Tuesday, 26 September 2017

Reena’s Rainbow

Reena’s Rainbow by Dee White, illustrated by Tracie Grimwood (EK Books) HB RRP $19.99 ISBN: 9781925335491

Reviewed by Anne Helen Donnelly

Reena is deaf but highly observant. She finds Dog at the park and immediately likes his playful nature. They both play hide-and-seek in the playground with the other kids. But when Reena finds herself alone in the park after not hearing the other children leave and calling out to her, she is sad. Her mother explains to her that we are all different, just like each colour of the rainbow. But, just like in a rainbow, despite our differences, we all have a place. Reena is not convinced: she feels that she does not belong, like the brown dog that does not have a home.

Then one day, Reena, with her keen eye, notices a tree branch about to fall onto one of the boys in the park. She calls out, but no-one hears her. Luckily, Dog leaps in and saves the day. The children at the park are shaken and nobody notices that Dog’s paw has been hurt from his heroic efforts. Reena takes Dog home and the pair finds they are perfect for each other. Dog is joyful with his new home and best friend and Reena’s heart is happy again. She finds her place in life’s rainbow.


Reena’s Rainbow is a picture book ideal for children 5 to 7 years old, beautifully finished with soft illustrations and a hard cover to couple with this gentle story of diversity and acceptance. Children will identify with Reena’s need to belong and to find their place.

Friday, 22 September 2017

Emelin

Emelin by Jackie Randall (Schillings), PB RRP US $7.75  
ISBN 9780995379718     
Note: 'Emelin' is sold at The Children's Bookshop, Beecroft NSW. Also as an ebook and paperback and at jackierandall.com. Australian pricing starts at $14.50.
                                 
Reviewed by Pauline Hosking

The time is 1398. Emelin is an eleven year old orphan girl with an incredible gift for creating illuminated manuscripts. She lives with her Uncle, Calibor, who taught her the craft. Life’s a struggle and money is scarce. Then Calibor receives a wonderful commission: Geoffrey Chaucer asks him to illustrate The Canterbury Tales. Other illustrators, jealous of his luck, attack Calibor and leave him to die. Emelin has the manuscript, her uncle’s tools, his precious pigments and an advance from Chaucer to complete the task in three months.

She knows she cannot stay safely at home so she sets out, in the bleak winter weather, to find somewhere to work. She joins forces with a boy named Wolf and they journey together to Reading Abbey.

Emelin’s abiding fear is that she will end up on the dead cart, and be buried in a pauper’s grave, unmourned, unnamed, unknown. This doesn’t happen. Feisty Emelin faces many trials and tribulations and eventually triumphs. Geoffrey Chaucer is so delighted with her illustrations that he offers her permanent employment.

At the book’s end, the murderer of Wolf’s father is still at large and there’s a hinted mystery about Emelin’s precious brooch. Hopefully this means there will be more books to come.

Jackie Randall’s research is meticulous. The book is full of careful detail. Readers are almost able to SMELL what it must have been like to live in medieval times. There is also fascinating information on how illuminated manuscripts were made. Emelin is an interesting, attractive character, precociously talented for someone her age. In the past girls did grow up more quickly than they do today.
Overall, the book is easy to read with plenty of action, although some sections have a potential for suspense that isn’t fully realised. A way to add value might have been to include a section of Teacher’s Notes or Historical Facts.

Emelin is recommended for readers 10+ years, especially those interested in history and art. 


Wednesday, 20 September 2017

Hanna: My Holocaust

Hanna: My Holocaust by Goldie Alexander (Scholastic Australia) PB RRP $16.95 ISBN: 9781743629673

Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis 

Goldie Alexander again proves herself an insightful writer; skilful and imaginative. The Holocaust and all its heartbreak, death and desolation, is always confronting and painful to read about. Goldie’s familiarity with this subject is visible. But she has presented that traumatic time in history in such a way, that the horrors are not what are showcased alone. This is a story of courage, faith, family, hope and survival.

Hannah’s narrative begins in 1941 in the Warsaw Ghetto where she, her brother Adam, baby sister Ryzia, and her parents are taken by the SS after their two years’ safe hiding place is revealed by a traitor. Instead of being put to death, Papa is told to report to the Jewish Council to work as translator processing new arrivals. This employment allows him a small income to purchase food and bare necessities.

Over time, the Ghetto becomes overcrowded. People are shipped away to an unknown place. Thousands are being starved to death or randomly shot on the streets in order to diminish the population of Jews through inhumane acts.

