Review: Leah On The Offbeat by Becky Albertalli

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Leah On The Offbeat by Becky Albertalli is a complex story featuring messy teens facing the end of highschool and their worlds changing (for the good or bad). It’s a follow-up to the absolutely famous Simon Vs the Homo Sapiens Agenda! And you get to be back with the old Simon gang in Creekwood high (although now we know who the infamous “Blue” is that Simon was in love with in the first book). It was bittersweet reading this because this is the end of this little universe Albertalli created. And I’m going to miss this epic friend squad so much.

The story is narrated by Leah this time, and she’s a really introverted and sarcastic girl who keeps everyone at a distance because she’s scared to love too deeply. Simon is her ultimate BFF, but lately things haven’t been the same in their friendship group. Leah hasn’t told anyone she’s bisexual. She’s not ashamed, she just…doesn’t know how to say it. And she has (and has always) a mega crush on one of the girls in their friend group, who’s dating a guy…so that seems doomed. Leah doesn’t want to say goodbye when highschool ends. She doesn’t want her mum to remarry. She doesn’t want to risk putting her self out there, like with her art, or drumming, or emotions. And she always feels on the outside since she’s fat (and loves her body) and isn’t rich like all her friends. As her friend group tenses up with some fights and breakups and secrets, Leah has to figure out whether to fight them — or fight for them.

While it’s super cute and lovely, it’s not a “sweet” book! Leah is a pretty brash person and isn’t afraid to be herself. And she has people take or leave her: unforgiving and hard (totally Slytherin) and it takes a lot to win her trust. She’s pretty relatable though, because moving on is very hard, especially after high school. She’s also super arty and I loved seeing her explore her interests there.

The storyline also explores sexuality and coming out, which is a common theme in Albertalli’s books. Leah’s coming out is very different to Simon’s, which I think is great because it shows there’s no “one way” to be part of the LGBTQIA community, whether you’re closeted (for your choosing or for safety or because you’re not ready) or whether you’re out and how you choose to display that. I think these storylines are super important and can be really empowering! Leah, however, definitely does mess up with how she treats other members of the queer community. It’s sad and hard to read that part, but this book isn’t about perfect characters. It’s flawed and Leah is flawed (although I do firmly think the story needed to have her apologise more than she did).

Leah On The Offbeat is part coming-of-age, part coming-out, and part the end-of-an-era. It’s very character driven with a soft-toned plot, and there are so many moments to absolutely crack up laughing over. It features flawed characters and tough decisions and that terrifying in-between time of finishing high school and looking toward college and wondering if it’s the right time to chase the person you love.

Misconstrued Mishaps – Picture Books about Communication

Language and social cues can often be tricky to identify when the intention or motivation is not clear or masks a double meaning. Assumptions can also very easily lead to misunderstandings, so communication and an open mind are key. These two picture books so astutely point out our human errors in the most hilarious and relatable ways. Must reads!

Duck!, Meg McKinlay (author), Nathaniel Eckstrom (illus.), Walker Books, July 2018.

When small does not mean insignificant. When honesty must not be ignored. When puns should never be misconstrued. Duck! A story of a farmyard disaster in the name of ego…and a bruised one at that!

Masterful duo Meg McKinlay and Nathaniel Eckstrom bring this double entendre to light in their hilarious tale of mindless, obnoxious beasts and a noble Duck. A small green and brown duck heeds a hefty warning to his larger fellow farm mates – with a bold shout, “Duck!” Totally oblivious to his intentions, and the oncoming disaster flying through the air (a clever ploy to get readers joining in on the action!), the animals believe they are being named ‘Duck’, but of course they think they’re better than that. ‘“Duck?” The cow frowned. Dont’ be ridiculous! You are a duck and he is a horse and I am a cow. You see – you have funny webbed feet and I have these fine cloven hooves…”’ Becoming increasingly frustrated at their inability to understand, plus their constant insults, Duck has one final crack but to no avail. And when everyone finally realises their mistake, including Duck, well, it’s too late.

Duck! is a perfect example of the importance of communication, of how easily a simple word can be misunderstood, but also of the impact of character judgement and narcissism. McKinlay’s narrative is lively, haughty and amusing – aptly supported by Eckstrom’s earthy colour palette and smug-looking characters.

A brilliant read aloud for engaging preschool children with plenty of learning and discussion opportunities. This book will definitely get their attention!

Square, Mac Barnett (author), Jon Klassen (illus.), Walker Books, May 2018.

You know you’re in for a treat when it comes to this infallible author – illustrator duo. Plus, with the success of the first in the trilogy, Triangle, there’s no doubt that Square will be equally enticing.

Barnett and Klassen once again hit the nail on the head with their keen eyes of observation for human blunders. Imagine the surprise Square faced when told by Circle that he was a genius! A complicated communication mess of assumption, on Circle’s part, and Square’s withholding of the truth lands him in his own mess of a job trying to perfect a block sculpture of Circle. But he simply pushes blocks, not shapes them. He is not a genius. The universe must work in mysterious ways because somehow, Square pulls it off. Perhaps he might withhold the truth for a little while longer!

