Animals at Work – Picture Book Reviews

Kids are all too quick to grow up these days, but yet to realise the complexities and oftentimes, inequalities, that go with grown-up responsibilities. Sure, life in the playground can be tough, too. No doubt there will be times they feel under-valued, misunderstood or lonely. Whilst these references may seem quite grim, the following ‘adult-work-life’ picture books paint these dark hues to meet a bright and hopeful light at the end of the tunnel.

Ok. It will be called… Next award-winning picture book of the year. Phenomenal artist. Phenomenal storyteller. Shaun Tan wins over the masses with his latest picture book, Cicada. Considering its haunting themes, this book has a definite star-quality appeal that is sure to set a glow in every reader’s heart.

You heard it… ‘Tok Tok Tok!’. Time marches on for hard-working cicada. Seventeen years. Stuck behind his computer desk hidden amongst a concrete jungle of office carrels – hardly noticed, immensely unappreciated. Treated as sub-human, despite the fact he is not human at all. But honestly, his pay is docked for being forced to use the bathroom twelve blocks away! Work life for cicada is dire with no thanks, no living support (he lives in an office wallspace), colleague abuse and eventually a retrenchment with a figurative kick in the butt.

Seventeen years imprisoned in this grey, lifeless cell of despair. There’s nothing left… but to transform. And all you can do is laugh! Tok Tok Tok!

Cicada breathes intense concepts and colourless imagery that is far from dull, mixed together with sharp language spoken in a broken English. However, it embodies a fiery life within that speaks universally to humans about the power of self-worth, about courage and respect. An impressive, evocative picture book for older readers (5-9 years).

Lothian Children’s Books, June 2018.

Work life at Baggage Handlers United is pretty fun for Marvin. He loves the routine of putting things on and taking things off. He has friends that work there, too. But what happens when his ‘friends’ start laughing at his expense? Missing Marvin is a meaningful and sensitive story about the hurtful effects practical jokes can have when taken too far.

Sue deGennaro beautifully captures the heart and soul of this story through her gentle, multi-faceted illustrations and leading language that carefully directs readers to ponder the emotions being explored. When Barry, Shelly and Ivan set up what they think are amusing shenanigans, it is upon closer inspection that we see the heartrenching damage done to Marvin. “… he wonders if a joke is only a joke when everyone is laughing.” All too often, people (at work or at school) go about their day ‘pretending’ they are okay. And all too often, ‘the signs’ go unnoticed. Learning strategies to avoid emotional and physical isolation are nicely handled here when Marvin decides to come out of hiding (after succumbing to his bed) and open up to his friends about his feelings.

All it takes is a conversation. Missing Marvin brings about a light-hearted simplicity on the cusp of complex issues related to bullying and depression. Presented in a sweet and satisfying way, this book will help preschool-aged children find compassion, sensitivity and courage when needed most.

Scholastic, April 2018.

With a gorgeous setting based on the Greek islands of Andros and Mykonos, who wouldn’t love to live and work there? Originally from Greece, author illustrator Elena Topouzoglou paints a charming picture of friendship emerging out of loneliness.

In Mr Pegg’s Post, a little girl, Anna, longs for interaction from the outside world beyond her lighthouse home. The only visitor is Mr Pegg – the pelican postman. One stormy night, from the darkness Mr Pegg comes thumping into her life, serendipitously changing the world as she knows it. The ability to work effectively can be difficult when faced with a crippling injury. However, Anna’s eagerness to help deliver letters by boat serves them well in his recovery and her social connections. Anna receives more than just letters now. She has friendships, and a job!

The soothing blue wash of the water represents a beautiful link between the isolation of the lighthouse and the community spirit of the mainland. Mr Pegg’s Posts delivers a message of support, appreciation and value to the hearts of children from age three.

New Frontier Publishing, July 2018.

#ByAustralianBuyAustralian

Review: The Tattooist of Auschwitz

The first words on the first page of The Tattooist of Auschwitz read that the book ‘has the quality of a dark fairytale’. Indeed, it does. Journalist and foreign correspondent Hugh Riminton’s quote continues: ‘[The Tattooist] is both simple and epic, shot through with compassion and love, but inescapably under the shadow of the most devouring monsters our civilisation has known.’

Not much more needs to be said about the book, other than that it should be read, for Riminton’s statements both sum up my sentiments and do so more eloquently than I ever could. And while I inhaled the eminently readable The Tattooist in one three-hour sitting when it first came out, it’s taken me some time to get round to writing this blog post about it—the subject matter was so stellar and so moving I needed some time to gather my thoughts.

For anyone who is still unfamiliar with the book, which has been a bestseller since its launch and which has undergone multiple reprints, it is a fictionalised account of a non-fiction story: that of concentration camp prisoners Lale (pronounced ‘Lah-lay’) and Gita (Ghee-ta) Sokolov.

