Thursday, 18 April 2019

A Quiet Girl

A Quiet Girl, written & illustrated by Peter Carnavas (UQP) HB RRP $24.99 ISBN9780702260025

Reviewed by Dianne Bates

Mary is a quiet child whose family is so noisy and occupied with mundane tasks that she is frequently overlooked. The small girl whispers quiet words, steps quietly and has quiet thoughts. At the same time, she is involved with the world around her, listening to the sounds of birds and enjoying the garden. She hears things nobody else does, buzzing and sighing and creaking, while her family use motorised tools and tell her to use a ‘nice, loud voice’.

Eventually Mary feels as though she is invisible. It is only when a bird lands on a windowsill that her family realises she is missing. When they eventually find her, she becomes the catalyst for them to finally stop their business and enjoy the sounds and sights of nature which so captivate their youngest member.

Carnavas has written many picture books including his most recent, The Elephant, which was short-listed for the CBCA Book of the Year Awards. A Quiet Girl was, he says, his tribute to the introverts, who, it must be said, are rarely represented in children’s literature. This book, like The Elephant, is delicate and thought-provoking, a quiet voice in a noisy world.

The illustrations are in keeping with the theme of the book which is that one needs to be quiet and to look carefully at nature in order to be attuned to it. In its quietness, the book is powerful. It is suitable for all young readers, including the newly independent reader.

Tuesday, 16 April 2019

In the shadow of an Elephant

In the shadow of an Elephant by Georgie Donaghey &, illustrated by Sandra Severgnini (Little Pink Dog Books) PB RRP $24.95
ISBN 978-0-6-482563-1-1

Review by Wendy Haynes

Georgia Donaghey has delivered a moving story that explores love, loss, friendship, and trust. Though this story is for five to six year olds, it could be used as an aid in middle primary when dealing with the sensitive issues of life and death.

The story takes you to the African Savannah where Lualani a baby elephant is ripped away from her mother’s side one dark night. Poachers scare the herd leaving Lualani calling for her mother. It informs those new to reading about the harshness of life in a gentle way.

Lualani is frightened and extremely sad, but she is not alone for long. A boy Jabari and his Papa find her, and through, empathy, understanding, patience, and perseverance earn the trust of Lualani. A strong friendship forms and both Jabari and Lualani over many years learn from each other.

The story brings you full circle when Jabari’s papa passes, and now Lualani is the one to help Jabari through his saddest moments.

The story is added to with the delightful artwork by Sandra Severgini showing the reader the beauty of Africa and evoking the nature of the emotions that are felt throughout the story.

Sunday, 14 April 2019

Changing History? in Shakespeare Now!

Changing History? in  Shakespeare Now! by Goldie Alexander (Five Senses Education) Anthology Edition RRP $34.95  ISBN 9781760322601

Reviewed by Claire Stuckey

In 2017 Taylor travels to Berlin with her grandfather Opa to visit the city that family fled in the 1920's. Her future is currently unclear with her dancing a focus but is she good enough for it to be a career? She escapes an overbearing mother, and a boyfriend she wants to dump but only to fall into a desperate and dangerous situation.

Waking up in 1928, Taylor has a bad concussion and no money, but she is helped by a young man called Rom. Despite the hardship of his own Jewish family, he aids Taylor's recovery, then assists in finding her a job and a place to stay. Taylor has never worked so hard, shared so little food, money or comfort. She makes friends and enemies while struggling to work at night eventually dancing with Juliet on stage to pay her way. Her friendship with Rom and Juliet educates her on the influences of religion and class in a society also struggling with political and cultural change in a dynamic economic environment. Their situation is difficult; both are restrained by family pressures, both are caring, but very much in love.