This tale of an accidental genius is just genius! The combination of expressive language, slick sepia-toned palette and simplicity of shapes, with the added bonus of thought-provoking humour works so brilliantly to give a reading experience that appeals to all ages. The books in this series are collector’s items that will shape a young generation into well-rounded, level-headed human beings.

Review: Boy Swallows Universe by Trent Dalton

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Your end is a dead blue wren.

There are truly great books that come out every year. Some years a great book breaks your heart. Another year a great book is so profound you can’t stop thinking about it. And another year a great book is so much fun you can’t stop reading it and talking about it. And once every so often a truly great book does all of those things and becomes your new benchmark for what a great book really is. Boy Swallows Universe is one of those books.

Set in 1980s Brisbane the story centres on 13-year-old Eli and his mute older brother August. Eli’s dad is out of the picture, his mother is a recovering heroin addict and his step father is small time drug dealer.(Oh and his babysitter is an infamous jailbreaking ex-con.) Eli must navigate the cards the world has dealt him as he tries to figure out his place in the universe. As his world starts to become more serious Eli must step up and face the secrets, the lies and the truths that surround him as he struggles to figure out what makes a good man amongst all the chaos.

From the opening page I knew I had a very special book in my hands. Trent Dalton’s writing slaps you awake instantly and by the time you realize what is going on his main character, Eli Bell, has stolen your heart and you are off on a ride you have no idea where it is going, how it will get there or why. All you do know is that you will follow Eli Bell anywhere. My instant reaction to the book was somewhere in between the first time I read Craig Silvey’s Jasper Jones and Andrew McGahan’s Praise. But that comparison does justice to neither party because Trent Dalton has written an Australian novel unlike any other. It is a novel full of adventure, humour and good times. It is a story full of tragedy, sadness and loss. And it is a book full of dreams, hope and a dash of magic.

This is a coming-of-age story that will knock your socks off and more. An addictive read that will give you withdrawals when you put it down. A true Australian classic you will read again and again.

Buy the book here…

Review: Running With Lions by Julian Winters

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Running With Lions by Julian Winters is a super cute romance that celebrates diversity and gay identities. It’s also super sporty which isn’t something I come across a lot in YA, so it was cool reading about a team learning how to be close and work together like a family, but also still working out how they fit together and relate. The team is about acceptance: no matter how you are or who you love. And it was so nice to read about! There’s tension and there’s mistakes and there’s devastation…but it’s ultimately an actual happy book with plenty of cute moments and some great messages.

The story follows Sebastian Hughes as he sets off for soccer camp and discovers he’s been lumped with his once-childhood-best-friend, Emir Shah. Trouble is, they’re not friends anymore. Emir is cold and indifferent and Sebastian doesn’t really know what went wrong between them. All he knows is that this is his last year of highschool to try and make the Lions team great, possibly land the captain position, and also figure out what comes next for him after he graduations. Pressure is building as everyone expects him to be the “good kid”, the one who keeps them all together and in line. No one even knows Sebastian is bi and he has trouble saying out loud to himself. Sebastian is left to try and fit Emir into the team, make him a better soccer player, and also try to patch things between them…except maybe he doesn’t just want to be friends with Emir this time. Maybe Sebastian wants a lot more.

One of the biggest themes in this book is: acceptance and respect. I love how it talks about both, not just wanting people to approve of your relationship with whoever you love, but also respecting you no matter what. It’s pretty cool that the coach of the Lions built the team to be, almost, a refuge for kids who struggled to fit in other places because of their identities. The team also features teens of different nationalities and religions. Emir, the love interest, is English-Pakistani and religious. (He also seems to have a bit of social anxiety.) Everyone comes from different backgrounds, with different hurdles to face, and they definitely don’t always get along — but they try.

There’s plenty of soccer scenes in the book, but it’s balanced with lots of dialogue and the good ol’ setting of a bunch of teens at summer camp. So wow yes do they get up to some mischief. If you’re not particularly sporty, you’d still enjoy this for the characters!

Sebastian was a bit of a “good guy” but he definitely isn’t bland! He’s struggling so much with wondering what the future holds and also internalised fear that coming out will change what people think of him. His relationship with Emir moves pretty quickly, but since they were childhood friends, you definitely feel the connection fast. I also loved that it explored Emir’s backstory too. How he’s working hard at soccer to please his dad but he isn’t sure this is him. The book has a lot to say on following your heart.

Running With Lions is a really fun, summery read with a powerful message and plenty of banter!

The Colours of Jane Godwin – Picture Book Reviews

Jane Godwin is one of Australia’s much-loved authors with over twenty books for children, many being awarded prestigious acclamations. Absolute favourites include Starting School, Little Cat and the Big Red Bus, The Silver Sea (reviewed recently), What Do You Wish For? and Our Australian Girl series. To say she has a colourful list of titles under her belt is an understatement! Today I’ll be sharing two of her latest colour-inspired picture books, Red House Blue House Green House Tree House! and Go Go and the Silver Shoes.

A perfect explosion of fun and colour can be found in this first book for young readers to follow a tiny mouse across a vast array of places, objects and animals. That’s if they can spot it! Red House Blue House Green House Tree House presents its audience with a jolly rhyming lilt about colours whilst also sneakily integrating a range of concepts in counting, sorting, sizes, and science. Godwin cleverly portrays a world that is both new and familiar, exciting readers along the way with her invitations for interaction. The illustrations by Jane Reiseger are brilliantly vibrant, fluid and oh-so child friendly with their wash and loose line technique and cheeky little scuttering mouse! From a number of coloured petals in the garden bed to floppy rabbit ears, a plate of fruit, tiny darting silver fish and one gigantic whale.