The prologue begins with Slovakian Jewish prisoner Lale tattooing the number 34902 on Gita, the woman who was to become the love of his life, in Auschwitz-Birkenau in 1942. Conflicted about his role in inflicting pain on his fellow prisoners, but also aware that he must do whatever he can to survive, Lale finds that his tattooist role provides him safe passage around the concentration camps and extra rations, both of which he leverages to help himself and others. Deftly woven throughout, and offsetting the horror, is Lale and Gita’s love story.

‘To save one is to save the world’ is a phrase uttered in, and that aptly captures the tales contained within, The Tattooist. The book was originally conceived as a screenplay, with author Heather Morris capturing Lale’s story through interviews and penning drafts that eventually became a novel. Morris spoke wonderfully eloquently about the book and the interviewing and writing process on Conversations with Richard Fidler. I highly recommend listening to that interview in tandem with reading the book.

The Tattooist is invaluable because we have little true insight into what it was like to actually live—well, exist—inside those concentration camps. And there are moments that continue to haunt me. For instance, Lale regularly encountered the infamous doctor Josef Mengele, who prowled the tattooing line, looking for victims, and who has since been revealed to have committed all manner of heinous medical research on prisoners.

Likewise, the prisoners were forced to play out a macabre game of football against the guards, while ash from the perpetually running crematoria rained down on them. Lale later had to walk into the crematorium to identify a prisoner by their tattoo, only to be cruelly jibed by the SS officer in charge of him: ‘I bet you’re the only Jew who ever walked into an oven and then walked back out of it.’

‘Are you sure you’re not a cat?’ the same SS officer asks Lale at one time because he survived so many moments that would otherwise mean certain death. It’s a thought that had crossed my mind too, because although the tale is incredibly compelling, just occasionally I couldn’t quite fathom how Lale had survived when so many others hadn’t. Undoubtedly, his ability to speak multiple languages and his charisma were contributing factors.

Still, some questions remain for me: What happened to the tattooist who preceded Lale and who gave him his chance? And Aron, who saved him from Typhus? And was Lale not terrified having the SS know Gita was his girlfriend? Surely they’d have used that to torture him? Perhaps one day, with others having read the book and recognised overlaps with their own or their relatives’ stories, those questions will be answered.

Side note: While I would unhesitatingly recommend The Tattooist to anyone and everyone and stump up a case for why it should be on school and university reading lists, my one wish is that the book was non-fiction rather than fiction. Hazarding a guess, I’d say the author and publisher elected to couch it as fiction to cover themselves for any facts they couldn’t definitively verify—of which there were likely many given that so few people who could attest to their veracity are still alive. But still: The Tattooist is essentially a retelling of one man’s recollection of actual events, however surreal they may seem, and it jars slightly for me to have the tale fictionalised.

Regardless, my hope is that The Tattooist not only succeeds as a novel, but also as the film Morris and Lale originally envisaged it to be: with Brad Pitt playing Lale and Natalie Portman playing Gita.

Review: What If It’s Us by Becky Albertalli and Adam Silvera

PREORDER HERE

What If It’s Us by Becky Albertalli and Adam Silvera is basically the ultimate contemporary collaboration I’ve been waiting for! Being a huge fan of both these author’s previous books meant I absolutely couldn’t wait to read their combined project. Albertalli’s Simon Vs The Homo Sapiens Agenda and Leah On The Offbeat are hilarious and super cute, while Silvera’s History Is All You Left Me and They Both Die At The End were meaningful and emotional. So what would What If It’s Us bring!? I’m definitely pleased to say that it was full of hope and laughter, devastation and awkwardness, and the kind of banter that has you smiling for days.

The story is about Arthur and Ben who have an unlikely meeting in a post office and…probably will never see each other again, right? They connected, but they’re in New York, so it’s not exactly a place you’ll run into a stranger twice. But they both can’t stop thinking about the interaction and it leads them to seek each other out. After a ton of near-misses while balancing their own hectic lives (Ben is suffering through a lonely summer school after his ex cheated on him and somehow managed to get all their combined friends. While Arthur is doing an internship while thinking his parents might split up). And then — they connect again thanks to a coffee shop, a sign, and a lot of desperate hope. Their dates are super cute and super awkward and nothing about their relationship is going smoothly at all…so does this mean they’re not meant to be? Or are they going to be each other’s everything?

One thing I quite enjoyed was how it explored New York from a touristy perspective because I, as an Aussie, was really interested in “seeing” the sites! Arthur was an adorable tourist and I loved how excited he was about being in this city for the summer.

The boys were definitely the highlight of the book! They both take turns narrating (and if you know the authors, it’s pretty easy to guess who is writing which character). They contrasted in so many ways: Arthur being rich and headed for a fancy college vs Ben being poor and failing school. Arthur being outgoing and bubbly vs Ben being reserved and cautious. Arthur being nervous about his first romance vs Ben being skeptical after just having his heart broken. The combination of them was so fantastic and heartwarming, seeing them open up for each other and learn to love the other’s differences.

