This small but powerful collection of eighteen stories about real-life people, many familiar and unfamiliar, will be an inspiring read for those upper primary/early secondary children who enjoy reading about others. The book begins with a definition of grit: firmness of mind or spirit; unyielding courage in the face of danger or hardship and a publisher’s note encouraging the reader to find out more. Each four-page story begins with an animated portrait and quote, as well as a question or two for further consideration. Some of the diverse people discussed include the well-known Jesse Owens, Walt Disney, Albert Einstein, Helen Keller and the lesser-known Satoshi Tajiri, Elizabeth Blackwell, and Bethany Hamilton. One very recent story is about Li Wenliang, the Wuhan COVID-19 doctor who first discovered this devastating virus. He alerted his colleagues and eventually the world but sadly passed away in 2020. Another story is about Corrie Ten Boom who helped over Jewish 800 refugees escape from Germany but was arrested by the Gestapo and sent to a concentration camp. Corrie survived to spend her life after the war as a public speaker, inspiring others with stories of hope.
These biographical vignettes present a simple snapshot of the real lives of some brave and courageous people. The stories are both readable and easy to understand and lend themselves to further research in greater detail.
Allen & Unwin, 2022. ISBN: 9781534492530. (Age:5+)
Bob is a very chatty, humorous and likeable bird but he has a big problem. He cannot fly. No matter what he does and how hard he tries, he just cannot get off the ground. His flock are off on their first flight of the day and Bob is left alone. He practises and practises repeatedly and starts to worry he will never fly. He becomes very despondent but a kind and helpful crow passing by notices Bob crying and offers to help. He also had trouble flying so he knows exactly how Bob is feeling. He tells Bob to take a breath, but Bob is not convinced, after all he is breathing! However, the crow insists that Bob does deep breathing and teaches him how to do it. After a few failed attempts at deep breathing Bob finally masters it and feels great. He continues to practise his flying and it does get better.
This picture book has detailed instructions on how to breathe deeply and would be best read and shared by a teacher or parent with younger children. Learning to breathe deeply can help in times of stress and worry. The appealing yet simple illustrations will delight young children and add to their engagement in the story.
Themes Self-esteem, Wellbeing, Birds, Deep Breathing, Persistence, Friendship, Humour.
Lift-the-flap questions and answers about racism by Jordan Akpojaro and Ashley Evans
Usborne, 2022. ISBN: 9781474995825. (Age:7+)
While the issue of racism has bubbled along in the background of schools for decades, the recent rise and focus on the Black Lives Matter movement has brought it forward into the lounge rooms and lives of our students and many have many questions. This is to be expected if we accept the premise that 'race is not a natural, biologically grounded feature of physically distinct subgroups of human beings but a socially constructed (culturally invented) category that is used to oppress and exploit people of colour' particularly when 'race' itself is defined as 'the idea that the human species is divided into distinct groups on the basis of inherited physical and behavioral differences.' (Britannica, 2022)
Therefore this book is a timely release that uses a simple lift-the-flap technique to answer children's questions in a way that they will understand. For example, while the Britannica definition can be easily unpacked by an adult here it is explained as 'treating people differently and unfairly based on their skin colour, where they're from, their religion or their family traditions.'
From 'What's wrong with the idea of 'race'? and 'Why is life harder for people with darker skin?' to 'Don't ALL lives matter?' and 'What's racism got to do with me?' this book tackles powerful, pertinent questions in a direct, accessible and thought-provoking way. Even if the reader has not encountered racism, they learn why it is everyone's problem to solve, and how we can all be part of the solution.
There is also a blog post that offers guidance about how to talk to children about racism because "even by the age of two children begin to notice skin colour and other differences in appearance" and there are also the usual Quicklinks to help the reader understand more deeply.
The calling of Jackdaw Hollow by Kate Gordon
University of Queensland Press, 2022. ISBN: 9780702263484. (Age:10+) Highly recommended.
What a strange, otherworldly read The calling of Jackdaw Hollow is and how good it is for children to leave their everyday worlds and travel to whimsical, parallel worlds within the pages of a book. Readers of Tasmanian author Kate Gordon's books, particularly the two companion books: The Heartsong of Wonder Quinn and The Ballad of Melodie Rose would notice recurring themes and motifs. The setting of Direleafe Hall is faintly gothic. There is the massive old boarding house, the ghosts of boarders of the past and the adoption of orphans. There is continuity between the books with lonely orphaned protagonists coming to Direleafe Hall after various tragedies happening to their parents. Each of these characters is full of self doubt and troubled by friendship issues and self worth. Each grows to fullness of character and destination.