But this is mostly eleven year-old Hannah’s story. We read about her thoughts and longings; about her love of reading and her talent in gymnastics. She is a strong and reflective child, open to adventure and change while accepting of her current position.  The loss of the things and people she loves never diminishes her faith in life and the future.

We glimpse how some German soldiers felt about killing and war; how they were forced into conscription, and into unspeakable acts in contrast to their beliefs and humanity. The back stories are vivid and realistic. Each family member’s story is reflected, even if in a minor way.  A lot of historical information is incorporated and is a flowing river through the text.

Rich Historical Notes are added at the end along with a detailed glossary of words used. This book is part of the Courage to Care education program which ‘helps us to understand how lives are affected if we let discrimination occur….’ There will be more books of this ilk coming, so look out for them.



Monday, 18 September 2017


In Hades by Goldie Alexander (Celapene Press) PBK RRP $16.95   ISBN 978-0-9750742-6-8
E-book ISBN 978-0-9750742-5-1

Reviewed by David Campbell

Homer’s Odyssey might seem an odd choice as the basis for a story written for young adults, but if that classic poem were to be described as the original ‘road movie’ then what Goldie Alexander has achieved with her verse novel In Hades suddenly begins to make a lot of sense. Over the years there have been many famous road movies, from our own Mad Max and The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, to the likes of Hollywood’s Easy Rider, Thelma and Louise, Rain Man, and Little Miss Sunshine.

That’s a fairly mixed bag, but the common thread throughout is the journey undertaken by the central characters, a journey of discovery and self-revelation. Alexander has explored the complex notion of redemption though the adventures of Kai, a 17-year-old boy who, in a daring plot-twist, dies at the very beginning of the story when he crashes a stolen car. Kai’s younger brother Rod, who is autistic, is also killed in the crash, and it is Kai’s search for Rod in Hades that leads him to encounter all manner of monsters and physical challenges that have to be overcome.

But In Hades is not just a gripping adventure tale, it’s also a love story, for Kai meets up with the anorexic Bilby-G, and their journey together becomes one of mutual self-discovery.

This is an ambitious project, and one of the keys to its success is the poetry, for Alexander has effectively managed the difficult feat of marrying the action (and the romance) to the rhythms and cadences of the verse. The book is not one poem, but 49 of them, each with its own distinctive structure and voice. So we begin with the dramatically brief opening (The Accident), which scatters words on the page as we might imagine the shattered wreckage of the car strewn across the road, and then moves to the more tightly structured, yet still confused, second poem (After!), in which Kai comes to the realisation that he is dead.

Bilby-G arrives on the scene in poem 15 (Meeting Bilby-G), but before then we have learnt something of Kai’s troubled background, most of his problems arising after his step-father walks out (he doesn’t know his biological father) and takes up with another woman who rejects the two boys. Kai’s experiences during this time will resonate with quite a few young people and provide a useful basis for discussion, the poem titles alone striking a chord…for example Sleeping Out, Street Kids, and No Fixed Address.

The rest of the book follows Kai and Bilby-G as they are, in a sense, reborn, rediscovering the people they were before their lives went downhill. We learn what brought Bilby-G to this point, and begin to see the degree of guilt that haunts both of them and the truth that has to be faced, best summed up by an old man they meet along the way who tells them that they must seek forgiveness and then forgive themselves if they are to find peace. The physical challenges they encounter, which include a dangerous sea voyage involving whirlpools, sea nymphs (shades of Ulysses and the Sirens) and, finally, a one-eyed monster, provide the means to this end.

The book operates on several levels. Firstly, there’s the “What happens next?” element of the story itself, finding out who (and what) Kai and Bilby-G meet, and how they react. Then there’s the background, the events that led up to their deaths and the sort of people they were…there’s ample material for debate in the way they interacted with their families and the understanding they eventually come to about that. And finally there’s the poetry itself, with the multitude of formats providing the stimulus for discussion about the use of language and poetic structure to enhance the ancient art of story-telling.

This last, for me, is the most interesting, but that won’t be the case for everyone. Responses to poetry are, naturally, very subjective, and the challenge for those unfamiliar with the genre will be to come to some understanding of what the writer is trying to do. That doesn’t mean universal agreement, of course, and there are certainly some sections that I would have tackled differently, but that is where verse can add an extra dimension to the tale being told. There is considerable value, and much to be learned, in teasing out the various techniques employed and looking at possible alternatives. This not only enhances appreciation, but prompts readers to take an interest in having a go for themselves.

