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.
Last year, in my old library, we fell in love with Eyes That Kiss in the Corners and so did our kiddos, many of whom could make connections with the cultural heritage of the characters. This beautiful companion book will be equally well-received I believe.
When a young boy is made to notice his eyes as being different in shape to those of his friends, he feels sad and an outsider. The love and wisdom of his father and grandfather, and the recognition that his eyes are like theirs, as are his little brother’s, lift his spirits to the skies – just as his eyes tilt to the skies. The endless possibilities of light and destiny revealed by the night skies with their constellations and comets are all his, as his eyes speak to the stars.
Once again it is not just the lyrical text with its resonant message of inclusivity and the beauty of cultural heritage, but the superb illustrations that make this such a stunner of a book. The iconic visual references to the family’s heritage: dragons, pagodas, rice paddies, night markets, lanterns and more are a virtual feast for the eyes.
With Harmony Day just around the corner, this will make a fabulous focus for your celebrations in the library or classroom, particularly when paired with its companion. And so much rich discussion and activities, particularly art, could ensue!!
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”!
This is just a magical read – the lyrical text almost flows like the water Vega and her family inhabit – and was certainly for me last night, a really intriguing but also restful way to read myself ready to sleep. That’s not to say it’s without tension and drama but there really is just something about it that just floats the reader along with the orcas.
I have to be honest. I had never heard of the Salish Sea nor was I particularly aware of different types of orcas, so reading this was also very informative and it is indeed described as ‘slyly educational’ which is pretty much spot on. *grin*
Vega and her family are already facing difficulties as their usual salmon feeding cycle has been disrupted and their hunger increases as they try to find the salmon that is usually so plentiful. They do not realise that humans have made such an impact on the ecosystem at first. Vega is learning to be the salmon finder for her family, against the day when she will become the matriarch following on from her mother and grandmother but when an earthquake and subsequent tsunami separate her, along with her younger brother Debden, from the rest of the pod, they must brave danger and threats to try to find their family again. In a sea that is almost unrecognisable they face sharks, their increasing hunger and polluted waters and Vega must be resilient and employ every skill she has learned from her mentors.
It is a rousing adventure, a wonderful story of survival and an ecological lesson all in one with superb research underpinning the entire story. It is further enhanced with beautiful black-and-white illustrations, and also includes a map, much backmatter and information on orcas.
The publisher suggests it for 8 years upwards and certainly it is not a demanding text but I am seriously considering it for inclusion with our scant ‘Animals’ genre collection for our Year 7s in particular as I think there would be many kiddos who like both animal stories and are interested in environmental topics for whom this would greatly appeal.
On that basis I’m giving it a full recommendation for readers from around Year 4 to Year 8. A very useful teaching guide is available.
This is a fun new read for your kiddos who are moving on from those first easy chapter books to something a little more challenging. Imagine stirring up Paddington stories with Mr Popper’s Penguins with a good dash of Finding Nemo and just the tiniest hint of The Wrong Trousers, and you’ll be coming close. And in saying that, I am certainly not implying that this is derivative, merely that it reminds me strongly of all these stories with its fun and joyousness.
When the Stewart family visit London Zoo on a very gloomy winter’s afternoon the children are not very thrilled but certainly brighten up when they encounter a very endearing little penguin on their way out. When the children protest strenuously about leaving the penguin, and insisting that the bird accompany them home, Mrs Stewart kindly tells the little penguin he is always welcome at their home, in an effort to divert the kids. So, of course, the very next day there is a knock on the door and – lo and behold!- there is a penguin on the doorstep, complete with backpack.
As it turns out, Einstein is a penguin from Australia – ‘Sydney’ Zoo (well, that would actually be Taronga Zoo) to be exact and this smart little bird manages to convey to Imogen and Arthur, that he is here to find his much-loved friend, Isaac – who was whisked away with no due regard for comradely associations.
This is a story that is both funny and endearing as the children, especially would-be detective, Imogen, do their utmost to re-unite Einstein and Isaac – well, at least so each knows the other is safe and well.
It is both well-paced and ‘cute’ really and I foresee would be a big hit as a read-aloud – I would probably pitch it at Year 2s or 3s personally. Highly recommended for your younger readers from around 7 years upwards.
