Well it was a bit of a mammoth effort and one I haven’t undertaken for a few years but a new PB review posted each day of the month – whew!! Thanks for anyone who played along with me :-). Hope you discovered some treasures for your collections!! and of course, thanks to the publishers who are kind enough to let me read voraciously for them :-).
Now SO many others to catch up on – about 18 piled up from biographies to MG novels – lucky holidays are imminent!!
Even though many of us have been banging on about Reduce/Reuse/Recycle and being more sustainable for years, dare I say since the arrival of the dread pandemic a slower, more thoughtful approach to being waste-free has become more evident. Perhaps it was a side-effect of the having to do without many things for sustained periods or maybe because our customary lifestyles seemed so threatened, whatever the reason I feel many people have turned again to slow living, cottage lifestyle – call it what you will.
Children will happily enumerate countless ways to save the environment but it’s not always so many ways to re-purpose they can imagine. This fun book with its very practical meaning will be a super adjunct to any classroom, or home, discussions around this topic.
Ella and her Dad realise they have just too much stuff and lots of it is USELESS so together they have a big clear-out and all the jumble goes into the trailer, destined for the tip. Along the way however, friends and neighbours spot various pieces of the ‘junk’ that is just the thing they have been looking for. By the time the pair get to the tip, they have nothing USELESS left at all.
There is much to love about this book. For a start, I love that it’s Ella and her father doing the clearing out – we don’t see a mother, perhaps there isn’t one but I do like that it suggests that fathers are equally as good at organising and de-cluttering. I love the colour palette used by illustrator, Karen Blair, the soft pastels evoke a real sense of homely-ness and comfort, peace and emotional warmth. Along with that the neighbourhood houses are so cottage-y and the entire setting like a traditional village, that immediately one feels the sense of connectedness and community. Everyone in the neighbourhood puts their piece of junk to creative and imaginative use from giant decorative flowers to a terrarium, and a scarecrow to fairy garden. It’s just a lovely, feel-good way to spread the word about re-purposing, upcycling and reducing landfill.
If your school, like so many, has a program in place to encourage sustainable living this is a must-have and even without that it is definitely a valuable addition to your classroom curriculum program or home school.
Highly recommended for children from Prep upwards.
If you live in Brisbane – check out Reverse Garbage where you can not only source great materials for upcycling but book presenters for workshops. I feel sure that other localities will have similar co-ops.
I completely fell in love with The Moonlight Dreamers, and the follow-up Tell it to the Moon and have enthusiastically talked them up while pushing them into the hands of my middle secondary girls. Thankfully they agreed! So it’s really exciting to see the newest title which segues from the original group of girls into a very different but just as delightful circle.
Jazz and her parents have just re-located from Sydney to Brighton in the UK and it’s just too much misery as far as Jazz can tell. No surf, no sand just rocks, not even water warm enough to swim in, not to mention a very snobby and cliquey private school. Luckily Jazz’ older cousin Amber, picks up on her unhappiness vibe and takes her under her wing before she heads off to Paris to study. Amber is confident that if Jazz follows the example of the Moonlight Dreamers with some tweaking of her own, she will soon find her tribe.
Even though Jazz is highly sceptical, she figures she has nothing to lose so next thing she is sharing some postcards to invite likeminded girls to join forces. Jazz, Portia, Hope and Allegra are as unlikely a combination as could be, and at first, things are not entirely without drama, but before too long the four girls have become as close a team as is possible, not only helping each other to achieve their dreams but, along the way, finding new purpose for helping others to do the same.
This is another truly heartwarming story which will captivate readers from around 12 years upwards. It is sweet and feel-good and, most of all, it extols that beautiful bond that females of all ages can have and the role they play in building each other up. I defy any reader to leave this one feeling untouched!
Highly recommended for readers from Upper Primary onwards.
Allison Rushby‘s delightful new book brings together a host of currently popular themes but presented for your lower primary readers. In the vein of Enola Holmes or Rose Ravensthorpe, this tricky mystery combines all the charm of Victorian quirkiness with strong female characters who possess both boldness and intelligence.
