Wednesday, 8 April 2020

Successes for Amelia McInerney

Amelia McInerney’s debut children’s book, The Chook Book (2019, Scholastic Australia), was recently announced a CBCA notable book in the Early Childhood (Picture Book) category. It was also shortlisted in the Speech Pathology Book of the Year awards in 2019.

Amelia’s second picture book, Bad Crab (2019, Scholastic Australia), will be released in France in May 2020. 

She has two stories in Allen & Unwin’s middle-grade anthology, Funny Bones, which was recently long-listed for an Australian Book Industry Award.

Monday, 6 April 2020

Lola and Grandpa

Yvonne Low’s debut picture book, Lola and Grandpa, written by Ashling Kwok and published by Little Pink Dog Books is being released on 5 May 2020.  

Lola and Grandpa is the story of a young girl and the tender, loving relationship she shares with her grandpa. When Lola’s grandpa passes away, she struggles to cope. However, as time passes Lola starts to remember all the special times they shared. She can see her grandpa reflected in all the things around her and realises that even though he is no longer physically with her, they will always remain connected.

Saturday, 4 April 2020

Book review of Heart and Soul

Heart And Soul by Carol Ann Martin & Tull Suwannakit
Scholastic AU RRP $24.99 AUD (Hardback)

I was so excited to see a new title from Carol Ann Martin on my review pile this month. Her hilarious Underneath A Cow has had more than its fair share of reads by Team Charming over the years. What’s more, she generously donated a story to Library For All (my day job!) which has now been shared with thousands of kids in education programs around Papua New Guinea, Laos and Timor-Leste. Let’s just say I’m a fan!
But all of that aside, there is something quite special about Heart And Soul.  My Mr 8 is a good reader and is usually drawn more to Middle Grade action than picture books these days, but this one made him well up! Evocative illustrations with a sentimental, Christmas-y feel bring to life a gentle story about loyalty, friendship and music.   
Elderly Charlie Wintergreen rescues scrappy pup Louis from the dogs’ home. They build a cosy life together, particularly enjoying Charlie’s trumpet skills. As Charlie plays, Louis sings – always with heart and soul. But one day an ambulance comes to take Charlie away, and he doesn’t return. Louis is back to being a no-name, no-home pup…until he hears someone else playing the trumpet.
Young readers may find this an emotional journey, but it does have a happy ending with positive messages about resilience, tenacity and the notion that ‘home’ and ‘family’ can come in all different shapes and sizes. And, most importantly, a reminder to put your heart and soul into everything you do.

Thursday, 2 April 2020

Ghost Bird

Ghost Bird by Lisa Fuller (University of Queensland Press, 2019). PB RRP $19.95 ISBN 9780702260230

Reviewed by Julie Anne Thorndyke

What happens when your twin sister goes missing? Inevitably, a great deal of waiting and worrying. This is the situation for Stacey, whose mirror-image twin Laney disappears one night. Hardworking, studious and rule-abiding Stacey is placed in conflict with her mother, because Stacey had prior knowledge that risk-taking Laney was sneaking out of the house at night to meet her boyfriend Ty.

The conflict between mother and daughter contrasts with their need to comfort and help each other as both characters struggle to understand what has happened to Laney.

The realistic portrayal of worry and helplessness is bolstered by the scenes that depict the extended family and friends arriving at the family house to cook, eat, support and plan a search. The interconnectedness of the mob together with the long-term grudge held against another family is contrasted with the indifference of the white police and the lack of official help in looking for the missing girl.

Against the realism, the nightmares Stacey has about Laney, visitations by the ‘ghost bird’, wisdom from the crazy elderly woman from the enemy Miller clan, memories of her own Nan’s often repeated warnings and advice lead Stacey to believe that her sister is alive and show her the way to discover her location.

Intertwined with the story of the missing girl is the problem of precious stones being removed from the land. Bad things happen to those who possess the stolen rocks.

The story moves at a steady pace with helpers such as cousin Rhi, May and Dan Miller arriving to help Stacey overcome the obstacles in her quest to find her twin. Supernatural elements offer a touch of horror that will appeal to the YA audience.

The villains of the piece are the white landowners. Otherworldly beings pushed away by light and fire are part of the land and the handed down wisdom of indigenous elders shows how to deal with their approach. There are places best avoided, particularly after dark.

Tuesday, 31 March 2020

How to Grow a Family Tree

How to Grow a Family Tree by Eliza Henry Jones (HarperCollins) PB RRP $19.99 ISBN: 9781460754955

Reviewed by Nikki M Heath

Stella is seventeen and in the last weeks of Year 11.  She is also watching her identity fall apart around her. As the book opens, Stella discovers that gambling addiction will force her adoptive family to move the seedy local caravan park. In the same week, Stella receives a mysterious letter from her birth mother.

Reading the first few chapters of How to Grow a Family Tree feels like sitting under the titular tree on the hottest days of the summer school holidays; slow, slightly uncomfortable and a little hazy. The reader gets to know Stella and her - at first, apparently harmless - quirks, like her obsession with self-help books. We are discomfited by her father’s gambling, her mother’s denial and her sister’s sleepwalking. 

A perfect storm of teenage angst, family tensions, uprooting and identity crisis develops narrative momentum in the second half of the book. The theme of sexual violence is opened gradually and with insight into the way rape fractures whole families.

The characters are diverse, flawed and very real, as is the unvarnished regional setting. The dialogue is pitch-perfect, and the author’s keen observations bring Stella’s world into clear view. 

This book is subdued in tone yet confronting in subject matter. In managing this balance, it forces the reader to challenge their own preconceptions and widen their perspective. A book that will stay with its young adult and adult readers for many years.

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.