Tag Archives: Grief

The Rabbit’s Magician: Shae Millward/Andy Fackrell

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Ford St Publishing

August 2022

ISBN: 9781922696083

RRP: $16.99

From firsthand experience, I can assure you that having a sensitively written, beautifully crafted book to help a child deal with loss is a very valuable commodity. I used several when we lost The Kid’s mum but this one is a very welcome addition to that specific genre.

I am not at all scientfically minded so if you are like me and need a reminder of The Law of Conservation of Energy, by which this is inspired, you can check it out here. Accordingly, sharing this book will not only help your young readers come to terms with the concept of grief and loss but will enable some fascinating experiments into this scientific principle.

The animals are concerned for Ziggy, who is sadly looking up at the moon. Eventually the rabbit explains that his magician, Alby, The Amazing Albertino, has gone missing after (as Ziggy thought) working long and hard on a new trick. Finally, it is wise Owl who shows Ziggy how Alby has performed his greatest disappearing trick ever and how, despite his disappearance, Ziggy can still keep him close.

It is a beautifully and poignantly written and illustrated story of loss, sorrow and comfort and even your smallest of kiddos will grasp the intent of its magic.

Highly recommended for your little peeps from around Kinder upwards to around Year 3 or 4.

Tarni’s Chance – Paul Collins & Jules Ober

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Ford St

July 2022

ISBN: 9781922696052

RRP: $24.99

This is a stunning collaboration between these two fine creators. Paul’s ease and expertise in handling sensitive issues is well established and coupled with Jules’ fantastic mini-sculptures brings this beautiful and poignant story to life with an elegance that will entrance your readers.

Tarni withdraws from the conflict between her parents into her own ‘bubble’ of art and music and when her mother leaves, this becomes all the more commonplace. Then, one morning, Tarni is alerted to the garbage truck rumbling down the road and sees, just in time, the danger a stray dog has got himself into. She rushes to rescue him – and does but the dog runs off. Her moment of hope and happiness subsides as quickly as it arose. But wonderfully the dog reappears and now finds himself a true saviour in Tarni, and she, in turn, finds herself a faithful friend. The partnership is the path by which Tarni is able to discover self-confidence and relief from her anxiety and sadness.

There is a beautiful use of light and dark in the artwork which underpins Tarni’s journey of self-discovery and even young children will readily pick up on this.

A colleague and I were discussing, just a few days ago, the escalating rise in young children with severe anxiety issues, and while, some of this can be apportioned to Covid, it does not all fall to that reason in our opinion. Social issues such as family breakdowns, domestic violence, grief and loss are all major contributors and the need for counsellors far outstrips the profession’s capacity to provide support.

We know that bibliotherapy is a sound way to approach helping to empathise with, and support such needs, and it is sympathetic titles such as this one which can add so much to a reader’s armour.

Highly recommended for your young readers from around 7 years upwards. It would work so well as a shared reading with ensuing careful discussions.

The Light in Everything – Katya Balen

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Bloomsbury Australia

Bloomsbury Publishing

Imprint: Bloomsbury Children’s Books

July 2022

ISBN 9781526647405

RRP: $14.99

This is the third of Katya’s books I have read and honestly, I love her writing more each time. She has such skill in creating believable characters with whom the reader can easily connect and her deft hand in giving them such natural and authentic voices is wonderful.

Two very different children, each with a single parents, find themselves forced together and totally at odds. Their conflict is epic really and their complete disparity would seem an insurmountable obstacle to any kind of peaceful resolution.

Zofia lives with her dad by the sea in a small village where everyone knows everyone and Zofia’s classmates number not much more than a handful. Her mother died when she was just a baby, so she’s never known anything different to just being part of a pair with her doctor dad, Marek. Their life is busy and fun and sometimes wild, with Zofia being like a shaken bottle of fizzy drink – always effervescent and often messy and noisy.

Tom is quiet and fearful, and only just regaining some feeling of safety. He and his mum, Fiona, endured some cruel domestic violence but now his father is in prison and though he has been for two years, Tom is still frequently anxious and there are some things that he just cannot stand – like being shut in the dark.

When Marek and Fiona become not only a couple but a baby is expected, both children must face enormous upheavals in their lives. Fiona and Tom move into the little cottage, where the box room becomes a nursery and the spare room is turned into Tom’s bedroom. While both children fervently wish there was no baby and that things would go back to the way they were, they each have very different ways of responding. It will take a lot of time and learning to trust and, most of all, understanding for this family to consolidate.

