Sunday, 29 March 2020

Sick Bay


Sick Bay by Nova Weetman (UQP) PB RRP $16.95 ISBN: 978 0 7022 6032 2

Reviewed by Nikki M Heath

Two girls. One sick bay. Will the neglected outcast reach through the defences of the cool kid living with type 1 diabetes? Can the popular girl bring the introvert out of hiding? What happens when a complicated home life and a cast of adults ranging from well-meaning to ignorant to absent are layered into the mix?

In the final year of primary school, Meg is doing what she needs to do to handle life after her father’s death with a depressed mother. She takes care of herself as best she can but refuses to let anyone help. Meanwhile, Riley is rebelling against the restrictions imposed by her overprotective mother as they begin to impact on her social life.

In a novel alternating between two first-person main protagonists, it feels unfair to have a favourite. Nevertheless, the character of Meg is a stand-out. She faces an intensely difficult life outside of school, but still manages to maintain a firm sense of self. She tugs heartstrings from the intriguing first line of the book: “My best friend is a brown paper bag that has a slight crease in the corner”. Yet, for all her hiding in sick bay, over the course of the book her strength emerges and creates the perfect underdog for the reader to cheer on.

Riley is a contrast. She finds herself entangled in a “mean girls” clique while struggling with her type 1 diabetes and anxious mother. In the early chapters, she is painted as cruel and shallow, but Weetman does a clever job of introducing complexity and doubt into her character, enough to rouse interest – and sympathy – in the reader. We are invited to put ourselves in Riley’s shoes, and while her troubles with friends and parents seem trivial compared to the neglect facing Meg, those issues gain greater depth in the context of her medical condition.

The book will be an education for anyone unfamiliar with the daily reality of type 1 diabetes. It also uses Meg’s story to explore, in a gentle way, grief, poverty, depression and neglect. Weetman delivers a powerful child’s perspective, drawing us gradually into Meg’s world, although it is worth noting that readers who have experiences echoing Meg’s may need support.

In many ways the overall arc feels familiar: a misfit with her troupe of amusing and kind fellows is thrown up against the cool kid who has secret misgivings about her unpleasant friends. There’s even a cinematic graduation scene at the climax. And yet, there is purpose underlying the trope: it provides a framework allowing the confronting themes to play out with emotional resonance against a recognisable backdrop. This is no simple school-ground friendship drama. This is a story of real-life stakes and authentic crises, delivered in an accessible package.

Although this novel has a female-heavy cast, the girls’ experiences are universal. Boys as well as girls will benefit from understanding her story, as well as Riley’s condition. An important book for all 10 to 13-year olds.

The Book of Chance


The Book of Chance by Sue Whiting is a page-turning mystery/suspense novel for readers aged 10 to 14 years set in Wollongong, NSW. It tells the story of almost thirteen-year-old Chance Callahan’s quest to find her own truth, only to discover that her life is in fact a big fat lie – #biggestfakeever! 

Inspired by a true crime, the novel explores truth and lies and the grey area in between, the impact of social media, the importance of family, and ultimately ponders the notion that maybe being truthful is really just a great big lie.

Friday, 27 March 2020

Say Cheese!


Say Cheese! by Frances Watts, Marjorie Crosby-Fairall (Scholastic Australia)
RRP $24.99 ISBN 9781760664046

Reviewed by Karen Hendriks

The author playfully builds the antics of cheeky animals at school photos with the use of questioning by Maxwell Mouse the photographer. This gives the illustrations lots of scope with the answers. School photos – student and family portraits and then a picture of the whole class with all the shenanigans ensure the reader is entertained. The dialogue between the photographer and animals works harmoniously. A big strength of this book is the interplay between the words and illustrations. Marjorie has lots of freedom to ham up Maxwell Mouse’s frustration with some students who just won’t stay still.

Many illustrations use sky blue and cheese yellow with double spreads full of playful characters and movement. The animal characters sing with personality that fill each page. The repeated refrain ‘Say Cheese!’ gives the reader the opportunity to join in with the story. This book can be enjoyed by children aged three to eight years. I can also see many teachers using this book around the annual school photo. Also, at home a child could easily do school photos of their toys as a fun response to this story.

Wednesday, 25 March 2020

Kaye's New Books


THE FRIENDLY GAMES
Author: Kaye Baillie
Illustrator: Fiona Burrows
Publisher: MidnightSun
Release Date: 1 June 2020
John Ian Wing couldn't be more excited about the upcoming Melbourne Olympic Games. It's 1956 and from his parents' Bourke Street restaurant, John swells with pride watching the hive of activity as the city prepares to welcome its guests. But when world tensions threaten to overshadow the good nature of the Games, John knows he must do something to remind everyone of the meaning of friendship and peace. Based on a true story, The Friendly Games is a fascinating tale of one boy's role in one of Australia's most significant sporting events.
Published by MidnightSun Publishing, Australia
BOO LOVES BOOKS
Author: Kaye Baillie
Illustrator: Tracie Grimwood
Publisher: New Frontier Publishing
Release Date: 1 May 2020 Australia/UK/New Zealand
US Release Date: 1 October 2020
Some dogs are shy and anxious and so are some children. Can Boo and Phoebe turn their fears into a positive experience? A charming story of friendship between a shy little girl and a huge, gentle rescue dog.