Young Penny Pickering is stuck in a miserable existence at Miss Strickland’s School for Girls of an Enquiring Mind while her scientist parents are who-knows-where busy with who-knows-what. Penny does not fit in at all with the school’s aims nor the other girls. She is far more interested in the type of activities frowned upon by Miss Strickland, for example, the avid reading of ‘penny dreadfuls’ such as those written by her famous Aunt Harriet.
When the celebrated authoress turns up in person and whisks Penny away – with a very evasive explanation that the girl’s parents are indisposed – Penny is only too keen to depart the much hated institution. Not so pleased is Aunt Harriet’s publisher, the rather surly Mr Crowley although there is little he can do about it. And so the first adventure begins as it has been arranged for Aunt Harriet to visit a Mr Toddington’s Museum of the Curious and Absurd where, reputedly, some taxidermied kittens come to life during the night and enjoy a tea party. The very bizarre nature of the exhibits in the museum are pure Victoriana and will fascinate, although likely repulse, young modern readers.
Penny may not have the sort of enquiring mind Miss Strickland expected from her young ladies but she certainly is canny enough to realise that stuffed kittens do not come alive on a nightly basis and begins to unravel the mystery in a very efficient manner. And not surprisingly, the unpleasant Mr Crowley is deeply involved in the whole dubious attempt at hoodwinking. Miss Penny Dreadful may have saved some helpless kittens and helped out the local Lord in doing so but she certainly hasn’t earned any brownie points from scowling Mr Crowley. Readers will very quickly realise that this odious man will continue regard Penny as his bête noire while the delightfully eccentric Aunt Harriet remains blissfully unaware of the undercurrents surrounding her.
All in all this is jolly good fun for readers from around 7 years upwards with adventure, mystery, humour and a splendid dash of history as well and I have every confidence that any reader will look forward to the next instalment with great anticipation.
Highly recommended for lower to middle primary kiddos.
ISBN: 9781760653583 Imprint: Walker Books Australia Australian RRP: $18.99 New Zealand RRP: $21.99
It is certainly no secret that I love historical fiction, and colonial Australian history is a particular favourite of mine. I loved this exciting new narrative from Claire Saxby – whose prowess with picture books is already so well established. Set just two years before my first ancestors arrived in this country, this recounts the importation of young Irish girls to become, essentially, servants and/or wives in a colony that was heavily male dominated. With Ireland in tatters after the Great Famine (also known as the Great Hunger, the Famine or the Potato Famine) and 1 million dead as a result, many young girls ( among others) faced uncertainty without family or home to shelter them. These girls were outfitted with a basic wardrobe and shipped to Australia, among them young Biddy Blackwell whose older brother has been out in the colony for some years.
When Biddy arrives and her brother Ewen is nowhere to be found, she is sent to work on a remote farm with a cruel master, an indifferent and downtrodden wife and finds she is little more than an unpaid slave. Surviving first the conditions in which she finds herself, but then even worse after her master’s first wife dies and he brings home a new one, equally as nasty as himself, Biddy manages a daring escape following the mayhem of a flood, and finds herself back in the city under the protection of the hostel. While she discovers some clues as to Ewen’s possible location, she needs to restrain herself and finds herself working for an eccentric but kind journalist as his ‘eyes and ears’ in the courtrooms of Melbourne.
The prejudices and persecution with which the Irish immigrants are faced is rising fast and when Biddy attends the court sessions and sees one well-known dissenter, Brendan Black, she is elated to find she has finally discovered her missing brother. Naturally, his situation presents some problems but with the help of new friends and supporters, the way is made smoother and Biddy can finally hope for a new start, complete with family.
Claire Saxby’s inspiration for this novel was her own family history and this little known episode in Australia’s history is important to understand as its impact on the rise of concepts such as fair pay and work conditions cannot be under-estimated.
Highly recommended for readers from upper primary to mid-secondary and for students of Australian history, this is certainly a prime candidate for ‘read around your topic’.
