The amazing case of Dr Ward by Jackie Kerin and Tull Suwannakit

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The amazing case of Dr Ward is a delightfully illustrated picture book which will open the minds of young readers to another time, place and person in history

Jackie Kerin is an Australian author of non-fiction storybooks for children. Other titles by Jackie are Lyrebird! Phar Lap and Gold! Tull Suwannakit is a Melbourne based childrens' book illustrator and author. Other titles illustrated by Tull are Morphing Murphy, Sad the dog and Thimble. The amazing case of Dr Ward is the result of a powerful collaboration between Kerin and Suwannakit.

This book will provide a segue into both science and history for young readers as it is non-fiction presented through a narrative and human interest lens. In year four and five in the Australian Curriculum, children learn about the colonial period, important figures from that time and the impact of colonial endeavours on Australia. Nathaniel Ward, the chief protagonist, was a very interesting but little known (nowadays) English medical doctor and amateur botanist from the Colonial era. He developed  the Wardian case. This enclosed glass case enabled live plant specimens to be moved around the world safely for the first time in the harsh conditions of sailing ships. As a result of the Wardian case, tropical plants could be brought back to the Kew Gardens and likewise exotic plants could be transported and grown in Australia.The  development of the Wardian case fuelled the collection of beautiful and exotic plants and changed the global environment...but that is something for the children to research later. The book itself is a celebration of Dr Ward and his endeavours. 

The illustrations are just gorgeous- softly coloured and detailed. There are detailed interiors and much beautiful greenery including scientifically labelled sketches of plants. There is a map of the world showing the path of ships between Australia and England.There are front pages of The Times from 1833 and 1842. Throughout there are delightful illustrations of Dr Ward as he pursues his project. The lovely authorial voice of Jackie Kerin, tells the story and includes the quirky little thoughts and conversations of the characters. Dr Ward is depicted as a very pleasant, gentle, possibly slightly eccentric man.

The Amazing Case of Dr Ward will be a welcome addition to libraries and childrens' home collections.  It is a story which is full of warmth and wit that is sure to inspire children to think about the contribution of people in the past to our lives today. It is refreshing to read about a little-known historical figure. This unusual choice of subject matter will inspire children and teachers to think about the contributions of a greater variety of historical people than have been previously on the curriculum menu and to ask more divergent questions too.

Themes Australian landscape, Colonisation, Establishment of Botanic Gardens, Seed/plant transportation.

Wendy Jeffrey


Neverland by Margot McGovern

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Penguin Random House Australia, 2018. ISBN 9780143787846
(Age: Young Adult 15+) Recommended. Kit Learmonth arrives at The Residence, a boarding school for damaged teens. She is too sick for regular school but not sick enough to be institutionalised. Her psychiatrist uncle Doc and Dr Ward care for her and the other students living there. The Residence is Kit's former home. A grand home on an island with a lighthouse, caves, cliffs and swimming beaches. Kit grew up on the island with her esteemed writer father and her mother. Her childhood memories are vivid and fanciful. She and her father lived in an imaginary world of pirates, mermaids, monsters, treasures and seafaring voyages of Odysseus. She lived in a make believe world straight from the pages of her father's bestselling book Kingdom by the Sea, her favourite book.
Returning to The Residence is difficult for Kit; she hardly recognises the place and has to deal with her past memories and her parents' tragic death. She self-harms and looks for ways to comfort herself with drugs and alcohol, all banned from The Residence yet smuggled in. Kit has some close friends and together they have a goal to win the School's Cup, the annual sailing race. With Alastair, Rohan and Gypsy by her side, she manages group therapy, studies, training for sailing and gets up to mischief on night time adventures. They nickname The Residence 'Neverland' and play out imaginary and fantastical scenarios as a way to escape real life. At times, their friendships are strained and difficult, as all struggle with their own demons.
The title of the novel makes me think of Peter Pan's Neverland. Kit Learmonth is like Peter Pan, stuck on an island and does not grow up. Kit lives her life stuck in her idealised past blocking out the truth and trauma of the day her parents died.
Neverland is an engaging and emotional read. McGovern deals with the challenges of adolescent mental health issues in a very sensitive and refreshing way. She deals with issues of depression, eating disorders, and self-harm without romanticising them. The character development is sincere and balanced enabling the reader to experience real empathy and compassion for each. McGovern has been successful in writing a novel that is a more positive representation of the issues that face young adults today.
Sandra Ciccarello