So many questions to ponder and giggles to be had, leaving a lasting impression and so many reasons to revisit Red House Blue House Green House Tree House over and over again. Rich, energetic fun and stimulation to engage emotional connections for children from age two.

Affirm Press, April 2018.

Another gorgeous collaboration between Jane Godwin and Anna Walker, this time in Go Go and the Silver Shoes. As her name suggests, Go Go is always on the go-go as an active and independent young girl. Destined to be a trail blaizer of the fashion world, Go Go is creative when it comes to re-fashioning her bigger brothers’ hand-me-downs. And it doesn’t matter what anyone, aka Annabelle, thinks! But one day she is allowed to choose the most beautiful silver, sparkly shoes. Naturally, they go-go everywhere on family adventures, until, one of them is swiftly gone-gone. Godwin masterfully tinkers with Go Go’s approaches to her lost-shoe conundrum as she deals with different pieces of advice and opinions. Go Go has both a mature and self confident side to her personality whilst also just being a kid, as perfectly rendered in Anna Walker’s illustrations. The beautifully subdued colour-palette with pops of red, in Walker’s characteristically phenomenal paint, cut and collage style, aptly portrays the sensible, independent yet playful lead character. And those silver, sparkly shoes! Certainly putting a gleam in every little girl’s eye! There is also this clever parallel storyline interwoven between the pages, adding yet another dimension of interest as to the outcome of the missing shoe. Brilliant!

Go Go and the Silver Shoes is a story that is meant to be! The universe may work in mysteriously wonderful ways, but it would certainly be expected that any child from age four will just fall in love with this one.

Penguin, February 2018.

#ByAustralianBuyAustralian

Excellently Exciting New 2018 YA Releases!

One of my biggest bookworm weakness is, unsurprisingly, the lure of newly published books! I love seeing what’s just hit the shelves and reading the newbies as soon as I can. Plus when so many other people are devouring the new releases, it turns the world into one giant book club, which is downright awesome. So just in case you haven’t been keeping up with some of the new books to hit the shelves: here, let me help you.

(This doesn’t really help your to-be-read pile or your wallet, but pfft. Life is too short not to try and read all the books of ever.)


LEGENDARY (Caraval #2) by Stephanie Graber

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This is such a highly anticipated sequel and it’s finally in our hands! I’m pleased to say I’ve already devoured this one and it is magical and intoxicatingly beautifully written.

The sequel picks up minutes after Caraval ends and follows Tella’s point-of-view as she plays another (more dangerous, alluring, and vicious) game of Caraval in order to unmask the villain (or hero?) Legend and also save her missing mother from a fate worse than death.

 

THUNDERHEAD (Sycthe #2) by Neal Shusterman

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Although this has been out overseas for a while, Thunderhead is just gracing our shelves in Australia! So so excited for this sequel to the NYT selling Scythe story, which is about a dystopian world were there is no death unless you’re “gleaned” at random by a Scythe.

But corruption has stirred the ranks and two new apprentices, Citra and Rowan are about to be caught horribly in the middle.

 

 

A THOUSAND PERFECT NOTES by CG Drews

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Look I’m being a bit cheeky here, but this is actually my book! I can’t help but add it to the list though so forgive the deviousness here! But hey this is a #LoveOZYA novel about a boy forced to play piano by his mother whose own career failed…but his failure to find perfection ends in violence.

I mean, moving aside the fact that I am horribly biased here, it’s made a lovely little splash as it’s entered the book world and it will hopefully make you laugh and cry…or both.

 

SUMMER OF SALT by Katrina Leno

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This is one of my most favourite authors (!!) and her latest book is set on an aesthetically windswept isle where a family of (maybe) witches are facing some sinister changes. Georgina and her twin sister are about to leave for college, but the leaving is quite hard, especially when the family’s magic is under scrutiny and Georgina herself seems like she’ll never get powers of her own. Then something happens to her sister and the story takes a darker twist. It’s part contemporary and part adorable romance between Georgina and the amazing Prue, and it’s part commentary on some social issues that are so relevant to today.

 

LIFELIKE by Jay Kristoff

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Jay Kristoff is such a big name amongst Aussie authors and well deserved! His Illuminae and Nevernight books are amongst some of my top favourites and now we get a new rabid robotic dystopian adventure, that’s part Mad Max and part scientists playing god.

It has powerful and snarky female friendships, not to mention gorgeous but deadly robots, rogue hunter preachers, persnickety AIs and an adventure that goes from wild to wilder.

The Greatness of Grandparents – Picture Books that Celebrate Generations

For children fortunate enough to grow up with grandparents the bonds they create can be intense and everlasting. Should something happen to their beloved grandparent(s), accepting that change whether through loss, illness or disability may be difficult to cope with. This handful of picture books celebrates the many golden moments grandparents provide invariably enriching their grandchildren’s lives whilst also gently exploring ways to cope with the inevitable experience of change.

