and giggling as the two puggles make quite a surprising discovery.

When they were first hatched Ducky and Spiky looked incredibly alike, and as they got a little bit older and a little more fuzzy they continued to be very similar. But when Ducky got longer and her bill got flatter, and Spiky’s snout got longer and he got…well, spiky – it becomes quite obvious that they are not very alike at all. Regardless, the family goes about it’s daily activities although Spiky is not very good at all with diving and swimming, but is truly excellent at digging. When Spiky meets a new friend who looks exactly Ducky and comments on the pair of them being echidnas, Spiky is baffled. He is not an echidna, he’s a platypus and his new friend is not an echidna either, she is a platypus too. Except ….her mum really IS an echidna. How can this be?

It’s not until Spiky cleverly and bravely protects his new friends from a dangerous feral cat and the two monotreme families all meet each other, that the surprising facts are revealed. As always Andrew’s illustrations are completely sympatico with the text and just a delight to look at.

This is pure good fun but also has such a lovely message about acceptance and unconditional love, which also sends a strong warning about feral cats and the environment.

Highly recommended for little readers from around Prep upwards. I’m looking forward to sharing this one soon.

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.