Jackdaw Hollow, a lonely orphan, is an odd birdlike boy. Parallels are drawn to the birdworld both in his appearance and his pursuits and interests. Kate Gordon has a great fascination with birds; the various ways birds appear and the meaning that they hold would be a study in itself. The front cover illustration by well known artist and visual communication designer Rachel Tribout, presents a portrait of an unusual looking boy- not unfriendly but quite arrestingly haunted looking. The border surrounding him includes thistles (very symbolic), a wooded landscape and an old house with a turret complete with blackbirds flying against a sky which is struck by jagged lightning. The author must be well-pleased and relieved when an illustrator evokes the atmospherics of their story so effectively.
Jackdaw Hollow is a fully rounded character. The reader feels for him as he overhears conversations that make him feel worthless and as he struggles to find a calling. Kate Gordon is able to present the shy, socially struggling, deep thinking type of character so well and reading about the struggles of Jackdaw Hollow would elicit empathy from many young readers as they struggle with the same kinds of self doubt. Kate Gordon's books deal with friendships, with dreams, with breaking hearts, with finding, knowing and staying true to oneself. There is much wisdom dispensed through the voice of various characters including living the life you have, taking up opportunities when they come up even if they don't all work out and knowing when it is best to let go.
The epilogue is powerful and brings the book and the series to a perfect conclusion which points to life, death and another world beyond our understanding. The characters in The calling of Jackdaw Hollow demonstrate courage, tenderness and love. Jackdaw Hollow, although it takes him a lifetime, discovers what is truly important and also something about the fullness of time and continuity.
The calling of Jackdaw Hollow, as a stand alone book or as companion to The Heartsong of Wonder Quinn and The Ballad of Melodie Rose is a somewhat unusual but very worthwhile read for young people.
Themes Finding life's calling, Friendship, Being true to oneself.
Wayside School is falling down by Louis Sachar
Bloomsbury, 2022. ISBN: 9781526622044. (Age:9+)
Originally published in 1989, the Wayside School series has certainly held up but also shows its age. While still incredibly funny and clever, there are many elements that may concern parents and teachers, making the series more appropriate for the upper levels of primary school. Not only does the book contain name-calling and bullying (fat, dumb jerk), one of the stories involves a student bringing a 'hobo' to school and in another the students discuss why one child is favoured by the teacher: 'Maybe Mrs Jewls got drunk!...And then she danced on top of her desk...And Myron took her picture. And so now Mrs Jewls has to let Myron do anything he wants, or else he'll show the picture to Mr Kitswatter!'. In other incidents a child kicks another in the 'rear end', another wants to knock her teeth our so that she will look 'cute', one of the children declares his love for the teacher and the teacher reciprocates the sentiment, a child is teased for being emotional and the teacher gets angry and holds a yardstick threateningly above a student's head.
On the flip side, none of this is supposed to be taken seriously; these are completely wacky stories full of puns, illogicality and irrational arguments. Like all the others in the series, this installment is comprised of 30 interconnected short stories that all take place within the realm of the absurd Wayside School: 30 floors, each with a single classroom, a cafeteria whose food nobody will eat and a nineteenth storey that does (or doesn't) exist. This is an undeniably fun read for a more mature reader, which will be throroughly appreciated by fans of other dark comedy writers such as Andy Griffiths and David Walliams.
University of Queensland Press, 2022. ISBN: 9780702265464. (Age:8-12) Highly recommended.
This heart-warming verse novel expands the story which started with Kathryn Apel’s 2017 CBCA Notable book Too many friends. In that book, popular Tahnee befriends Lucy, a quiet new girl at school. What Snail knows explores Lucy’s own tale via a first-person narrative.
Lucy moves around a lot with her dad. It’s just the two of them since her mum died – they don’t have much, but Lucy’s dad always says they don’t need anyone else. She finds a snail (a treasure of her very own!) and takes great care of him. Snail is her only friend, and she can tell him anything.