ISBN: 9781760653590 Imprint: Walker Books Australia Australian RRP: $15.99
This is quite simply, really good fun! For some reason, it put me very much in mind of the old Rocky & Bullwinkle cartoons (which those elderly people such as myself will recall) especially with the almost absurd characters and situations.
Pearly Woe is the epitome of anxiety-ridden child. From a long line of stealth adventurers, of The Adventurologists’ Guild, she feels she can never live up to the exploits or expectations of her parents or grandparents. Her constant worrying will certainly provide a fine opportunity to discuss mental hwell-being with children – increasing numbers of whom are becoming more and more prone to anxiety.
When her parents are kidnapped, it falls to Pearly and her trusty companion, Pig, to mount a rescue. Her ability to speak to animals is her greatest skill and Pig’s ability to literally sniff out danger, as well as truth, make them a potentially formidable pair – if only Pearly can find some self-confidence.
The nasty Emmeline Woods (every bit as despicable as Natasha Fatale ever was!) is not in pursuit of The Great Hairy Beast to film it for a documentary. She’s a big game hunter intent on the kill of the century and is completely ruthless about achieving her goal.
How on earth can one small girl and a talented pig defeat such a nemesis? Luckily, Pearly and Pig stumble across the Professor and once they do, the game plan changes, and plucky Pearly demonstrates that she is most worthy of membership of the Guild.
This really will delight your young readers from around Year 3 upwards – with its humour as well as the concepts of trust, self-belief, friendship and family.
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 herwhole 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.
ISBN: 9781760653019 Imprint: Walker Books Australia Australian RRP: $17.99 New Zealand RRP: $19.99
I absolutely love Pam’s writing, and her historical fiction is especially satisfying in my eyes, particularly when she incorporates history of Brisbane and Australia. I moved to Queensland in 1985 and while that’s a long time ago, and I’ve been teaching here since 1993, there is still so much history of which I am aware so I always delight in finding out more.
Yes I did know about internment during both wars and I also knew that in many instances it was completely irrational, unjust and callous. I certainly didn’t realise that (in this instance) during the First World War so-called ‘aliens’ – Germans in whatever guise the Australian government determined – from outside Australia, but in British territories e.g. Singapore were not only interned but then subsequently sent to Australian camps for whatever duration. What the actual ???? I mean, I’ve just been reading commentaries on the dangers of us reading books with a contemporary lens and being judgemental but realistically, isn’t it somewhat ludicrous that someone born in Australia but with German (as it were) grandparents could be considered ‘foreign’ and ‘dangerous’ or alternately, a German national living in Singapore long-term should be sent to Australia? Riddikulus!
Ok rant aside, I absolutely loved this one. I opened my weekly parcels this morning (after a fraught first week with students at the new school) to discover this beauty and took it to the hair salon this arvo – where I just devoured it!
Gretta has lived in Singapore since she was little in an enviable existence with a big house, servants, the best of everything in fact. When the British soldiers arrive and take control of all foreign influence in Singapore, Gretta and her parents are interned and subsequently sent to Australia.
Tilly has grown up in Brisbane with her younger brother, Australian mum and German father, living over their bakery in Red Hill. When Tilly’s dad is interned – although an Australian citizen, naturalised after many years- her mum’s mental health suffers, and Tilly and her brother Franz need all their ingenuity to make things work, particularly when their mum insists on ‘following’ her husband to the little town of Bornabba in rural NSW.
As you can predict now, Gretta and Tilly end up living next door to each other and despite a rocky start become fast friends.
This fascinating narrative unravels real life accounts, actual events, the drama and danger of the Spanish Flu pandemic that followed the Armistice, the grief, injustice, determination, and optimism in the turmoil of the Great War. I read with astonishment that Tilly’s family walked from Red Hill to the Botanic Gardens !! – and the descriptions of the appearance of both Sydney and Brisbane. Of course I realise both cities looked vastly different in 1916 but it is still hard to visualise (goes to look up distance between Red Hill and Brisbane Botanic Gardens). I was also aghast at the Lutheran pastor (3rd generation) who was incarcerated. *shakes head*
Particularly if your school does ‘read around your topic’ but most certainly to recommend to your readers of historical fiction, those studying the Great War, or sensitive topics such as racism, propaganda and of course pandemics – and just for a cracking good read – I highly recommend this for readers from around Year 6 upwards.