Loss of a Grandparent

Ocean Meets Sky by The Fan Brothers

This is another glorious picture book by the gifted North American duo, Terry and Eric Fan.  Ocean Meets Sky is a sumptuously articulated story about a small boy’s way of remembering his grandfather and dealing with his passing. Suffused with heart-hugging illustrations, the simple narration, which centres on a young boy searching for his grandfather aboard a boat he built himself, escorts readers to the moon and back, cultivating hope and collecting wonderment along the way. The hardback version, embossed with gilt images, comes with a gorgeous, eye-catching dust cover which is almost reason enough to open it and venture in. Collectable and memorable, full points for this magical and reassuring reading experience.

Continue reading The Greatness of Grandparents – Picture Books that Celebrate Generations

Review: Ash Princess by Laura Sebastian

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Ash Princess by Laura Sebastian is a tale of darkness, oppression, and princesses who won’t be beaten down. It’s more of a political fantasy than a swords-clashing-and-people-screaming one, and I found it very captivating and full of schemers and careful plots. It features a captured country, a princess humiliated and tortured every day by her enemies as a trophy, and the complexities of needing to make a statement by killing a prince…but unfortunately falling for that prince at the same time. And isn’t that cover just stunning?!

The story follows Theodosia, who’s been a captive in her own castle after enemies torn her country apart, killed her mother, and proceeded to being a vicious reign. Theo is mocked at court, whipped for her people’s transgressions if they dare try to rebel, and given a crown of ash during festivities so everyone remembers she’s worth nothing.  She’s now sixteen and desperate. And after they force her to kill the rebel who’s also her father…Theo is ready to plan ways to fight back. She is a pawn, but that doesn’t mean she can’t be a weapon in the dark — especially with the help of a childhood friend, pirates, and her downtrodden people.

The world building was the standout! It actually takes time to show us languages and cultures and built this complex world of oppression and lush beauty. I felt really drawn into the world after only a few chapters. Plus it had a lot of fantastic details so everything seemed super vivid!

The contrast of the opulent life vs the horror the conquerors deal out was so well written. Theo’s people are little more than slaves while she is a  trophy, tortured daily for the crimes of her people but kept alive despite the horror she has to go through. She’s like lavished in pretty dresses and wears pretty makeup and goes to banquets and has books. Her “best friend” is one the daughter of a very powerful dude and she’s all pretty and light and flippant. To the court, Theo pretends to be satisfied with her life as a caged bird. But then in the background, we see the horror and torment the conquerors throw at their enslaved people. There are murders and brutal labour and anyone who even looks like they might be plotting something is executed. The contrast was vicious and vivid.

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The magic is elemental style, but they channel it through gems which I thought was a nice deviation from the norm!

Theo herself was a character you quickly feel sorry for and root for her to get out. She’s scared to plot for her freedom, of course, but desperate to prove herself as still loyal to her people after having to fake being submissive to the enemy for 10 years. She wants to kill the evil king, but what if she has to take down people she cares about who are in the way? Like her flippant friend or the handsome prince who seems just as upset by his father’s horrific rule as Theo is? There’s lots of moral dilemmas and stretched loyalties which makes for a stressful (in a good way!) read.

It is dark, but not super so on page. The darkness is more in the backstory and eluded to, although it’s still powerful.

Ash Princess has such a stunning setting and a lot of potential as a series starter. The ending is loaded with threads to explore and questions to answer, so you’ll be desperate for book 2!

What Makes A Good Ending in a Book?

For some readers, a satisfying book ending is knowing everything turned out well for the characters. For others it’s having the mystery solved and all the loose ends neatly tied up. Some readers love a happy ending and others – like me – hate it when the guy gets the girl in the end. It can be exciting when the villain gets away or a novel ends in a cliffhanger, knowing a sequel is in the works. I don’t usually enjoy ambiguous endings, but appreciate some readers like to imagine for themselves what happened to the characters. Here are my thoughts on some great book endings.


Glancing at my bookshelves, Stoner by John Williams has one of the most standout memorable endings for me. It is a sorrowful ending, but this melancholic novel slowly built to this point and it was so exceptionally written that it literally took my breath away. I hugged the book to my chest when I finished reading it and the final scene is still with me years and years later.


The Messenger by Markus Zusak has a unique meta fiction kind of ending that has stayed with me long after reading it. Exploring themes of why we’re here and how we can make a difference, The Messenger is a moving – yet funny – novel that carries a powerful and important message. When I finished reading it, I was left in absolute awe at the meta ending and had to seek out fellow readers and their thoughts on the book. Don’t you just love when that happens?


Missing by Melanie Casey is the third novel in the Cass Lehman series set in Adelaide. It had such an unexpected ending I was left flabbergasted and positively hanging out for the next in the series. It wasn’t a cliffhanger in the strictest sense, however it was a character development that I didn’t see coming and desperately want to explore in the next novel.
I’m going to have to wait awhile though with the author taking a break from the series, but you can bet I’ll be keeping an eye out for the next in the series.


Reading the end of Cloudstreet by Tim Winton broke my heart but also made my soul soar with the release and bittersweet joy of the character Fish. Despite wanting to stay with the characters beyond the ending of the book, the event that closed the book really was the perfect ending. It brought the story full circle and I’ll always remember the ending with a combination of sorrow and joy.