While the specific circumstances may vary, there would be many children who find themselves in this same kind of predicament with a blended family situation and a new half-sibling arriving and each child will react differently but there is no doubt that this narrative will resonate with many.

It is a thoroughly splendid read and I highly recommend it for readers from around ten years upwards.

Ellie Pillai is Brown – Christine Pillainayagam

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Faber & Faber

July 2022

ISBN: 9780571366910
ISBN-10: 0571366910
RRP: $17.99

This is a debut novel of true exceptional talent IMO. I love a good romance and when it’s interwoven with self-discovery, diversity, cultural differences, regular teen relationships and issues, and music – all the better! Also, this is definitely the first YA (or indeed any book) I have read that features Sri Lankan culture/family life.

Ellie knows she is weird. Her taste for old movies, classic rock (think Beatles and the Stones) are just the tip of the iceberg. She always feels slightly left out but thank goodness for her best friend, although there are times when Ellie feels her mum takes more notice of, and spends more time with Jessica, than with her own daughter. Their family has been out of kilter since they lost Ellie’s little brother, Amis, and both parents as well as Ellie are still often raw and hurting from his death. At school, Ellie is on the periphery always but her great joy – and secret- is Drama class. Her parents would flip out if they knew that despite their objections, she has taken the subject for her GCSEs – not only do they think it a frivolous waste of time but believe that Ellie has zero talent.

All that is about to change with the arrival of a new Drama teacher who, as it happens, is also brown. At the same time, twins, Ash and Elina, start at the new school and Ellie ends up with a real dilemma. Her growing interest in Ash, is going to drive the biggest wedge ever in the history of friendship between herself and Jess.

This has got it all – humour, romance, serious reflection on topics such as grief, sexuality, cultural differences, neglect and family relationships and, along the way, Ellie inserts her own playlist into the narrative which readers can access via QR codes. The whole is cleverly and deftly done. For once, I am not rolling my eyes at another cliche ridden YA novel full of angst and moaning. Even the serious issues are gently handled in a way that would make hugely relatable to teen readers.

Highly recommended for your readers from Year 7 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.

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.

Christmas Always Comes – Jackie French/Bruce Whatley

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Harper Collins Australia

October 2021

  • ISBN: 9781460757895
  • ISBN 10: 1460757890
  • Imprint: HarperCollins AU
  • List Price: 24.99 AUD

Jackie and Bruce are always a formidable team, and their picture books are always memorable and en pointe despite the setting, theme or plot. In this instance, while the narrative reflects a period past – one of many tough times in Australian history, when drought, lack of finances, insecurity over livelihood and home and challenges rise up to face ordinary people – the intent and message does not deviate from today’s uncertainties for many families.

After two years of increasingly worrying social circumstances, many are feeling the strain which is imposing on relationships, family bonds, workplaces and financial security (not wealth). It is hard to focus on the true meaning of life, and indeed the spirit of Christmas – and I do not refer to that in a religious sense – when you are afraid you won’t meet your next mortgage or rent payment or be able to buy groceries let alone gifts.

I don’t think I am alone when I think that for many children the wonder and magic of Christmas has diminished in our times, but I also believe that it is children who, more often than not, ‘get’ the message and import of what is meant by the Christmas spirit. I truly think that the majority of kiddos have an innate sense of generosity and also ‘fairness’ – that it is not fair for some to have much and others to have little. And that latter, in itself, is a relative concept.

For Joey and Ellie, in the drought of 1932, droving cattle with so little in the way of resources and what must be so sickeningly worrying for their parents, Christmas is still a special time. Ellie is old enough to realise that perhaps Christmas won’t happen as it should in normal circumstances but Joey has all the confidence of one who knows the secret of magic. And so it comes to pass, that the children meet with Bill Darcy, someone who has long ignored Christmas as often happens after tragic personal loss, and while by today’s often extravagant terms, their shared Christmas is modest, it is still a triumph of spirit and giving.

This, of course, is a must for any collection and will make its way to your list of top Christmas titles to share with your little folk, or to gift to small people in your circle. Another splendid offering from this remarkable pair of creators – to whom I wish a very Merry Christmas, with many thanks for all that you give us, as educators, and the children we teach.

Highly recommended for littlest ones upwards 5 years+.

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.