It is a bit of a quirky “find a needle in a haystack” story as they meet briefly in a postoffice and then have to refind each other again. I loved all the “near misses” because, as a reader, we’re screaming for them to no no! Wait! Two more seconds and you would’ve met again! It’s definitely a book that keeps you glued to the pages wondering if this is going to work between them.

I also loved the levels of diversity in the story! Obviously it’s a gay teen romance, but also Ben is Puerto Rican and Arthur has ADHD. Ben’s discussions about his family and what it truly means to be Puerto Rican were great and very important.

There are plenty of amazing things to be said about friendship too. About how friendships change and grow over the years and how hard that is. It’s absolutely devastating to lose friends, and I think it’s something that needs to be addressed in YA because most teens go through this!

It’s also so funny! I loved the subtle references from the authors to their older books, and I snorted over the quick-fire banter and the ridiculous dorkiness. The writing is also super addictive and easy to devour. I found myself completely unable to put it down.

WHAT IF IT’S US is such a cute and fun book! It’s the perfect summery read, full of awkward moments and absolutely golden magical moments while two boys fall in love through endless mishaps, mistakes, and messy moments. It’s the kind of story you can’t help but root for and turn every page desperate to find out what happens to Ben and Arthur and their summer in New York.

Under the Lights and in the Dark

In Under the Lights and in the Dark, sports writer Gwendolyn Oxenham notes how women’s sport is the antithesis of American sportwriter Gary Smith’s answer to the ‘if you could trade places with any athlete’ question. ‘I probably wouldn’t,’ he famously said. ‘For the most part, they’ve had to whittle down their lives so much to excel at something that their possibility for personal growth is compromised.’

Female footballers (soccer players), however, have to work, study, and generally juggle many, many, many commitments outside football. If anything, their personal growth accelerates.

Under the Lights spotlights some of the challenges women have had—and continue to have—to overcome in order to play football. As she notes in the book’s opening pages: ‘Dozens of players across the world shared their stories and their time. Whether from Liverpool or Lagos, Tokyo or Kabul, Kingston or Paris, here’s one thing that was always true: at an early age, they found the game and held on, driven neither by money nor fame—only the desire to be great. Here are their stories.’

Featuring a mix of well known and periphery players, and grouping tales under some key themes such as low or even non-existent salary, homelessness, and motherhood, Oxenham exposes some of the issues women face simply to play the sport they love.

One of the most striking is the bizarre and terrifyingly powerless experience of playing in Russia, where the team may or may not be run by, and acting as a money-laundering cover for, the mafia. Under these dubious conditions, the players are beholden to a coach and manager who forces them to take ‘vitamins’, both orally and via injections, that one player, on returning to the US and undergoing medical tests, determines to be anabolic steroids.

Another obstacle Oxenham exposes is the decades-long consequences of women’s football being banned in Brazil from 1941 until 1979 courtesy of a law that stated that ‘women will not be allowed to practi[s]e sports [that] are incompatible to their feminine nature.’

Women can now in theory legally play football in Brazil, Oxenham notes, but they’re being prevented from playing by other means. Santos, for example, was until a few years ago the best women’s football team. Was, because the club cut the entire team in 2012 in order to stump up cash to keep male footballer Neymar (AKA he of the ridiculous rolling that inspired countless 2018 World Cup mockery and memes) by paying him one million reals (US$558,000) a month. He was later sold overseas anyway. How Neymar can live with himself allowing the women’s team to be cut for him, I cannot conceive.

Motherhood is another theme Oxenham explores—specifically, how, just as in office-based workplaces, pregnancy and motherhood hampers or more often ends women’s football careers. Of the 24 teams and 552 women who competed at the 2015 Women’s World Cup, Oxenham writes, only 11 players were known to be mothers. Most of the national teams have no mothers, due to cost, commitment, the absence of maternity policies, and an all-round lack of support.

But Oxenham also highlights some of women’s football’s triumphs. Portland and its women’s team the Thorns, for example, are the town and the team that shows the rest of the world how women’s football and women’s football support should be. One of the iconic banners its avid supporters have painted is a quote from The Little Prince: ‘It is the time you have wasted for your rose that makes your rose so important’. Where ‘wasted’ can be read as ‘done it for the love of the game’.

About women’s football, but also about much more pervasive issues that affect women in society more widely, Under the Lights and in the Dark is yet another invaluable documentation of the issues women face and the progress they are making. With any luck and a lot of hard work, in the future female footballers will soon just be under the lights.