What kind of book endings do you enjoy? Do you have any memorable endings?

A ‘Hole’ Lot of Curiosity – Picture Book Reviews

Sometimes curiosity can land you in trouble. But it is the being brave part that will ultimately lead to triumph. These few picture books show children that exploration is a healthy thing to help overcome fear or uncertainty. And they are a ‘hole’ lot of fun, too!
Be sure to also check out Dimity’s great list of Picture Books that Celebrate Overcoming Doubts.

The Hole, Kerry Brown (author), Lucia Masciullo (illus.), ABC Books, April 2018.

Squirrel starts the line up of dangling animals overly curious about a long-drop hole that lies in the middle of the track. Teetering on the edge of total panic about the presumed formidable, black-holed monster within, Squirrel cries out for help, only to drag Ostrich and three chattering monkeys into the lightly-suspended quandary. A brave and clever field mouse makes the call, ensuing a deep suspension of baited breath amongst characters and readers alike. Luckily, the ‘monster’ isn’t interested in animals for tea.

Brown’s delightful rhyming couplets come with a sensory feast of emotive and visual language to fill you with empathy, wonder, and even a few giggles. The illustrations by Lucia Masciullo are whimsical and witty in the face of perceived danger. The Hole is beautifully alluring, brilliantly enlightening and wonderfully heartwarming for children from age three.

The Hole Story, Kelly Canby (author, illus.), Fremantle Press, February 2018.

I love the play on reality and literal meanings behind this story of rehoming a lost hole. Charlie doesn’t realise that picking up a hole and putting it in his pocket, and backpack, are the worst places to have a hole. So he boldly sets off to find it a new owner. Young readers will already be amused at the thought, ‘you can’t pick up a hole!’, and now they are left to wonder who would want it and how it could possibly be useful. Well, Charlie greets a whole lot of people who are clearly NOT interested in the hole, such as the arachnid and reptile store owner, the boat builder, the seamstress, gardener, and doughnut maker. So, who is?

Canby’s energetic, sharp and unconventional narrative paired with her cartoonish, fluid illustrations complete the story that allow children to open their minds to the absurd, and also assess some very real and practical concepts. The Hole Story makes for great discussion and learning opportunities, as well as a fun and wacky adventure of finding a place to belong.

Scaredy Cat, Heather Gallagher (author), Anil Tortop (illus.), New Frontier Publishing, May 2018.

Curiosity did not get the cat, in this case, because Scaredy Cat, as the name suggests, is too scared to face even the meekest of things. A little girl’s four-legged friend shies away from sight in every scene, only to reveal its white, fluffy paws and tail in a terrified, obscure stupor. Gallagher’s delectable repetitive rhyme cajoles us along chasing poor Scaredy Cat through bees, towering trees and Granny’s super-duper sneeze. Hoses, wandering noses and costumed kids, striking poses. Each verse beginning with, ‘Have you seen my Scaredy Cat? He’s afraid of this and afraid of that!’, eventually leads us to the climax where a proud, flexing little girl claims her gallantry and saves the day. Now the girl has revealed her true and brave identity, will Scaredy Cat?

With Tortop’s ever-gorgeous, enticing and infectious artwork charging with colour and energy, it would be no surprise if Scaredy Cat is chosen to play his hiding game over and over again. Preschoolers will adore this romping tale of friendship, bravery, pets and love.

#ByAustralianBuyAustralian

Review: The Smoke Thieves by Sally Green

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The Smoke Thieves by Sally Green is a collision of plots and wars, princesses and thieves. It’s set in a complex world that takes it’s time to set the scene, build the countries, and totally immerse you in this world of Brigant and Calidor. It also features five narrators, all teens, who somehow end up with the fate of the world in their somewhat dubious control. I am a huge fan of Sally Green’s previous Half Bad books so I was wild with excitement to try these. Full warning: This is a very different style and tone, so don’t get in expecting it to be like Half Bad! We’ve left paranormal behind and journeyed into epic fantasy and complex politics. I do think the Half Bad books suited me better, but I can definitely say it’s exciting to see authors exploring and flexing their skills in new genres.

The Smoke Thieves follows 5 people: a princess, a traitor, a soldier, a hunter, and a thief. Their stories all complexly entwine at the end, but in the beginning we’re met with Princess Catherine who’s treated horribly by her father and forced to watch an execution before she’s shunted off to an arranged marriage. But she’s in love with her guard, Ambrose, who’s affection for her will end in his death. In the enemy’s country, a servant named March comes from a forgotten and annihilated country and wants revenge, so he helps kidnap the kleptomaniac Edyon who is also the king’s bastard and estranged son. Unfortunately Edyon is winsome and lovely and March can’t help falling for him. And lastly there is Tash: demon hunter who captures smoke out of demons and sells it on the black market. But is the smoke, supposedly a “cheap thrill”, all that it seems?

The world building is a stand-out of lusciousness and detail. There’s a ton of countries mentioned and everything is woven and connected and so it felt deep, a  world of luscious dimension! We don’t often get such detail in worlds in epic fantasy in YA, so this was a treat. I like how it had culture for the different countries too.