Dragon Skin – Karen Foxlee

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Allen & Unwin

September 2021

ISBN:9781760526108

Imprint:A & U Children

RRP: $19.99

One wouldn’t normally associate the outback mining town of Mt Isa with magic or dragons but Karen Foxlee’s newest novel for middle school readers makes this eminently plausible.

How to save a dragon:
1) Assemble equipment. Water, Weet-Bix, sugar, syringe, sticky tape, scissors.
2) Believe in everything.

Pip is always reluctant to go home since her mother’s boyfriend moved in. Matt, the epitome of domestic bully, has reduced the previously happy life Pip and her mother had together to a frightened shadow where both are diminished. While her mother seems to have lost almost all her own free will, Pip’s resentment, both of Matt’s invasion, and the loss of her best friend, Mika, fuels her determination to get herself and her mum out of this ugly situation.

Pip spends a lot of time at the waterhole, where she and Mika used to sit and dream, talk and plan, even as the river dried up and the cracks in the mud widened. Since Mika’s been gone and Matt’s influence has permeated every moment of her life the waterhole has become Pip’s only refuge, even though her mum doesn’t like her spending so much time there alone.

The day she finds the almost-dead little creature is the day her whole life changes, though she doesn’t yet know it. All she does know is that she is going to save it, no matter what it takes. It’s not a lizard, it’s not a fish – it has wings and scaly skin and little nubs on the top of its little head – so it can only be a baby dragon. How and why, it has come to be almost dead, half-buried in the mud of a lonely waterhole Pip has no idea, just as she has no real idea how to save the little creature. She can hear Mika’s suggestions in her head but they come and go so she can’t depend on them. However, she’s not as alone as she thinks. As the days go by and Little Fella begins to slowly recover, Pip discovers a growing bond, born of conspiracy and curiosity, between herself and Laura and Archie, school friends she has never realised are friends.

Just as Little Fella’s strength improves and he grows to a point where he will survive, thanks to the combined efforts of the three friends, so too does Pip’s resolve and encouragement for her mother to make the move that will save them both.

Karen Foxlee’s ability to create characters with whom the reader can bond completely has become evident with the success of her earlier books and this new one does not disappoint. With its focus on a sadly, increasingly, common scenario, it will bring heart to those who may be faced with similar dilemmas – particularly as at the end of the book, the author has provided links and resources for readers with such issues.

To round off such an important and quality book, the bonus of beautiful binding makes this a joy to hold in one’s hands.

I give this my highest recommendation for your mature readers from around Year 4 upwards, with the warning that of course the domestic abuse issue may be an emotional trigger for some. In our collection, this means a disclaimer on the endpapers as an advisory comment.

Echo in the Memory – Cameron Nunn

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Walker Books

June 2021

ISBN: 9781760653118
Imprint: Walker Books Australia

Australian RRP: $16.99
New Zealand RRP: $19.99

Beautifully timed for NAIDOC Week this new YA novel, which explores the convergence of two periods of Australian history with the common thread being the one family name, will both shock and illuminate many readers regarding some of the darkest moments in our history and how they continue to impact lives today.

Two boys separated by two hundred years are both exiled from all they know; both having faced traumatic circumstances. When Will is sent to his grandparents’ isolated farm in rural NSW it feels like the ends of the earth. As he struggles to deal with his grief over his mother’s death and the abandonment of his father he begins to have what appear to be flashes of memory of this unfamiliar place. However, the memories are not his he quickly realises but whose are they? He begins to realise that his surly and recalcitrant grandfather also has these memories, something which gradually brings the two closer together.

The memories relate to ‘the boy’ whose story is set in 1829 and is told in the first person. The harsh and unforgiving life for a child convict is revealed as each piece of history unfolds. In addition is the shocking revelations of the treatment of the local First Australian peoples, which is graphic and disturbing. In the present, Will’s story is told in the third person and his struggle to reconcile the hurt and grief of his family circumstances gradually begins to be resolved as he forges a new, although very different, kind of life on the farm.

Cameron Nunn has done much research into child convicts using primary sources which include original records and interview transcripts from the London courts, and this forms the basis of both his Ph D and his fiction. For students of history, or those seeking to better understand the often dangerous and certainly traumatic life for a child transported across the world, with little or no hope of ever returning to their family and original home, this is a must read.

It is written with older students in mind – suggested Year 9 upwards – and if you employ a ‘read around your topic’ approach to your history subjects, it will be very much worth adding to your collection. You will find the teaching notes hugely beneficial as an addition to your planning.

Highly recommended for your discerning readers from around 14 upwards.