Lucy and Dad do okay on their own, but Lucy is lonely and desperate to put down roots, make friends and fit in. When Lucy starts in Year 2 at yet another new school she quickly finds that kind-hearted and confident Tahnee makes an effort to get to know her, and almost inexplicably seems to enjoy spending time with her.
When Dad is suddenly unavailable Lucy gets a glimpse into settled family life. For the first time she feels what it’s like to have others who care and on whom she can rely. She allows herself to consider if this new community might be a place she and Dad could stay.
This book’s chapters are each made up of multiple short verses. The verses hold interest throughout in varying ways: sometimes the words are in shapes (e.g., snails, a car, a jellyfish); some of the verses rhyme; there are numbered lists, recipes, play-like dialogue, and variations in font size. The illustrations by Mandy Foot are beautifully sketched in the ample empty space on the pages – Lucy (complete with her knotty hair) comes to life while Snail leaves lazy trails across the pages.
Lovely themes of community, environment, bravery and belonging wind throughout this gentle and moving story which gives a real insight into what it’s like to be the disadvantaged new kid who doesn’t fit in, and the enormous difference that kindness and friendship can make.
Comprehensive teachers’ notes are available including discussion of themes and writing style.
Australia’s First peoples have the longest continuing culture on Earth and this colourful and informative book written in consultation with communities and elders provides many fascinating facts to ponder over. This book showcases not the perceived science of white lab coats and experiments but looks at contributions of First Peoples in areas such as bush medicine to bush trackers. Important and innovative thinkers such as SA’s own David Unaipon are also discussed.
The book begins with the AIATSIS Map of Indigenous Australia with smaller maps interspersed throughout to enable the reader to understand where the science discussed is taking place. The traditional Indigenous sciences covered include astronomy, engineering, forensic science, chemistry, land management and ecology. The first scientists passed on the lessons of the land, sea and sky to the future scientists of today through stories, song and dance. The book ends with detailed pages of references and acknowledgements.
The author Corey Tutt is a proud Kamilaroi man and Young Australian of the Year for NSW 2020. He is the CEO and founder of Deadly Science, which provides science resources, mentoring and training to over a hundred remote and regional schools across Australia with a particular focus on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities. https://deadlyscience.org.au/about-us/
This book, shortlisted for the CBCA 2022 Eve Pownall Award, is an enlightening and important addition to all school and public libraries.
Wild Dog Books, 2022. ISBN: 9781742036342. (Age:3+) Highly recommended.
Libraries are the most welcoming of places, and the front cover invites all readers to step inside and join in with the fun.
Each day has a different focus and the reader is take through what happens on each day with a variety of participants. Monday is making new friends day and the children, Sami and Tian Tian introduce their mothers, encouraging them to sit on the comfy chairs and chat, while the children learn the words and actions of a new making new friends song. Sami and Tian Tian then borrow a book to take home for the week. Tuesday is dinosaur day and Amina wears her dinosaur costume while Zak roars like a t-rex. Suzy the librarian reads a dinosaur story to the group but is not as good as Amina and Zak in saying the names of the animals. Both children borrow a dinosaur book and take it home to share with their family. Wednesday is a I can do day where all sorts of bits and pieces are laid out for the children to make something. Henry and Bridget make paintings to hang on the wall.Thursday is a wiggle and jiggle day with everyone joining in while Suzy sings, ‘The wheels on the bus’, a firm favourite. Erik and Yasmin sing the song all the way home, and mum suggests that they learn a new one to surprise Suzy.
Each new day sees a new activity at this wonderful library, including everyone in its programme, supporting parents and grandparents as they come along and join in with their children
The fun activities lead the children on to borrow a book to take home, to sing again the song they have learnt, to learn a new song to surprise the librarian, to dance with the family. Each brilliant page reflects family togetherness, each child confident with a family member nearby joining in. Rawlins includes a range of people and children in her lovely illustrations, underscoring the diversity of the Australian population. But it is the library and all it promotes that stands centre stage. Libraries are community centred, providing a safe environment in which children can meet and learn, join in and express themselves. The programmes offered by libraries are as diverse as the people who use them, and need to be nurtured and supported. And using your local library will do this, making sure it is there for the next generation of users. Teacher's notes are available.