The narrators are often the downtrodden underdogs. Which did make them easy to root for! I struggled the most reading Catherine’s chapters, as her heinous father literally thinks women are commodities, and women in court are forced to learn sign-language to communicate because the men don’t like them speaking. But even so, Catherine had a beautiful character arc and ended up in a position of quietly taking power away from her enemies. Go Catherine! And Tash’s chapters of being a grubby demon-thieving orphan were particularly amazing too. I also love how we have everything from escaped soldiers to angry and rebellious slaves.

A quick look at the narrators?! In detail we have:

  • Catherine: She’s a princess, doomed to an arrange marriage and viewed as property. She’s demurely spicy and I did honest love seeing her arc.
  • Ambrose: He’s the guard in love with Catherine and very loyal/valiant.
  • March: He’s a slave to a prince in a different country and so hateful of his captors and jumps at the chance to side with the rebellion and kidnap his king’s lost bastard son.
  • Edoyn: An actual human wreck on legs, kleptomaniac and smooth little ratbag thing, that you kind of fall in love with even though he would probably hurt himself with a spoon. I loved his chapters and his voice and how he flirts so incessantly with March who has no idea what it is to be loved.
  • Tash: A 13-year-old demon hunter who is a piece of work and will stab anything and loves pretty shoes.

The Smoke Thieves is a methodical and detailed fantasy adventure that winds so many storylines together at the end. It’s not fast-paced but it is always interesting and I think all the characters being so complex and developed made it addictive to continue reading! Definitely a great read!

Incredible Journeys – Picture Books That Show Us The Way

Picture books have an incredible ability to not only reflect life but also reveal new and previously unknown aspects of it. For children, nearly everything they are experiencing is new and unknown, which is why these next few picture books are so incredibly useful for showing them the way. This selection features incredible journeys made by humans, animals, spirit and much more. Venture into a journey of enlightenment with them.

Migration: Incredible Animal Journeys by Mike Unwin and Jenni Desmond

This superbly presented hardback picture book features 48 pages of astonishing animal journeys. Complete with easy to use contents page and a world map that depicts the actual trips each animal makes, this stunning collection is a must have on any classroom shelf.

Unwin prompts readers to imagine themselves as a baby swallow who, after just leaving its nest in England now must contemplate a flight over 10 000 kilometres away to Africa. Awarded travel and wildlife writer, Unwin then describes the migratory long-distance journeys of 20 different animals; why they make the effort and how they survive the trek. Some you’ll recognise like the monarch butterfly or the magnificent wandering albatross but did you know that the globe skimmer dragonfly performs a round-the-world trip of over 10 000 kms, as well?

Sumptuously illustrated by Jenni Desmond, Migration takes us across the planet, through its skies and over its oceans in the footsteps, wings and fins of some of the world’s truly greatest travellers. This is one literacy odyssey you and anyone five years and above must experience.

Bloomsbury Children June 2018

Waves by Donna Rawlins Heather Potter and Mark Jackson

Waves is another visually arresting, historical picture book that presents in similar ways to Rawlins’ well-loved picture book with Nadia Wheatley, My Place. Following a time line commencing some 50 000 years before to the present day, Rawlins takes us across the seas with various children and their families as they embark on journeys of emigration, redemption, hope and escape. Each child shares a brief snapshot of their on board experience through captivating vignettes of narrative, allowing their stories to come alive. Their situations are not always pleasant indeed most are laced with tragedy and hardship, but for those who survive their trip across the waves, the destination is often a kind of salvation.

Rawlins includes descriptions at the end of the book about each of the fictional characters, their cultural origins and suggested reasons for setting off into the unknown in the first place. She points out that if you are not an Indigenous Australian, then members of your family must have made a journey across the waves to arrive at this island called Australia at some point in time. This really does give one pause for thought and invites energetic discussion between young people and their family members about heritage and ancestry, not to mention the issues of immigration and asylum seekers.

Thoughtfully illustrated by Potter and Jackson, Waves acknowledges the journeys of those who come across the sea in search of a better existence in a supremely considered and engaging way. Recommended for readers five years and over.

Black Dog Books imprint of Walker Books June 2018

Let’s Go ABC! Things That Go, From A to Z by Rhonda Gowler Greene and Daniel Kirk

For those who prefer their travel infused with a bit more levity, cast your eyes on this fanciful non-fiction title. This contemporary A B C picture book dedicates a page to each letter along with accompanying verse and the most eye-stunning illustrations. Transportation has never been portrayed with such enthusiasm or detail. Animals from around the world ride, skate, vroom, sail, drag and float their way through the alphabet with non-stop vigour. I never even knew there were 26 modes of transport. Greene carries us across water, air, through ice and snow, by track and wheels with ease and planeloads of interest.  Kirk cleverly includes a zoo-full of animals whose names share the same letter as the letter featured in each popping illustration. Kids from the age of two and above will no doubt have hours of fun hunting these down and matching them up – as I did! Top marks.

Bloomsbury Children June 2018

Spirit by Cherri Ryan and Christina Booth

Sometimes not every journey takes us where we expect. Things happen, plans change. How do you cope when that happens? This is something very small children often struggle to accept. How they acknowledge these mental explorations of change and resignation is crucial in determining how they develop tolerance and empathy.