2018 CBCA Shortlisted Early Childhood Books #2: Boy, I’m Australian Too & Rodney Loses It

Since the CBCA shortlist was announced I have been blogging about the 2018 shortlisted books and am now concluding with the Early Childhood books (in two parts). You may find some of the ideas across the posts helpful for Book Week this month.

Boy by Phil Cummings, illustrated by Shane Devries (Scholastic Australia)

Boy is a morality tale about conflict and misunderstanding; understanding & communicating. It covers issues of deforestation, fighting and living in harmony and peace.

The trees on the mountain are destroyed by a powerful dragon, which illustratively evolves from threatening to cute during the tale.

People are blaming others and fighting. Boy can’t hear the fighting but perhaps he can understand the situation better than anyone because of his hearing loss.

Might the boy be unnamed because the book is aimed at all boys or for all children?

The digital illustrations are an unusual colour palette of mauve, brown and blue tones.

The endpapers could be copied and used for the card game ‘Happy Families’.

The cover is tactile, with the word ‘BOY’ written in sand. Boy communicates by drawing pictures in sand. Children could write an important question in the sand (sandpit or sandtray) e.g. ‘Why are you fighting?’ alongside a picture.

Children could further develop awareness and affirmation of the hearing impaired. This could include learning some Auslan and also saying ‘Thank you’ ‘with dancing hands’ like Boy does.

I’m Australian Too by Mem Fox, illustrated by Ronojoy Ghosh (Scholastic)

Children could look at the endpapers to see how the children at the start become adults by the end. They could draw themselves as a child and then as an adult, imagining a possible future.

Onset and rime in the rhyming text include ‘day/stay’ ‘small/all’ ‘yet/vet’ ‘far/star’ and ‘strife/life’ (others are more difficult for very young children).

Many countries are represented in the book e.g. Syria, China, Afghanistan and Italy.

The refrain, ‘How about you?’ could be answered by readers and they could also suggest which countries are not represented; which Australian capital cities and other places are mentioned and what are some missing Australian places?

Children could show or make flags for countries represented by students in the class or school.

The story settles into a rhythmic security to precede a chilling page:

Sadly, I’m a refugee –

I’m not Australian yet.

But if your country lets me in,

I’d love to be a vet.

Australia’s refugee situation is political, and far more complex that this, but I’m Australian Too will no doubt influence children’s attitudes towards refugees.

 Rodney Loses It! by Michael Gerard Bauer, illustrated by Chrissie Krebs (Omnibus Books)

The title has a double meaning and the book is humorous in words and pictures.

It’s unusual that readers are able to see the missing pen and other objects, a mark of slapstick. Rodney Loses It! is slapstick in book form.

The illustrative style is cartoon-like; lively, bright and shows active body language.

The writing shows good word choice and maintains a successful rhythm.

Children could compare the endpapers, which are different.

Rodney loves drawing but loses his favourite pen, Penny.

The illustrations show the pen and other missing items.

The message or moral is that we can love doing things but not get around to them because of distractions.

In the story, Rodney could have used other colours but he was fixated on one pen and one colour so he missed out on doing what he loved.

 Children could draw pictures like Rodney’s or make Rodney using play dough and LED lights for his eyes or pen.

ABC Science: The Surfing Scientist

http://www.abc.net.au/science/articles/2012/05/30/3513709.htm

The Notorious RBG (x 2)

‘What are you doing taking a seat that could be occupied by a man?’ was the question put to Ruth Bader Ginsburg (RBG)—lawyer, feminist, supreme court judge, icon, ‘rockstar’, and just about the closest thing we have to a superhero—when she was just one of nine women in a law class of over 500 men.

The question—arguably rhetorical—reflects the sentiment RBG has not only encountered but triumphed over throughout her entire career.

And in contrast to the usual fate of older women, RBG is these days not being dismissed or overlooked, but is instead ‘winning the internet’. In fact, this 84-year-old feminist, who this month celebrated 25 years as a US Supreme Court judge, has become something of a liberal hero for those of us desperately seeking someone to believe in in the face of Trump-led chaos.

For those unfamiliar with RBG—or the ‘Notorious RBG’ as she’s come to be known thanks to a Tumblr set up in her honour that gives a nod to 80s rapper Notorious BIG—there is now a documentary and a book that unpack and celebrate her story.

RBG, playing in cinemas around Australia now, and The Notorious RBG: The Life and Times of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, which comes in both an adult and young adult version to inspire people of all ages, provide insight into a remarkable woman who has, through quietly setting about doing her job as a lawyer, literally changed the course of history for women, particularly.

Softly spoken and never one to raise her voice in anger, RBG has overcome obstacles that would defeat most others. Apart from having to prove she deserved to be at law school, she excelled at her own studies. She also helped her husband excel at his while he was suffering from cancer, organising his friends to take notes in classes and typing up his notes and assignments. This was on top of doing her own study and caring for the couple’s young child. Only to find upon graduating that no law firm would hire her purely on the basis of her gender.