Taylor shares her time-travel secret with the couple who respond with much interest. Her revelations on the rise of the Nazi party and the consequences becomes a catalyst for a plan to poison Hitler on a visit to the restaurant where they work. The plan is foiled by an informer, Taylor does not escape the wrath of party officials. Saved once again, she lives rough on the streets until she returns to the present day, in hospital, with a terrible head injury. Taylor returns home with significant changes to her views on her life, family and her future. Opa finds a photo of his parents and Taylor realises that the family history is entwined with her own Berlin journey.

Although I knew much of the history surrounding this story, I enjoyed travelling with Taylor into this period. Unlike the original play, the young couple survive.  As an historical story it provides a good entry point into German socialism and the religious intolerance in the pre-war period.  

It may make Shakespeare more readable for students, but this story diverts markedly from the tragedy of the young lovers in the original. Highly readable, I did not try to look for the comparisons like I have in others stories in this series but enjoyed the time-travel adventure with well-drawn characters arranged in an dynamic setting.  

Sunday, 7 April 2019

Mr Bambuckle's Remarkables - On the Lookout

Mr Bambuckle's Remarkables - On the Lookout by Tim Harris (Puffin Books) PB RRP $14.99     ISBN: 9780143793144

Reviewed by Jeffery E Doherty

On the Lookout is the fourth book in the Mr Bambuckle's Remarkables series by Tim Harris. The book is an illustrated junior novel with action filled illustrations by James Hart. It follows the adventures of Mr. Bambuckle and the unique children of class 12B.

On the Lookout begins on the final morning of school camp where it is discovered that one of the students, Vex Vron, has gone missing. The stern and often vengeful Miss Frost is delighted for the chance to bring down the eccentric Mr. Bambuckle until he points out the rule that holds her as the executive teacher, responsible. What follows is an investigation by the students to locate the run-a-way Vex.

There are quite a few characters in this story and except for the two new students to the class, Grace and Gabby Wu, there was not a lot of character development. This is understandable as On the Lookout is the fourth book in the series. Fortunately, there is an illustrated character profile of each student at the start of the book for readers who are new to the series. The story is fast-paced, quirky and funny with lots of little side tracks from the investigation.

On the Lookout is an excellent story that would appeal to both girls and boys who love a little nonsensical humour and a cast of strange and talented characters.  This book is a fun read and would be ideally suited to reluctant 8-12-year-old readers.   

Friday, 5 April 2019

Promise Me Happy

Promise Me Happy by Robert Newton (Penguin Books) PB RRP $17.99 ISBN 9780143796442

Reviewed by Dianne Bates

At the start of this YA novel, 17-year-old Nate is being released from eighteen months’ detention in Croxley for assault during a robbery gone wrong with nothing much to take with him except a copy of The Old Man and the Sea, the only thing he has of his mum who is deceased. Waiting to take him into home custody is his Uncle Mick who lives by himself and who says, ‘looking after you (Nate) wasn’t something I factored into my life plan.’ Nate is just as reluctant to stay with Mick but there’s nowhere else to go.

On the way to his shack near the Glamorgan River at Oyster Bay, the two shop for provisions at a store where Nate sees an interesting girl with black hair buzzed short with a wisp of purple hanging down her face who’s wearing a green tartan skirt, black leather jacket and red Doc Marten boots. He’s not to know it but this girl – Gemma – is to become his first great love. When he and Gemma get together, the two start a business delivering groceries to people who live alongside the river.

The first half of this book is quite slow-moving, but matters take a sudden – and very surprising twist – near the middle of the book and it’s from here that Newton’s writing becomes more captivating and his story characters show their true colours. Emotions are heightened and the reader becomes more engrossed in the story. Nate confronts his father whom he feels twisted and bitter about, and he’s able to recover his mother’s prized possession, a guitar. His and Gemma’s relationship shifts into a much higher gear with the reader swept along by its intensity.

Certainly, by the end of the book Nate has matured much more and though he’s grieving, the reader knows he is stronger and will face the future with greater resilience. This book would suit readers aged 14+ years.

Tuesday, 2 April 2019

Gap year nanny series: Shakespeare now!