Spirit by debut author, Cherri Ryan, imbues a sense of determination within readers through the actions of a small child. This girl constructs a toy ship she names, Spirit and launches her in her backyard pond. Spirit’s maiden voyage is successful and the girl rejoices, dreaming of expeditions further afield or seas, as it were. Before each journey, the girl lovingly tends Spirit, oiling her decks; carefully trimming her sails, certain of her abilities to triumph every watery endeavour, each more challenging than the last, until one day, Spirit encounters rough seas, loses her way and capsizes.

This book tenderly captures the essence of childhood hope and the expectations built around it. It explores the notions of anticipating outcomes beyond our control, but remaining stalwart enough in spirit to find ways around life’s obstacles. The delicate correlative objective between the girl’s boat and her own will to succeed gently pulls readers along an emotional journey of exultation, despair, and finally celebration.  Booth’s sensitive depiction of Spirit’s creator is both timely and thought-provoking. Her heart-warming illustrations add another dimension of lucidity and movement to this tale, which nurtures the notion of never giving up and remaining true to your spirit. Symbolic sublimity for 4 – 8 year olds.

Black Dog Books imprint of Walker Books July 2018

Visiting You: A Journey of Love by Rebecka Sharpe Shelberg and Andrea Edmonds

No life itinerary would be complete without a journey of love. I reviewed this one earlier this year and recommend it as a rich way of exploring feelings, perceptions and relationships. Here’s a snippet of my former review. You can read the full review, here.

This story, celebrating the immense power of love, possesses an enigmatic quality that hums throughout the book from beginning to end.

Shelberg’s thoughtful poetic narrative balances beautifully with Edmonds’ poignant watercolour vignettes and spreads. The gentle balance of colour and emotion reveal memories and the child’s growing understanding that he need not fear strangers who appear gruff and scruffy, different and intimidating. That beneath the obvious differences of a person, there often dwells a story worth sharing and a reason to love. This is a mighty concept to grasp in our modern day world of stranger danger and our first world tendency to look the other way for fear of becoming too involved. The commendable thing about this tale is that it does not encourage reckless, unchecked interaction with strangers – the child is always within his mother’s supervision – but rather it promotes a phenomenal sense of humanity, of not judging a book by its cover and … of caring.

As Ian MacLaren once said, “Everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about. Be Kind. Always.”

I love the message of … connecting with ourselves through others. Of cultivating empathy; a mindset we should all aspire. Visiting You encapsulates this mindset exceptionally well. Full marks.

EK Books March 2018

 

 

 

 

 

2018 CBCA Shortlisted Books for Older Readers: ‘Take Three Girls’, ‘The Secret Science of Magic’ & ‘Because of You’

The remaining CBCA shortlisted books for Older Readers are Take Three Girls by Cath Crowley, Simmone Howell and Fiona Wood; The Secret Science of Magic by Melissa Keil and Because of You by Pip Harry.

– some ideas on sharing them with readers –

Take Three Girls by Cath Crowley, Simmone Howell and Fiona Wood (Pan Macmillan)

Take Three Girls has been shortlisted for the Indies awards; and longlisted for the ABIAs & Inkies awards.

I reviewed it for the Weekend Australian and interviewed the authors for  the blog here.

More information on this and the other shortlisted books will be available soon on an online CBCA platform.

Ideas for the English Classroom

Four types of writing are used in the novel 1. Writing in the voice of each protagonist 2. Wellness Journal entries (italics) (Students could analyse differences in voice from both these types of writing) 3. Wellness Worksheets 4. PSST – the source of cyber bullying

Wellness Journals give further insight into the three protagonists as they describe how they’re feeling; as well as what they think about the other girls. This gives another perspective. Read a selection of these entries.

Students write three journal entries from the point of view of Iris, Clem’s twin sister, or another character.

Wellness Worksheets Complete one of these e.g. self-esteem scale, page 147; Lou Reed’s song Perfect Day page 218; letter to future self, page 428.

Read other novels by these authors.

The Secret Science of Magic by Melissa Keil (Hardie Grant Egmont)

The Secret Science of Magic was longlisted for the Indies awards. I reviewed it for the Weekend Australian.

This novel has an equally strong male and female voice.

Ideas for the Classroom or Library

Magic Joshua is a magician who is trying to grain Sophia’s attention. Sleight of hand and, particularly, timing are the magician’s most important tools.

Students could try to replicate some of Joshua’s magic tricks in reality or using technology.

  • Playing-card optical illusions, pages 30, 40
  • Igniting a paper rose, page 82
  • Showing a Doctor Who Christmas special on a vintage movie projector, page 110

These tricks culminate in an illusion at school, where Joshua makes the school disappear.

Use Plotagraph (which creates a moving image from a single still graphic image) in Adobe Photoshop or other tools to demonstrate this or another magic trick.

Drama  Sophia is forced to take Drama. The class studies All’s Well that Ends Well, page 74 – a prescient play title for this novel. Read the play.

Read other novels by Melissa Keil: Life in Outer Space and The Incredible Adventures of Cinnamon Girl

Because of You by Pip Harry (UQP)

I interviewed Pip Harry for the blog here.

Several places are mentioned to show that this novel is set in Sydney, including ‘Sydney eats’, page 106, a group that feed the homeless. Meredith also helps them by running a Street Library, pages 69,121,222.