When RBG quotes Sarah Grimke, a kind of RBG of centuries past, in the documentary, I felt a tear-forming, chest-swelling mix of emotions: ‘I ask no favours for my sex … All I ask of our brethren is that they will take their feet from off our necks.’

That sentiment imbues RBG’s career, throughout which she has patiently and systematically set about trying to change discriminatory state and federal laws. These include the legal ability for:

  • husbands, considered masters of their communities, to decide where their families lived without women having any input
  • employers to fire women for being pregnant
  • banks to require a husband to give permission for their wife to have a credit card.

Which makes her accomplishments sound straightforward when they were anything but. ‘I did see myself as a kind of kindergarten teacher in those days,’ RBG says of having to explain some very straightforward legal concepts to men who could not conceive of anything being wrong with them.

And her work ethic was and is clearly extraordinary. A common theme of RBG’s and her late husband Marty’s marriage was that Marty would often have to coax her home—she would otherwise work late into the night. Likewise that he did the bulk of the cooking because this seemingly infallible woman is a self-professed and professed by others terrible cook. (I was relieved to discover this because: a) I’m a terrible cook too; b) it showed me that despite her impressiveness, RBG is also relateably human.)

When RBG was just one of two women appointed to the Supreme Court, she actually had to devise new cloak collar options because the existing collars catered to men’s shirts only. It was a practical logistical requirement, but now her ‘I dissent’ collar is iconic.

The ideal number of women on the Supreme Court, she believes, when asked the question, is ‘nine.’ It’s a statement that prompts laughter, including from me, until she aptly points out that there have, until she and another were appointed, been nine men.

Which makes you realise that even if you consider yourself a feminist, there are cultural and systemic ‘norms’ RBG not only sees but figures out how to tackle and that the rest of us need to pay attention to.

Suffice to say, the documentary is must-watch and the book must-read. For fear of spoiling the surprise, those in my immediate circle will be getting copies of the book for Christmas.

Books About Lists

If you’re a list maker like I am, or just enjoy a well curated list, here are some books about lists you might enjoy.


The Book of Lists: The Original Compendium of Curious Information by David Wallechinsky
This is a fascinating non-fiction collection of trivia and interesting stories broken down into the following chapters: People; Movies; The Arts; Food and Health; Animals; Work and Money; Sex, Love and Marriage; Crime; War, Politics and World Affairs; Travel; Literature; Words; Sports; Death; and Miscellaneous.

Here are some of my favourite lists from the book:

  • 8 Memorable Lines Erroneously Attributed To Film Stars
  • 10 Famous Insomniacs
  • The Cat Came Back: 9 Cats Who Travelled Long Distances To Return Home
  • 15 Famous People Who Worked In Bed
  • 11 Most Unusual Objects Sold on eBay
  • 29 Words Rarely Used In Their Positive Form
  • 16 Famous Events That Happened In The Bathtub

The Book of Lists contains a wide variety of interesting tidbits and obscure trivia and is bound to make you laugh.


The List of My Desires by Gregoire Delacourt
Written by Grégoire Delacourt and translated from French, The List of My Desires is set in a provincial town in France. Jocelyne is the middle-aged mother of two adult children and runs her own dressmaking shop and faces a turning point in her life when she wins $18M in the lottery.

The unexpected windfall forces her to reflect on what she really wants in life so she writes a list of her desires, hence the title. This is a lovely contemporary fiction novel and when Jocelyne re-writes the list at the end, it’s quite interesting to see what’s changed.


Lists of Note bShaun Usher
This book contains lists from a variety of people, ranging from Leonardo da Vinci, Charles Darwin, Roald Dahl and Marilyn Monroe to 9th Century monks. The book contains 125 lists with brief descriptions for each, including:

  • A shopping list written by two 9th-century Tibetan monks
  • The 19 year-old Isaac Newton’s list of the 57 sins he’d already committed
  • 29-year-old Marilyn Monroe’s inspirational set of New Year’s resolutions
  • Einstein’s punitive list of conditions imposed on his first wife (this needs to be read to be believed).

    This is a great read for list lovers.


Getting Shit Done List Ledger by Calligraphuck
Finally, if you want some stationery in which to write your own lists, you can’t go wrong with the Getting Shit Done List Ledger by Calligraphuck.


It would be remiss of me not to mention Schindler’s List by Thomas Keneally and there are an infinite number of Bucket List books available for every kind of reader.

Are you a list maker? Do you have any recommendations?

Review: More Than We Can Tell by Brigid Kemmerer

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More Than We Can Tell by Brigid Kemmerer is such an emotional and heartfelt read! It’s a companion story to Letters To The Lost, but this one spins out about the protagonist in that book’s best friend: Rev Fletcher. You don’t need to have read the first book to enjoy this one either! But I highly recommend it because it’s also incredible and possibly one of my all time favourites. I was so excited to dive into this companion book. Expectations were high and I ended up totally emotionally engaged with my heart beating so fast from that wild ending.