Monday, 23 March 2020

The Other Brother


The Other Brother by Penny Jaye, Heidi Cooper Smith (Wombat Books)
RRP $24.99 Hardcover ISBN
9781925563832

Reviewed by Karen Hendriks

This is a tender story that explores family, siblings and change from a child’s perspective. The voice of Jayden James reminds me of Wilfred Gordon MacDonald Partridge in some parts. I love how the text links and loops back with the family’s activities. What a family of five did they do as a family of six. A new brother does not impress Jayden James. There’s a new car, not enough room on the picnic rug and Mitchell David chases all the birds away. Then, the story gives us a peep into how Mitchell David is feeling in his new family. Jayden James steps into his new role of big brother and with a wiggle and a squish he makes space on the couch for Mitchell David. And now six fit. The text is rich in language that is warm and emotive. For example, One, two three, four, five and six – with blankets and cuddles, all squishy but sweet.

The heart-warming illustrations depict the movement and flow of family life. The facial expressions are emotive and expressive. The use of space on the pages show the family members together or apart depending upon the message. My favourite spread is the double page where Jayden James is underneath his doona. You just want to give him a big hug. The end papers are adorable with the family blankets and pillows scattered and scrunched after snuggling. Heidi has cleverly used white space to draw the eye straight to the family and their interaction which is the core of the story.

This is a story that will be enjoyed by children 3-8 years from all sorts of families. It is a book that helps with understanding about adoption or fostering. This book will be read by both families and schools. The Other Brother ties in well with the school curriculum and teachers will find this a very handy resource when students are learning about what it means to be a family.

Saturday, 21 March 2020

Isla’s Family Tree

Isla’s Family Tree by Katrina McKelvey, Prue Pittock (EK Books)
RRP $24.99 ISBN 9781925820379

Reviewed by Karen Hendriks

McKelvey has written a book that sensitively explores family, belonging and change with such heart and warmth. This story links family trees to the addition of new babies entering a family and where they belong within a family.

Isla created family trees for her family and her Aunt’s families on her Mum’s side to learn about where she belongs in her own family and her new baby brothers. This helped her see that just as trees grow and change, so do families. Isla at first thought that the new babies could each go into her aunt’s families as her own family tree was full. But once her brothers arrived, Isla knew that they really did belong in her own family. She then made room for her brothers to fit on the family tree that she had made. Isla saw that change happens in all families.

I particularly like the dialogue which allows the story to speak simply and clearly to a child. Katrina’s use of questioning allows the child protagonist to think and discover for herself not only her place within her family but her new baby brothers, too. This is supported beautifully with thought bubbles. Isla draws upon her own memories and feelings during the story. I can see this book being a springboard for children drawing or making their own family trees.  

I love the simplicity of the illustrations and the clever use of white space as the background for each spread. The use of simple line work and patterns allows the visual story to add multiple layers of meaning to the text. The family trees show how they are all linked. This visually speaks volumes to a child. The limited colour palette allows the characters and their activities to shine without cluttering the story.


This is a story that will be enjoyed by children 3-8 years from all sorts of diverse families. It will be well received by families and schools. It is a good fit within the school curriculum and will be a great resource for teachers, too.by Katrina McKelvey, Prue Pittock (EK Books)
RRP $24.99 ISBN 9781925820379

Reviewed by Karen Hendriks

McKelvey has written a book that sensitively explores family, belonging and change with such heart and warmth. This story links family trees to the addition of new babies entering a family and where they belong within a family.

Isla created family trees for her family and her Aunt’s families on her Mum’s side to learn about where she belongs in her own family and her new baby brothers. This helped her see that just as trees grow and change, so do families. Isla at first thought that the new babies could each go into her aunt’s families as her own family tree was full. But once her brothers arrived, Isla knew that they really did belong in her own family. She then made room for her brothers to fit on the family tree that she had made. Isla saw that change happens in all families.

I particularly like the dialogue which allows the story to speak simply and clearly to a child. Katrina’s use of questioning allows the child protagonist to think and discover for herself not only her place within her family but her new baby brothers, too. This is supported beautifully with thought bubbles. Isla draws upon her own memories and feelings during the story. I can see this book being a springboard for children drawing or making their own family trees.  

I love the simplicity of the illustrations and the clever use of white space as the background for each spread. The use of simple line work and patterns allows the visual story to add multiple layers of meaning to the text. The family trees show how they are all linked. This visually speaks volumes to a child. The limited colour palette allows the characters and their activities to shine without cluttering the story.

This is a story that will be enjoyed by children 3-8 years from all sorts of diverse families. It will be well received by families and schools. It is a good fit within the school curriculum and will be a great resource for teachers, too.

Monday, 16 March 2020

Author Susanne Gervay

Susanne Gervay advocates that feminism is never about men against women. It is about gender equity and opportunity. As an author, educational consultant and activist, Susanne Gervay has lived the second rise of feminism and now the #MeToo campaign.
Her books which address all ages from pre-school to young adults, empower young people to engage in feminism and human rights. You’ll find Susanne at the Istanbul Literary Festival speaking to thousands of young adults about women’s rights when Turkey is facing terrorism and threats to democracy.  You’ll find her in remote indigenous communities empowering women elders and children through her stories. Her powerful speech at the World Burn Conference in New York on her novel Butterflies addressed feminism and disability. In a juvenile detention centre, Susanne shared her books inspiring teenage girls who deserve a future.
She was awarded the Social Justice Literature Award for her body of works by the International Literacy Association. She has also been awarded an Order of Australia for youth literature, is a nominee for the Astrid Lindgren Award 2020 and a writer ambassador for Room to Read with its affirmative action for girls in developing countries. When the Museum of Australia asked Susanne to write a story for young people from 7 to 10 on the second rise of feminism, she wrote Daisy Sunshine. Her young adult novel Shadows of Olive Trees lays bare feminism. This makes Gervay the first writer to reinterpret the lived experience of young women in the seventies for an audience of young readers today.  Susanne is a national and international speaker, ambassador for literacy and social justice organisations.