ISBN: 9781760652616 Imprint: Walker Books Australia Australian RRP: $26.99 New Zealand RRP: $28.99
I have been watching the development of this truly beautiful book for around two years; from the very first balsa wood model, that was to inform the illustrations of the piano, to endearing portraits of the original subject with her little red corduroy shoes, to work-in-progress video trailers. At last, all is revealed and what a revelation it is! Once again Caroline’s evocative artwork provides the reader with the most exquisitely sensitive, and stunningly realised insight into a little person’s emotions and dreams.
Bea’s big sister is able to make beautiful music with her violin, while Bea is not at all impressed with the ‘tink’ of a triangle. She dreams of much more imposing musical interludes. And with the help of Maestro Gus, the piano ghost cat, her leap of faith propels her into a world of swirling melodies. Big sister Isla joins her in her pursuit of perfect piano fingers, and together their refrains fill hearts and minds. Your young readers will not just appreciate Bea’s experimental exploits with the piano, but easily recognise that it’s no failure to not excel at everything, especially with the support of loving siblings to help you reach out for your dream. I would predict that there will be many would-be budding tiny pianists after sharing Bea’s story – though there may be some disappointment when no Maestro Gus (who is just adorable!) materialises.
Caroline’s undeniable creative talent has earned her accolades across the world, not only as an author/illustrator but as an exhibiting artist. Her recent sojourn in the UK as invited participant in Chris Beetles’ Gallery’ annual Illustrators Exhibition, alongside such guest luminaries as Michael Foreman, Michael Morpurgo and Joanna Lumley, is indicative of her stature as an illustrator/artist. Her work is always tenderly realised and expertly rendered, and she is always able to capture the very essence of any scene she paints. Aside from her boundless talent, those of us privileged to know her, are also aware of her gracious warmth and generous nature.
My highest recommendation for this stunning book, for readers from around 4 years upwards. I fully expect more award nominations and recognition to come Caroline’s way once Piano Fingers tinkles across the literary landscape. This is one to make my heart sing!
When I first read about Michael Rosen’s near-death Covid episode, I found it incredibly moving as this man is one of my most admired creators of children’s literature. Then I read, and shared, his article thanking Sticky McStickStick, and knew for certain that this was a not-to-be-missed book. And here it is, at last, and so very much worth waiting a while.
This, as with so many of Michael’s books, will touch the heart of many but, perhaps more importantly, will help children and their families come to grips with the struggle is the recovery from extreme and debilitating illnesses. One of the oft-repeated phrases two years into the pandemic is ‘long Covid’ and many accounts are emerging as people describe their ongoing difficulties along the road to a true recovery. Realistically, though our scientists have achieved great things with regards to vaccines and testing and so on, the lasting effects of the virus, in all its permutations, will continue to be a focus for research for years to come.
Michael couches his illness and subsequent rehabilitation in terms that will be readily understood by young readers, and offers an opportunity for important, indeed vital, discussion around the ‘afterwards’ of being infected or seriously ill. In typical Rosen fashion he manages to even make light of what must have been Herculean efforts in making those painful steps towards resuming a normal kind of life. The natural pairing with Tony Ross is, as always, inspired, as the illustrations so beautifully support the text with a full gamut of emotions.
I foresee this being a hugely significant book in primary classrooms and library as 2022 continues to unfold in a continuation of the difficulties of the past two years, and I would strongly suggest you put this on your order list and share it will all your primary students – and really, even secondary students as a conversation starter. Our kiddos need to know that hope is not extinguished, and that though recovery may be fraught, it is possible, more often than not.
Highly recommended for students from around Year 1 upwards.