The story follows Rev and Emma as their lives are slowly crumbling to pieces around them. Rev was rescued from his abusive father 10 years ago and adopted by loving parents (who also foster other at-risk children still). But he’s getting letters from his abusive father…and he doesn’t know how to deal. He’s ashamed for being scared and for wanting to possibly meet his father again. But keeping the secret is destroying him and giving him violently terrifying flashbacks. And when his parents foster another vulnerable and wild young teen — it just amps up Rev’s memories of being in such a terrifying place 10 years ago. Then we have Emma, who’s a gamer with parents who pay no attention to her and she’s getting harassed online. She wants to take care of it herself, because her mother doesn’t care and her father (also a game designer) hasn’t got the time of day for her although he pretends to. Then as things between her parents start to get precarious and the cyber-bullying reaches a more terrifying level, Emma meets Rev behind a church and they start to talk. But their lives and friendships are in heartbreaking positions if they refuse to tell what’s really going on.

I loved being back in this world and so enjoyed Rev’s narration! (Finding out his true name was amazing.) Rev’s life is HUGELY stressful and he’s ashamed of how scared he is. AKA, he hides it. It’s heartbreaking that he did this, even when surrounded by people who love and support him unconditionally…but he’s been trained from his abusive father to expect hurt, and hate, and punishment. And even 10 years free of that, he hasn’t shaken the affects. The book really explores and addresses his PTSD and anxiety. I absolutely love how his adoptive-parents were so loving and involved in his life. Even when Rev cut them out, they made sure he knew they were there, ready and waiting and loving, to talk when he was ready. He does a lot of growth in this book too, remembering that he’s loved. Gaining control over himself again. Letting people in and not being ashamed.

Emma’s narration is focused a lot on how girls are treated in the gamer world. She gets harassed and attacked just for her gender and it’s so horrible what she has to go through alone. She also feels she’s probably being “weak” for being so upset about it, so she doesn’t tell anyone. It was hard seeing her lash out irrationally and horribly to her friends, even the ones who were undyingly supportive of her and there when she needed them. But it was also understandable seeing how much she craved positive interaction but her parents gave her none and continually put their needs before hers. My heart definitely ached for her!

Rev’s parents also start fostering a new boy, Matthew, who is pretty messed up and refuses to open up to anyone. He triggers a lot of flashbacks for Rev, which will definitely make you tear up, but discovering Matthew’s backstory and then watching him grow as a character too was amazing.

The book really delves into themes of being wanted, trying to control who you turn out to be and to change it if you don’t like it, and how accepting help is not weakness. All such important things to cover!

More Than We Can Tell is definitely a heartfelt book full of raw emotion and aching themes. It’s very emotional and the ending is so stressful and will leave you clutching the pages and turning so fast to see how it all plays out.

Under the Sea, Under the Sea – Picture Book Reviews

With all the latest talk on plastic pollution and contamination in our oceans and waterways, it seems fitting to bring further awareness and appreciation for our beautiful marine and plant life to light. These following picture books not only give us the colourful scoop on the abundance of amazing life under the sea, but also the incentive and empowerment to protect them in the best ways we can.

Somewhere in the Reef, an ideallic scene of freedom and serenity – just the way it should be. Following the classic rhyme, ‘Over in the Meadow’, Marcello Pennacchio sings up a swirling wave of sea animal counting fun. A host of gorgeous ocean creatures splash vividly about the pages, brought realistically to life by artist Danny Snell.

Starting with a mother dolphin and her little calf one along the Great Barrier Reef, daubs and splashes of movement ‘leap’ from one page to the next. With another verb, ‘wiggle’, we encounter two little sea snakes jiggling amongst the blue. Consistently, action meets numbers as the rhythm of verse and marine life treat us to an underwater spectacle in the crisp and clear waters of the lagoons and reefs.

Somewhere in the Reef is a playful and joyful experience to sing along to and recognise the importance of conservation of these beautiful creatures. Swimmingly good fun for preschool-aged children.

Scholastic, March 2018.

Another underwater counting parade propelled by poetry and learning potential is Jasper Juggles Jellyfish by Ben Long and David Cornish. With a title bound for alliteration activity, text tossed with rhyme and numbers flicked here, there and everywhere, you’re all set for a jovial, educational experience.

Set at the bottom of the ocean with textures reflective of the sun glimpsing through the water on creatures so adorably cute, Jasper the octopus drags himself off to school. A less-than-confident Jasper struggles with his counting abilities, but juggling is no problem. One friendly jellyfish encourages a strategy that Jasper can surely handle – “it’s best to start with one.” And with that, adding jellyfish to tossing tentacles means Jasper’s counting problem is solved with a total of twelve (3 jellyfish per every 2 arms).