Gap year nanny series: Shakespeare now! by Goldie Alexander (Five Senses Education)  PB RRP $34.95  ISBN 9781760322601

Reviewed by Claire Stuckey

Merri Attwater is in her gap year. She lives in Melbourne looking for work to earn money not only for herself but her struggling family.  She finds a job as a nanny with the Macbeth family who live in Glamis, an enormous walled mansion with two other staff. The three children, Merri's new charges, are scheduled to have activities throughout the day by a mother determined that they have every advantage and skill. 

Pushed with odd jobs in the few breaks between activities, Merri quickly discovers Mrs Macbeth's real personality. She also meets Mr Macbeth on his brief home stays between international travel and important business meetings for a large company started by Duncan. Merri is awestruck at the handsome and kind Stuart Macbeth forcing her to question her one long and close relationship with her girlfriend Mica.

After settling in to the Macbeth household, Merri feels confident to end her gay relationship, join a sporting team and establish new friendship away from her difficult home life and the Macbeths. Over the months she becomes a listener, someone Stuart can debrief with while Mrs Macbeth increases her efforts to increase their wealth and prestige. Stuart has been persuaded to listen to the internet Gurus by his wife.  The negative influence of the gurus further corrupts his principles. Once he has outed Duncan as CEO, Stuart Macbeth struggles with the politics and personal pressures on the team that once made the business successful. Greed, power and paranoia slowly take their toll mentally and physically on both Stuart and Laura Macbeth which finally leads to the marriage breakdown.   

In contrast, Merri finds confidence in her role as nanny establishing positive friendships with the children and her new social group, even updating her appearance.
With the business failing and colleagues arrested, Stuart is despondent and facing court. Laura's ultimate breakdown is tempered by Merri's quick thinking. Mrs Macbeth finds a new man and Merri is asked to stay, but with a new love interest and a focus on the future, Merri looks forward to university and a positive future.

This story is adapted from the play Macbeth, a Shakespearean tragedy. Gap Year has contemporary characters who exhibit the same positive and negative human characteristics as defined in the original version.  In building the modern narrative, Goldie Alexander has brought to life characters that we can understand and respond to. Merri is a likeable, young woman and we empathise with her problems, youthful traits and enthusiasm. We feel the confusion when she falls for Stuart Macbeth and the unfairness at her treatment by Laura Macbeth. Her blossoming as an adult contrasts with the downfall of the couple tainted by their greed and corruption.  It is the juxtaposition that makes this a great readable story.

Will current English students want to read this to enhance or explain the original text? I don't know: many are time-poor and additional reading is not popular.  But as a reader, I was happy to go on the journey with Merri and although I knew the ending, I was happy for the characters to take me there.

My only negative comment was the Wikipedia summary at the rear of the book.  A more educational source would have been preferable. I note that other adaptations in the series conclude with teachers’ notes.

Sunday, 31 March 2019

The Greatest Book in the World

Matt Porter's new picture book The Greatest Book in the World (Ford Street Publishing) has been released. It's a laugh-out loud read where the narrator speaks directly to readers while attempting to create The Greatest Book in the World. Rudolf Wordsmith requests that readers finish his rhyming couplets and admonishes them when they’re tricked into supplying a ‘rude’ rhyme. This trickery is achieved through clever text and the lively illustrations created by Dave Atze. As the readers’ ‘rude’ rhymes cause the illustrator to draw Rudolf in humiliating predicaments he becomes increasingly frustrated. This culminates in a surprising and hilarious ending that will have children howling with laughter.

Reviewed by Barbara Braxton, Teacher Librarian, M.Ed. (TL), M.App.Sci.(TL), M.I.S. (Children's Services) This will appeal to that particular brand of humour that all boys seem to pass through as they emerge as independent readers, this is a LOL book that will have them gathered around and enjoying that collaborative reading experience that is also essential to their reading development. One to encourage boys to keep reading beyond the home readers...