The Locked Room is Number 14 in The Ruth Galloway series, and Elly Griffiths still manages to produce an intriguing mystery and some very interesting historical details about the medieval plague, all set within the COVID-19 pandemic. When Ruth is clearing out her mother’s effects, she comes across a photo of her cottage, with the words ‘Dawn 1963’ written on the back. Coming back to Norfolk she is determined to find out why her mother had a picture of the place, but Covid erupts, and she finds herself organising course work for her university students, via Zoom, and trying to home school her daughter Kate. Meanwhile Nelson has become suspicious about a suicide which does not feel right, and the team finds a series of suicides that family members find very difficult to believe. Add in a mysterious ghost called The Grey Lady, bricked into a house during the plague, a new neighbour, Zoe, whom Ruth is drawn to and the ramifications of Covid, and readers will be drawn into this mystery.
Griffiths exploration of life during Covid will be familiar to all her readers, who will identify with the loneliness and difficulties of working from home and teaching a young child. The awful anxiety of having a loved one come down with the virus is vividly told when Cathbad is its victim. Police procedures during lockdown are described as well and Nelson finds himself at home alone while Michelle is in Blackpool with their son, and this provides an opportunity for Nelson and Ruth to develop their relationship.
The links between The Grey Lady, the apparent suicides of women, her new neighbour Zoe, a woman locked underground and the body that Ruth has excavated are all tied together with some enthralling twists in a dramatic and dangerous climax. Readers like me who love this series will be longing for the next book. Griffiths does give enough background for the book to be a stand-alone for readers new to the series. This includes a page summary of each of the main characters at the back of the book. However, the series is well worth the effort to start from the beginning with The crossing places, winner of the Mary Higgins Clark Award 2011.
Themes Murder, COVID, Detectives.
A lighthouse story by Holly James and Laura Chamberlain
When Eva goes to stay with her grandfather, she is excited. He lives and works on a lighthouse, so her days are spent helping him with his chores, watching the swirling sea around the little island and listening to his stories. Through their days together, the reader absorbs a great deal of information about the lighthouse, why it is there, what is its purpose and how it is run, while at the end of this stunning book are a number of pages giving more factual information: the lighthouse keeper’s handbook, famous lighthouses of the world, a look at modern lighthouses and a sideways plan of what is in a lighthouse.
Eva has to be taken to the island on a boat, an adventure in it itself as she watches the lighthouse come closer, its red stripes standing out against the blue sea. She helps Grandad clean the lens so that sailors can see it in the dark, she reads his daily journal of the weather, helps turn on the foghorn when it becomes foggy. When she has some spare time she loves walking over the rocks, checking the rock pools, watching the birds, spying the seals and watching the shiny scales of fish darting about near the shore.
But at night when it is dark, she loves looking at the stars and seeing the constellations that Grandad picks out. One night it becomes stormy and after Grandad checks the light they go downstairs to the safe and warm room at the bottom of the lighthouse and he reads her stories about bravery and courage. The tale of Grace Darling encapsulates these qualities as Grace and her father venture out one stormy night to rescue people after their ship founders.
What a tale to read snuggled up against grandfather on a cold wet and windy night. The story of Grace Darling contrasts with the story of Eva and her Grandad, one where she is on holiday helping her grandfather with the daily chores, enjoying herself, but hearing about the tougher lives led by lighthouse keepers in the past and the work they were expected to do.
A wonderful read, children will thrill at the idea of holidaying on a lighthouse but be made aware that places like these have an important role to play in keeping shipping safe.
The stunning illustrations show enticing detail of island life and the lighthouse and its work. Children will love poring over the detail, relishing the huge amount of information given both in the images and text. They will be able to fill in Granddad’s daily diary watching the different skies with an array of clouds and weather. The sea is absorbing with its changes of colour and temperament, enabling young children to see how the sea can be both inviting and playful then treacherous and dangerous.
Themes Islands, Sea, Lighthouses, Grandfathers.
It starts with a bee by Jennie Weber
Murdoch Books, 2022. ISBN: 9780711270336.
Slowly, slowly we are beginning to understand how critical bees are to our survival, and yet how endangered they are becoming, so any book for young readers that helps them understand the crucial role that bees play has to be an important addition to any collection.