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+.
I freely admit it. I’m not a huge fan of the many comic mega-series. They always seem to me to be very formulaic and same-same BUT I never find that in Matt’s books. Each Funny Kid I have read has provided delicious belly laughs and absurdist humour par excellence.
It’s school holidays in Redhill and Max & Co are in the throes of a massive prank war. (Pranking seems to be a very popular theme both in kids’ books and real life these days!). Max is considerably cheesed off that his friends, particularly his BEST friend, Hugo, are all ranged against him in the bid to out-prank his every effort. But he is the Prank Ninja and his stealthy moves are sure to win the battle – aren’t they?
A movie-theatre ninja, toilet turbulence, shopping-mall disasters, cling-film mazes and an unimaginable Kid-Free Zone are just some of the things in store for Max and his friends…
It seems that it’s not just the kids who are pranking though. There are some definite suspicious happenings that cannot be attributed to either side of the kid prank-war. Could it be that an adult is trying to make trouble for everyone?
This would be a great addition to any Christmas stocking for a relaxed and funny read – possibly after a lot of yummy food on a lazy Xmas Day afternoon.
Highly recommended for kiddos from around 9 years upwards.
Without doubt books for young readers which invite the children to become part of the whole experience of text and illustrations are far and away the most popular in any setting, in my experience – just think, Herve Tullet, Beck & Matt Stanton, the simplicity of Spot or the stories within story of The Jolly Postman. Add to that fun, the joy of being in on the secret – that which is hidden from the character/s in the book itself and now, you are getting close of why this new picture book is going to make your little kiddos lose their minds with the fun and excitement of discovering theghosts in the spooky house.
A little girl lives in a gloomy atmospheric house, beautifully rendered in mixed media illustrations. She knows about ghosts because she’s heard of them but doesn’t know what they might look like or if they are even real. Some people say they are covered in white sheets…….or at least are white with sort of black holes for eyes. Do they hide in corners or under couches? Where would you look if you wanted to find one?
Cleverly interspersed are transparent tracing paper pages which turned back onto the illustrated spread, reveal the spirited spirits who are taking such mischievous delight in hiding from the protagonist.
I showed this to the too-cool-for-school teenaged Kid this morning and even she exclaimed ‘Oh that’s so cool and fun!’.
So take it from me, this one is a winner – and you may well need at least two copies as it’s going to be in high demand! Highly recommended for some fun and laughs, for readers from around Prep to Year 2 or 3.
Bahahaha! Love this promo!! Well played Oliver Jeffers!!
On any given night in Australia 116,427 Australians are homeless. 27,680 of these are young people aged 12-24 years. Most of the homeless youth aged 12–18 years in 2016 were living in ‘severely’ crowded dwellings (61%) or in supported accommodation for the homeless (26%).
121,000 16-24 year olds were homeless or at risk of homelessness in the UK in 2020 Centrepoint UK
Over the past year I’ve read some cracking teen books from the UK, and this is right up there with the very best. It’s engaging, often funny, extremely poignant and tackles a social issue of the gravest concern not only in the UK but also here in Australia.
When Tyler’s family moves from London to live in the spa town of Ilkley, West Yorkshire, the 15-year-old is well ticked off and prepared to resent absolutely everything about their new lives. He misses their old house and his friends, and he hates the ‘small town-ness’ of Ilkley. The fact that his parents have opted for renovations to their new house rather than their usual summer holiday somewhere exciting is, as far as Tyler is concerned, the nail in the coffin. His resentment continues to build, and his only outlet is taking his dog Dexter for long walks where he can vent his feelings on a blissfully unaware canine.
Desperate for something to fill the empty days, Tyler goes to the local lido (that’s the local public pool to us!) where at least he can enjoy his swimming prowess. To his great surprise he’s approached by an awkward gangly girl, whom he estimates to be around 18, with an almost unintelligible Geordie accent, long skinny limbs, baggy swimmers and gawky specs who asks him to teach her to swim. Of all the things he might have expected to happen this was certainly not one of them but ‘Spider’ as she is known is surprisingly persuasive and, being keen to earn himself some money for headphones, Tyler takes on the challenge.