Jasper Juggles Jellyfish would be a juggle between a simple adding-on strategy for preschoolers and more advanced problem solving for junior primary aged children. Nevertheless, an exuberant story about confidence and different ways of learning that children will be bouncing to read again.

Ford Street Publishing, July 2018.

In Ori’s Clean-Up, Anne Helen Donnelly provides all the right tools for an entertaining and environmentally-focused reading experience for early years children. Teamwork and meticulous organisation are highlighted in a war on waste, as we know it, where Ori the octopus and his friends find systematic ways to manage the rubbish in their underwater home.

Repetitive language and clear, vivid and friendly cartoons assist in delivering the message of cleanliness and working together. Terms and images specific to recycling, re-using, composting and donating are scattered throughout to reinforce this awareness and utilisation in everyday life.

Ori’s Clean-Up is brilliantly simple, accessible and universal to help affect change for the good of our planet.

Anne Helen Donnelly, July 2018.

Next, we are delving deep into a procedural text of the imaginary kind! But first, note the shiny, shimmering cover that is sure to lure in any young child with a penchant for mermaids. How to Catch a Mermaid is a cool and snappy rhyming tale  from a series written and illustrated by the New York Times bestselling team, Adam Wallace and Andy Elkerton.

With the persistence, creativity and audacity of a young whippersnapper, a little girl and her buddies make several attempts at ensnaring the pretty mermaid at the depths of the ocean. Trap after trap, their scheme fails. But who will help them out when they are themselves trapped by some nasty, yellow-eyed sharks?

Witty, bold and lively, How to Catch a Mermaid is one your little ones will want to snatch up as quick as they can! For ages four and up.

Sourcebooks Jabberwocky, June 2018.

Jarvis is a talanted international author-illustrator with books including Poles Apart, Alan’s Big, Scary Teeth and Mrs Mole, I’m Home! Continuing our underwater theme, Tropical Terry serves up a flashy, fishy tray of mesmerising goodness to feast your eyes on. Eyes, not mouths! 😉

Swishyness and swooshyness of colourful tropical fish swirl in flurries in Coral Reef City. And then there was Terry. Living the simple, plain-coloured life with his best sea friends isn’t enough when the fancy fish constantly parade their fanciful snobbiness. So, Terry transforms himself. And forgets his friends. Until there is danger. How will he escape?

Being yourself always reaps the best rewards. Tropical Terry casts an important net on playing to one’s strengths and embracing your individuality. A plain and simple message in an underwater forest of colour and spirit. Ages 3+.

Walker Books UK, June 2018.

Reluctant Heroes – Junior Novels That Conquer Doubt

Being the leader of the pack is not a role everyone relishes, especially if you are that shy kid who never kicks a goal or that odd sounding, looking kid whose school lunches never quite fit the norm. However it is often the most reluctant heroes that make the biggest impact and save the day. Being at odds with yourself and your perceived persona is the theme of these books, so beautifully summarised in their paradoxical titles. What I love about these two authors is their inherent ability to commentate messages of significant social weight with supreme wit and humor. It’s like feeding kids sausage rolls made of brussel sprouts.

Natural Born Leader Loser by Oliver Phommavanh

Raymond is stuck in a school with a reputation grubbier than a two-year-old’s left hand and choked with bullies. The best way he knows of fighting these realities is not to fight at all. Raymond is king of fading into the background especially when it comes to his friendship with best mate, Zain Afrani.

Zain is a soccer nut and self-confessed extrovert whom has a deep affinity for Raymond. He likes to flash his brash approach to bullying about much to the consternation of Raymond who happily gives up the spotlight to Zain whenever he’s around. Constant self-depreciation just about convinces Raymond that he’ll never amount to anything of much significance, which he is sort of all right with until their new principal blows his social-circumvention cover by appointing him as one of the new school prefects.

Raymond is as shocked as the rest of the school but reluctantly assumes the role along with a kooky cast of radically differing kids. Under the calm, consistent leadership of Raymond, this eclectic team not only manages to drag Barryjong Primary School out of its bad-rep quagmire by winning the hearts and minds of the students and faculty alike but while doing so, raises enough money for new air conditioners for every classroom.

Continue reading Reluctant Heroes – Junior Novels That Conquer Doubt

Review: Your Destination Is On The Left by Laura Spieller

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Your Destination Is On The Left by Laura Spieller was a pretty heartwarming story about artists and the fear of failure. Which I think is SO relatable to any teen (or older!) artist who’s struggling to know if they’re good enough or faking it. I really loved that aspect, especially all the “starving artist woe” storylines were are, let’s be real…big mood at all times.