Using rhyming text and delicate illustration the reader is taken on a journey through the seasons from winter to autumn showing how a garden is pollinated and thus blooms to be beautiful flowers, fruits and vegetables bringing both joy and food to our lives, culminating in a magnificent three-page spread summarising the essential elements of the process. As well, it shows how bees work together with each other and other insects creating an interdependent eco-system which we must protect.
Although created by an English illustrator who believes " if people are amazed by the natural world, then they will be less likely to destroy it." so that there is a "English country garden" feel to it, many of the plants featured are very familiar to young Australian readers, making its message as important here as it is anywhere. It is an ideal complement to books like Holly, the Honeybee Dancing Star and Bee Detectives (with its focus on Australian species), all with their strong message of not just conservation but how simple it is for even our youngest readers to ensure their safety and survival.
Let's build a backyard by Mike Lucas and Daron Parton
Let’s Build A Backyard is the newly published companion book to Let’s Build A House, both written by South Australian author Mike Lucas. This latest release is a lively and busy account of a time spent in the backyard of the father and his young daughter from the first book, working together to create a very special place.
From the very beginning of this delightful and energetic book the young reader will enjoy the action that the clever rhyming words impart. Each step of the building a backyard journey is labelled clearly, followed by the short rhyme, and with three action words highlighted across a double page spread.
Mix in some compost. Use your fork to turn, turn, turn. A little help from all the worms. Watch them wriggle, see them squirm. Squirm! Squirm! Squirm!
The bright and colourful illustrations by Daron Parton complement the text perfectly and showcase the steps needed to create the new garden. This book has a very welcome and gentle introduction to the sustainable theme for young children with mention of looking after a tree, making a possum box and a bee hotel, installing sprinklers, creating a vegetable patch, as well as adding compost.
This is a perfect book to read aloud to young children and engage them in the story by allowing them the opportunity to do the actions as it is read. A welcome addition to a home, school or public library.
Random House Children's Books, 2022. ISBN: 9780593178867. (Age:9+) Highly recommended.
Thornwood is an intriguing retelling of The sleeping beauty and is one of my favourite genres. It is told from the viewpoint of Briony, the younger sister of Rosalin, who has been cursed from birth by a wicked fairy. She is destined to prick her finger on a spindle and fall into a 100-year sleep and will not be awakened until a prince kisses her. When Briony wakes up she is in the castle’s tower and everyone else is still fast asleep. Then she spots a handsome stranger kiss her sister, but questions arise about Varian. Why is the castle still surrounded by thorns, allowing no one in or out? Briony is determined to find a way to break the spell and rescue everyone in the castle - but no one has ever listened to the little sister.
Told in the first person by Briony, the narrative flows along smoothly, often with snarky asides by Briony which add wit and humour to the story. All the characters are fully fleshed out, and the sibling rivalry and love between the two sisters is a highlight of the tale. Briony is not a haughty princess and the friendship between her and Edwin, a boy who was so bullied in his village that he preferred to come to the castle and sleep for one hundred years, is another high point. Briony needs to use all her skills and cunning to work out how to be rid of the thorny forest that hems them all in and Cypess’s vivid writing ensures that the reader is fully invested in the story.
This is a fun read that will appeal to all fans of fairy tale retellings, although it is aimed at a middle-school audience. Readers will, like me, come away with a smile on their faces, at the surprise way Cypess ends her story and will want to read more books by this author. Other retellings like Book of a thousand days by Shannon Hale and Beauty by Robin McKinley are sure to appeal as well.
Themes Fairy tale retelling, Siblings, Problem solving.
How to spell catastrophe by Fiona Wood
Pan Macmillan, 2022. ISBN: 9781760984908. (Age:12+) Recommended.
How to spell catastrophe is the debut middle-grade novel by YA Australian author and screenwriter Fiona Wood. Like Nova Weetman's The edge of thirteen this book will be a popular choice for girls aged from 10 years as they grapple with bodily changes, hormones, friendship woes and other struggles and delights of the Middle Years of schooling. With the greatest of sensitivity, it is suggested that this book is really for girls. When talking about it with classes, it was suggested that boys could be interested only if they wanted to know more about girls... and this suggestion was met with much foot shuffling and bashful camaraderie. It is noted however that Wood dedicated this book to two boys. Perhaps she has in mind, a readership of boys who are more aware of the issues concerning girls.