And challenge it is – Spider is not the most confident of pupils and certainly not the most physically adept but she does make progress even though she’s not always reliable with Tyler’s payment for lessons. As the lessons progress, Tyler begins to realise that Spider’s life is one fraught with anxiety and difficulties as she ‘sofa surfs’ at a resentful cousin’s place, tries desperately to find some work and sense of self-worth. Tyler faces the opposition of his parents who are not at all keen on him becoming embroiled in any way with such a person and when local girl Michelle fixes her sights on him in a very possessive way, his life becomes even more complicated.
What starts out as simple swimming lessons, becomes a friendship marked by true empathy and compassion and as Tyler works his way through helping Spider, he also works his way through his own (relatively inconsequential) family problems and begins to realise how fragile family relationships can sometimes be. It is such a relief that at the end of some harrowing moments there is a good outcome for Spider but sadly, the statistics reveal that this is not always the case especially for young women. Tyler’s shock when he learns Spider is only 16 – so a year older than himself – is very confronting and will certainly give teen readers some pause for thought.
It is a sobering thought that in so many affluent Western countries the incidence of youth homelessness is on the increase and not only can support agencies find themselves overwhelmed but can also be perceived as contributing to some of the problems. You can read more about youth homeless in Australia here and check out agencies such as the Salvation Army, Mission Australia or Homelessness Australia. The novel concludes with the contact for Centrelink in the UK – the leading youth charity in that country.
I know my readers who love the work of writers such as Sarah Crossan and Brian Conaghan are going to love this book and it will certainly be top of my book talking list at our next ChocLit meeting.
My highest recommendation for teens from Year 7 upwards.
Seriously, you could hardly get a better book to read during (another) lockdown than this deliciously funny and heart-warming companion novel to Dumplin’. I can guarantee your readers will fall in love with Waylon Brewer and the accompanying cast of characters in this romp through senior years in West Texas.
Waylon has been ‘out’ since 9th grade so he’s pretty used to being viewed as the fat, gay kid and feels he has survived pretty well. He feels confident about himself (but not really), he can out-sass the taunters (though it gets tedious) and he is looking forward to finishing school and heading off to Austin for college with his twin, Clementine. As it happens, Clem is also gay – as Waylon says, their parents won the queer lottery – and is in a steady relationship with Hannah, quirky and a little bit bolshie. Their parents are totally at ease with their children’s sexuality – Mom: the ‘wokest middle-aged woman in Clover City’, Dad: ‘small-town guy but not small-town minded’ and their eccentric Grammy is every bit as flamboyant as Waylon, whom she calls Pumpkin.
Things start to go a little awry for Waylon though. The little ‘thing’ he’s been having secretly with a guy in town and hoped might turn into a relationship goes down the gurgler, he finds out that Clem is not going to college in Austin but intends to go to Georgia, leaving him in the lurch according to his reckoning and then to top it off his preferred drag queen misses out on the season finale title of his favourite TV show. In a fit of pique more than anything, Waylon attempts his own home-made drag video and when it suddenly goes very public all over town there is a whole lot more to deal with.
Part of the fall-out from the video is that Waylon/Pumpkin, as well as Hannah, is nominated for Prom Queen and King respectively, in a move intended to be a cruel joke. But with absolutely splendid gumption the pair decide they are going to go for it and along the way impress their school, their families and their community with their utter grit and integrity. Oh! and during the course of all this, Pumpkin finds the boy of his dreams, although of course, not without some dramas.
I repeat this is just a joyful read. It is so heart-warming to see the growing friendships and relationships, to watch these characters grow throughout the plot, and to revel in the positive interactions and, of course, the successes.
I was anxious about whether we would be able to include it in our general collection (if you are a church school you will also have constraints) but it is neither offensive nor crass, there is very little swearing and that quite low level, and the obvious positives more than justify me including it. I will restrict it to our Year 8s upwards but that will be my only move in that regard (and of course, if my 7s have parental permission they can access these in any case).
I can highly recommend this for your teen readers and I suspect it will be in very high demand when we get back to school this week (yayyy for lockdown being finished!) and I can book talk it to my Choc Lit kids. It gets a very glittery 5-star rating from me – along with as many other sparkly bits as Pumpkin would enjoy!!