The inventive use of language is a powerful instrument, and I recommend In Hades as something out of the ordinary that should provide an excellent source of stimulating material for a variety of young adult readers.


You can purchase this book through www.celapenepress.com.au www.celapenepress.com.au

In Hades


In Hades by Goldie Alexander (Celapene Press) PBK RRP $16.95   ISBN 978-0-9750742-6-8
E-book ISBN 978-0-9750742-5-1

Reviewed by David Campbell

Homer’s Odyssey might seem an odd choice as the basis for a story written for young adults, but if that classic poem were to be described as the original ‘road movie’ then what Goldie Alexander has achieved with her verse novel In Hades suddenly begins to make a lot of sense. Over the years there have been many famous road movies, from our own Mad Max and The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, to the likes of Hollywood’s Easy Rider, Thelma and Louise, Rain Man, and Little Miss Sunshine.

That’s a fairly mixed bag, but the common thread throughout is the journey undertaken by the central characters, a journey of discovery and self-revelation. Alexander has explored the complex notion of redemption though the adventures of Kai, a 17-year-old boy who, in a daring plot-twist, dies at the very beginning of the story when he crashes a stolen car. Kai’s younger brother Rod, who is autistic, is also killed in the crash, and it is Kai’s search for Rod in Hades that leads him to encounter all manner of monsters and physical challenges that have to be overcome.

But In Hades is not just a gripping adventure tale, it’s also a love story, for Kai meets up with the anorexic Bilby-G, and their journey together becomes one of mutual self-discovery.

This is an ambitious project, and one of the keys to its success is the poetry, for Alexander has effectively managed the difficult feat of marrying the action (and the romance) to the rhythms and cadences of the verse. The book is not one poem, but 49 of them, each with its own distinctive structure and voice. So we begin with the dramatically brief opening (The Accident), which scatters words on the page as we might imagine the shattered wreckage of the car strewn across the road, and then moves to the more tightly structured, yet still confused, second poem (After!), in which Kai comes to the realisation that he is dead.

Bilby-G arrives on the scene in poem 15 (Meeting Bilby-G), but before then we have learnt something of Kai’s troubled background, most of his problems arising after his step-father walks out (he doesn’t know his biological father) and takes up with another woman who rejects the two boys. Kai’s experiences during this time will resonate with quite a few young people and provide a useful basis for discussion, the poem titles alone striking a chord…for example Sleeping Out, Street Kids, and No Fixed Address.

The rest of the book follows Kai and Bilby-G as they are, in a sense, reborn, rediscovering the people they were before their lives went downhill. We learn what brought Bilby-G to this point, and begin to see the degree of guilt that haunts both of them and the truth that has to be faced, best summed up by an old man they meet along the way who tells them that they must seek forgiveness and then forgive themselves if they are to find peace. The physical challenges they encounter, which include a dangerous sea voyage involving whirlpools, sea nymphs (shades of Ulysses and the Sirens) and, finally, a one-eyed monster, provide the means to this end.

The book operates on several levels. Firstly, there’s the “What happens next?” element of the story itself, finding out who (and what) Kai and Bilby-G meet, and how they react. Then there’s the background, the events that led up to their deaths and the sort of people they were…there’s ample material for debate in the way they interacted with their families and the understanding they eventually come to about that. And finally there’s the poetry itself, with the multitude of formats providing the stimulus for discussion about the use of language and poetic structure to enhance the ancient art of story-telling.

This last, for me, is the most interesting, but that won’t be the case for everyone. Responses to poetry are, naturally, very subjective, and the challenge for those unfamiliar with the genre will be to come to some understanding of what the writer is trying to do. That doesn’t mean universal agreement, of course, and there are certainly some sections that I would have tackled differently, but that is where verse can add an extra dimension to the tale being told. There is considerable value, and much to be learned, in teasing out the various techniques employed and looking at possible alternatives. This not only enhances appreciation, but prompts readers to take an interest in having a go for themselves.

The inventive use of language is a powerful instrument, and I recommend In Hades as something out of the ordinary that should provide an excellent source of stimulating material for a variety of young adult readers.