Wood goes, through the first person voice of Nell, to places that girls on the brink of adolescence fear and probably don't care to talk about even with their friends. How to spell catastrophe is therefore a comforting and instructive book for every pre-teen and tween age girl. Similar to the cover of The edge of thirteen, the cover of How to spell catastrophe suggests the feminine nature of the contents. Astred Hicks, Sydney-based graphic and freelance book designer, has created a cover featuring three girls sheltering and supporting one another under a large, red umbrella against a dark blue background complete with rather oversized raindrops. Rather appropriate!
The text is very accessible to the reader. Woods has the teenage vernacular down pat. Poor Nell McPherson, a grade sixer, is our protagonist and the reader sees life through her eyes as she copes with all the worries of the world. Nell states in the prologue. 'I'm still more of a worrier than a warrior.' She keeps a diary so the narrative is interspersed with her notes that appear to be kept in a spiral bound notebook and are about various catastrophes and the solutions to them. Occasionally, we read the contents of text conversations. She loves words and occasionally she chooses a word that is appropriate to her situation, defines it, puts her problem into writing, plans, gives her week a 'fruit ranking' and writes down what she is grateful for. Openly she talks about how she has seen a psychologist all her life when she needs help with strategising and coping with the worries that stem from the death of her father when she was two. This frank and open writing about seeking specialist help with social/ emotional/ thinking skills normalises what still can be a no-no subject in some places. This too is a comfort for the large and growing group of young people who we know are struggling with anxiety.
How to spell catastrophe is a novel that delivers, through the voice of Nell, much warmth and good advice. It's full of humour and looks at life through an optimistic lens. The adults in the book, from the teacher, Alex, to the parents are real and good characters. Wood has created such an authentic view of the current typical year 6 classroom and the interactions within, one wonders whether she has been a fly on the wall. The battle that Nell takes on re climate activism and the role models that she admires constitute another contemporary component of this story.
This is my dad by Dimity Powell and Nicky Johnston
EK Books, 2022. ISBN: 9781922539076. (Age:4 - 8)
Leo's teacher announces that the class's next focus for Show and Tell will be their fathers and while this excites the other children, Leo's tummy belly-flopped. And did another one when Harper asks if their dads can come and share the experience. Because that can be all well and good for some kids, but what if you don't have a dad? And have never known one? 'How can I celebrate someone I've never met?'
So while his children's author mother hunts dragons and arrests aliens and rescues her characters from all sorts of predicaments, Leo hunts through the family photos for something he's not going to find. And then he has an idea...
Back in the day, teachers would celebrate events like Mother's Day and Father's Day with card and gift-making and all sorts of other activities almost without thought - it's just what was done. We didn't really give a lot of consideration to the Leos because two-parent families were the norm - it was rare to have students without that the traditional family structure. But that was back in the day, and now we recognise that families are as individual as the people in them and we cannot take anything for granted. Clearly Miss Reilly didn't get the memo and so this is a timely, important look into the anxiety that an announcement such as hers can make, how carefully we have to tread and how we need to change our focus so that our students are not marginalised or become anxious when what to them is 'normal', becomes apparently not-so.
This is a book to share with a class whenever one of those traditional celebrations rolls around, or the curriculum demands a focus on families. Apart from resonating with many of the children themselves, it could be a time to examine Leo's feelings when Miss Reilly made her announcement. Why did his tummy do a belly-flop? They could also look at the strategies that Leo employed to try to solve his problems. Why couldn't he just tell Miss Reilly he doesn't have a dad? Is he ashamed, angry, embarrassed? But even better, an astute teacher could involve the students in finding a big-picture question that embraces everyone's circumstances. Perhaps something that looks at the ties that bind a group of people into a family unit, rather than its physical structure and perhaps even comparing that to animal families. More able students might like to consider whether a wedding ring makes a family, and delve into the traditions and purposes of marriages, including cultural aspects.
While the structure of a family becomes more and more diverse and accepted, and the kids themselves don't look sideways at two mums, two dads, no mum, no dad and every variation in between which also reaches into the extended families, Leo's story is a reminder that, nevertheless, we need to tread carefully and between Powell's writing and Johnston's illustrations, we not only have a great heads-up for teachers but also a book which appears to be for littlies but which can enable older students to examine their own perspectives at arm's length, perhaps even reflect on their own situations and how that has shaped them.