Meredith believes: ‘Books can save anyone. If they’re the right ones.’ page 164

Ideas for the Classroom or Library

Poems for each other Nola gives a poem to Tiny and vice versa. Read Nola’s poem for Tiny, page 97, and Tiny’s poem for Nola, page 133. In pairs, students write poems to give each other.

Writing Group The writing group at the homeless shelter tries the following activities, which students could do also.

  • Writing a group story using the Dada, Surrealist technique where each person writes a line and passes it on to the next person to write the next line to see where the story goes, page 108.
  • Use a ‘real-life media story you pick out to start your own story … Write it as a sequel, action adventure, poem, dialogue’, page 110. Only allow 20 minutes max.
  • Open Mic Night: Eddie performs his poem ‘Clean’ about his father’s death, pages 171,177. Students could write and perform their work, including poems, at an open mic night or similar event. (Read The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo about a girl who writes heartfelt poetry and performs at a poetry slam.) 

Read other novels by Pip Harry.

2018 CBCA Shortlisted Books for Older Readers: ‘Ballad for a Mad Girl’ & ‘Mallee Boys’

The fact that all of this year’s CBCA shortlisted Older Reader novels are written by women reflects who is currently writing Australian YA. As a consequence, many of the novels have female protagonists, including Vikki Wakefield’s Ballad for a Mad Girl. However, debut novelist Charlie Archbold (who is female) has written Mallee Boys, a novel that epitomises masculinity.

-about the books and some ideas on sharing them with young readers –

 Ballad for a Mad Girl by Vikki Wakefield (Text Publishing)

Ballad for a Mad Girl has been longlisted for a Gold Inky Award—(Australian titles) and shortlisted for the Adelaide Festival Awards for Literature: Young Adult category and the NSW Premier’s Literary Awards: The Ethel Turner Prize for Young People’s Literature in 2018.

I reviewed it for the Weekend Australian.

It is Vikki Wakefield’s fourth novel, a gothic Australian thriller, a murder ballad and lament in prose. It explores the effect of grief and loss on Grace, who is trying to mask her vulnerability.  

It walks a tightrope – literally and psychologically as it balances the genres of contemporary realism with elements from the supernatural ghost tale.

Grace is the “mad girl” of the title but her madness springs perhaps from her struggle with anger and grief rather than mental illness; although the barriers may be permeable.

At times the writing is crystalline to show the shattered mirror-pricks of Grace’s rage; as well as sharp images of birds: living swallows butted against tiny bird sketches. Grace’s elusive childhood “dandelion” dreams as well as echoes from a past generation are sculpted into an aching ballad of melancholy and terror. The past and present also ultimately lay the path to a “bright and unbreakable” future with some signs of hope and grace. 

Film An early scene where extreme prankster, Grace Foley, freezes at the pipe challenge crossing over the quarry at night is a pivotal scene in Ballad of a Mad Girl. It sets the confronting, haunting tone.

In small groups, students film a re-enactment of Noah, private school poster boy, breaking Grace’s record as he crosses the pipe over the quarry and then Grace crossing after him and freezing when she is distracted by thoughts of Hannah Holt – rumoured to have been killed by William Dean and buried in the gully below. Headlights are dimmed and stones are thrown.

Film Grace’s friends and the onlookers in their private and public-school factions.

Use different camera angles, particularly to give the illusion of the pipe over a height. NB don’t use a pipe high above the ground.

Film an establishing shot; the camera can scan characters and show close-ups of their facial expressions.

Use filters to create a night-time setting and lights to emulate the headlights. Show them dimming when Grace crosses. Include sound effects.

Ballad Students could write a ballad or murder ballad (lyrics that tell the story of a murder).

Read other novels by Vikki Wakefield.

Mallee Boys by Charlie Archbold (Wakefield Press)

Not many readers seemed to be aware of this book until it was CBCA shortlisted. Feedback has since been very favourable.

It is set in the Murray Mallee area of South Australia and told by two brothers. Sandy is fifteen and a good student although dreamy. In an early scene, slapstick and terror merge when he’s almost drowned by a swollen dead cow. His older brother Red has left school and seems suited to life on the farm with his dog, Ringer. He is suffering from guilt, believing he contributed to the death of their mother.

Masculinity is explored with sensitivity and credibility, particularly relationships between father and sons. The author writes with warmth and humour and shows that rural men can be gentle and compassionate.

Mallee men/Mallee wood Mallee men are described as mallee wood. They are ‘men from any time … like stumpy mallee trees: nuggetty and resilient. A heritage of hard work’ (page 100)

Rhopalic Verse After reading about Mallee males, students write rhopalic verse to explore their characteristics of strength and endurance with mallee wood. In rhopalic verse, each word in a line has 1 more syllable than in the prior word e.g. ‘to avert dangerous situations’. The poem could be quite short, perhaps 5 lines, each with 4 words per line. (This is guide only.)

Country & City podcast Differences between life in the country and city are mentioned in the novel: e.g. in the country old and young mix. In the city ‘people stick to their age bracket’, page 119; in the country – people make inventions, page 124.

Students could use a microphone and smart phone to make a 1-episode podcast about the differences between country and city.