You can purchase this book through www.celapenepress.com.au www.celapenepress.com.au

Saturday, 16 September 2017

A Cardboard Palace

A Cardboard Palace written by Allayne L. Webster, (MidnightSun Publishing)   PB RRP$17.99   ISBN 9781925227253

Reviewed by Stefan Nicholson

The romantic, bohemian city of Paris is the setting for Allayne Webster’s new novel. Many Paris tourist landmarks are described in great detail during the course of the story, which adds to the authenticity of the author’s research.

The story is centred around a migrant shanty town on the outskirts of the city that is threatened with demolition. The poverty and hopelessness of its residents is shown through the lives of the homeless children who are forced into criminal activity by greedy opportunists and desperate parents.
The first chapter immediately introduces one of these children, Jorge, and his English criminal minder Bill who takes on the modern equivalent of a cruel Fagan.

The story follows Jorge’s struggle with Bill’s manipulation of his army of child thieves.  There is a secondary story surrounding Jorge’s love for Ada who is being forced to marry at the age of 10, accepted by the camp culture. Some of his friends die due to sickness and accident. Jorge realises some relief from his hopelessness in the guise of Australian chef Sticky Ricky who mentors him and the empowerment of his fellow companions as they rise to fight for a better life. The battle then is between the survival of Jorge and the defeat of Bill.

The first chapter is written in past tense to rapidly show the mechanism of the petty theft used by the team on a typical day.

From the second chapter on, the story is written in the present tense through the eyes of Jorge, to create a film-like effect. This is an interesting approach because the present tense allows the story to flow with the immediacy of sequential events, adding to the characterisation of Jorge.  We are there with Jorge as events unfold which makes the climax more intense and satisfying. It does however include expanded descriptions to the story line and the general element of suspense is somewhat diminished because we only see what Jorge sees and not what is happening elsewhere.

This story will be enjoyed by the intended middle-school audience, no doubt with some lively class discussions on the social issues it raises and the way it was written.


Friday, 15 September 2017

Once upon a Christmas

 O

Once upon a Christmas compiled and edited by Beattie Alvarez (Christmas Press)
PB RRP $24.99
ISBN 978 0 9922838 5 8

Reviewed by Dianne Bates

How wonderful to see an anthology of Christmas stories, poems and illustrations for children produced by this fairly new Australian publisher! Dedicated to Santa Claus, the book has an eye-catching cover of a red door on which hangs a Christmas wreath; it is also flanked on both sides by decorated Christmas trees. The book is a visual treat with coloured plates by illustrators including Fiona McDonald, Stephen Axelson, Kim Gamble, and black and white illustrations by Allan Stomann, Nette Hilton, David Allan, and others.
Every page in the book is garlanded with black and white borders of ribbons with bells and mistletoe to help create a festive flavour. The book’s contributors, from both Australian and overseas writers and illustrators, are numerous.

So what of the book’s contents? Just to say that it is wide and varied. Christmas family memoirs include Isabelle Merlin’s recollections as a French child living in Sydney (she even includes a recipe for a French Christmas log cake). Dawn Meredith compares her first Christmases in England with beach visits in Australia and a Christmas in Norway with her extended family. Libby Hathorn writes of a bush Christmas. Susanne Gervay pays tribute to her late parents.

Some stories are set in blazing hot Australia; others take place in bleak and snowy overseas. Victoria Nugent’s ‘Festival Floods’, describes another scenario while Beattie Alverez’s story is set in a toy factory. Subject matter is truly varied. In ‘Season of Plenty’, Rebecca Fung tells a story from Santa’s point of view; Helen Evans writes about a pirate Christmas. Sophie Masson retells a traditional Russian Christmas legend in ‘Babushka and the Star’.

Animals feature in a number of stories such as Sue Bursztynski’s ‘The Sheepdog in the Stable’ and Sally Odger’s story about animals which can speak on the night of Christmas Eve. Duncan Ball contributes a humorous Selby the speaking dog tale, Nettie Hilton writes of a mouse.

It is gratifying to see several poems by Australia’s very talented Anne Bell, including her poignant, ‘The Donkey’, one of the very few references to Christmas as a celebration of the birth of Jesus. Adele Geras’s ‘Christmas at the Homeless Shelter’ is another powerful poem worthy of mention.

There is much one could say about this engrossing anthology. It is certainly comprehensive and full of hours of reading for children aged 9+ years (and for adults, too). My only criticism is that some of the stories seem over-long. A special feature of the book is contributors’ biographies at the end of the book. There is also a comprehensive copyright acknowledgement page. Well done Christmas Press for this excellent addition to children’s literature!

Books can be purchased at www.christmaspresspicturebooks.com