The story follows Dessa who’s family is part of a nomadic caravan crew and they’re constantly travelling the USA in search of experiences and the chance to feel alive. They hate the idea of being tied down and it’s taboo to talk about…which makes life super awkward for Dessa who absolutely dreams of going to college for art. And staying put. She loves her family and she’s (secretly) madly in love with Cy, a boy in their caravan crew. But she can’t just give up her dream…can she? Then she lands an internship with a successful artist and the nomad crew agree to spend a few weeks in one place while she completes it. And while it’s the opposite of smooth sailing, with Dessa getting super stuck with her work because all the colleges rejected her and now she’s scared she’s a terrible artist, she begins to realise that life is full of cross roads. And she’s going to have to make some huge decisions.

It’s quite a fast book but still manages to touch on deeper things. The family’s aren’t particularly wealthy, which I appreciated since a lot of books feature people with no issues with money. And I liked how it definitely talked about how artists are often super underpaid.

I loved the epic multiple female friendships that were just on point the whole book! Dessa totally connects to her artist mentor who she’s doing the internship with and I love how they go from “prickly” to “valuing each other”. SO good. Also Dessa randomly meets a girl named Taryn on a bus, and after a sneaky night out (which Dessa was so not supposed to go on), they become such solid and epic friends who keep in contact. I love how they clicked and their chemistry was a lot of fun!

The romance is a bumpy ride, with Dessa having a total crush on Cy…but knowing he loves travelling and she hates it. There’s a lot of tension there with two people who feel so deeply for each other, but ultimately have very different goals. Should one of them give up everything?

The art factor was also gorgeous! I LOVED all the visuals and it totally reminded me of Starfish and I’ll Give You The Sun. It was a visual feast.

The book also encouraged artists to work from the heart. To stop panicking about how it’s scary to be vulnerable on page and stay safe. Take risks. Don’t let your fear block you. This is such an important and motivating message and it was brought across so well!

Your Destination Is On The Left is definitely a story about crossroads. It’s about fear of failure and the joy of creating and following your dreams, even though the repercussions might be steep.

Interview with T.S. Hawken, author of If Kisses Cured Cancer

Author T.S. Hawken

Tim Hawken is the West Australian author of New Adult novel If Kisses Cured Cancer published earlier this year. Thanks for joining us for an interview at Boomerang Books Tim.


Can you describe your book If Kisses Cured Cancer in one sentence?
A funny yet serious book about the importance of connecting with those around you (and not being afraid to go skinny dipping in the forest).

What inspired you to write If Kisses Cured Cancer?
It was a combination of a few things, but the big one was my wife being diagnosed with a malignant brain tumour. The process was obviously awful, but there were lots of strangely funny and golden moments sprinkled in that journey. I wanted to create a fiction book that reflected those ups and downs, and would do the subject justice yet not be depressing or overly fluffy.

If you could meet any writer who would it be and what would you want to know?
Neil Gaiman. The guy is amazing at every form of writing – short stories, novels, comics, TV. He’s unbelievably great and deliciously odd. I’ve read about his writing process and general approach to life, so would probably just prefer to chat about magic, telling the truth through lies, and working with Terry Pratchett.

Bedside table reading for T.S. Hawken

How do you organise your personal library?
You mean the pile of books that are precariously stacked on my bedside table? They’re generally organized by date of purchase. I do have a shelf of books I’ve read and loved in my office for reference as well. They’re loosely arranged by genre and then grouped by author.

What book is on your bedside table right now?
In no particular order, there’s: A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman, The Dalai Lama’s Cat by David Michie, The Barefoot Investor by Scott Pape, Fromelles and Pozieres by Peter FitzSimons, Lost Gods by Brom, The Great Stories of Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle, Bound by Alan Baxter, The Writer’s Journey by Christopher Vogler, and Primary Mathematics by Penelope Serow, Rosemary Callingham and Tracey Muir. My Kindle is also there, which has a few hundred titles stored in it too.

What was the last truly great book that you read?
I actually had to go to my Goodreads page as a refresher to make sure I wasn’t just putting the greatest book I’ve read on here (which by the way is Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie, closely followed by the Harry Potter series, closely followed by True History of the Kelly Gang by Peter Carey). The last book I gave a full 5 staggering stars to was Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut. Total genius.

What’s the best book you’ve read so far in 2018?
Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman. Wow, what a book. It’s like a dark version of The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion and so, so much more satisfying. Massive recommend.

I agree with you about Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine, I read it last month and adored it. What’s your secret reading pleasure?
Fantasy and sci-fi books. Shhhh. I love these genres so much I had to make a rule that every second book I read has to be something else. I feel like broadening your reading habits is a sure way of finding gold you might not otherwise have come across.

What’s next? What would you like to tell your readers?
Next is planning out a new story idea I have that will remain mum until it’s actually a reality. There will be another book next year but what that is, you’ll have to wait and see. To follow any news, sign up to my newsletter at timhawken.com. You’ll also get some special content about If Kisses Cured Cancer you won’t find anywhere else.