Powerfully Poignant – Historical MG reviews

Courage to CareBeing part of the human species is not always a club I’m proud to belong to. We can be pretty awful to each other sometimes even though most of us, most of the time err on the side of kindness. History allows us to mark the good times and the kind people. More frequently however, it serves as a reminder of the inglorious periods of our human existence. We cannot and should not hide from them if we want humanity to evolve, which is why these next three books make for such fundamental reading. All would complement the historical fiction shelves of young readers aged between 11 and 15. All encourage us to recognise discrimination, understand its origins, and be brave enough to fight its ugly consequences. All invite us to care in a powerfully poignant way.

One Thousand HillsOne Thousand Hills by James Roy and Noel Zihabamwe

This book is devastating. Powerful and wrenching yet achingly beautiful. Roy and Zihabamwe have given one ten-year-old boy a voice among an ocean of hundreds of thousands that were silenced without reason or mercy. Written with understated force and crisp, almost child-like clarity, One Thousand Hills traces the tension fraught days leading up to one of the most despicable acts of genocide the world as ever known, the 1994 Rwandan genocide.

Pascal lives in Agabande, close to Kigali, in the heart of Rwanda. His life is simple and idyllic despite the taunts of his older brother and annoying traits of his little sister, Nadine. His parents work hard, worship what is good and Godly, and provide for their family as devoutly as the rest of the villagers who reside in the verdant mountainous countryside. They are a mixed family of Hutu and Tutsis, yet they share the same brutality and sheer ‘awfulness’ of this crime against humanity, born of fear and a need to sustain power with over 800,000 other Rwandans.

This novel does not sensationalise the violence nor does it dwell on the political legitimacy and shortcomings of the world’s nations who at first refused to acknowledge the genocide and certainly did nothing to prevent or end it. Instead, readers are shown how Pascal, via his vivid and eloquent narrations to a counsellor in Brussels some five years later, survived the ordeal and how his experiences changed him.

His voice rings loud and pure yet is tragically and irreversibly altered by what he has seen and had to do to save himself and Nadine. The final picture is not a straightforward prediction of how the previously pious and life-loving Pascal will evolve. He is at the endpoint, painfully sad and despondent; we, like the counsellor are incredulous and shocked that he has emerged with any sense of hope at all.

Despairing and gut wrenching, yes, however rather than fuelling hatred and disgust, this poignant tale promotes understanding and hope ‘to prevent children having to hide or run in fear from conflicts that have nothing to do with them.’ (Paraphrased from James Roy’s dedication.)

Powerful, essential reading.

Hanna My Holocaust StoryMy Holocaust Story: Hanna by Goldie Alexander

This is the first title in the Holocaust series aimed at upper primary readers and at first glance, I had mixed feelings about curling up to read this one. On one hand, I find the potency and importance of this subject terribly arresting but on the other, if handled oafishly instils depression and worse, a kind of muted blasé trance – we’ve-heard-and-seen-it-all-before kind of attitude. Happy to report, Hanna exhibits none of the latter and is an excellent introduction of the Holocaust and its impact for young readers.

Peppered with edgy characters, spirited narration, and well-paced drama, Hanna is another title that skilfully addresses the atrocities of ethnic cleansing without bogging young minds previously unexposed to the grim details of WW II.

Hanna Kaminsky is a Polish Jew forced into hiding with her family, then surviving in the Warsaw Ghetto at the onset of WW II. Like Pascal, she can almost taste the rising tension of political unrest but is too absorbed by her love of gymnastics, her best friend, and her warm family life to comprehend the danger it represents.

Pascal’s refuge was an old disused water tank. Hanna’s is reading. Throughout her nerve-destroying confinement she clings to the one novel her mother allowed her to flee with, The Scarlet Pimpernel. She begins to mirror her survival on his character and adopts the mantra ‘pluck and audacity’ to make it through each moment of escalating horror. In spite of her own hardships, Hanna shows spunk and fortitude in the face of adversity, using them to help others in dire need.

Alexander’s historical notes give this story depth and dimension describing the staggering loss of life associated with the Holocaust, millions being children, but again are presented in a balanced, informative way. For there is no need to over-describe the tragedy of these events.

It’s interesting to note this title is endorsed by Courage to Care, an organisation devoted to educating and challenging young people to stand up to injustices rather than just being passive bystanders.

Inspiring and purposeful.

Paper Planes by Allayne L. Webster

This did not pull me as much as the title and cover promised it might owing to continued overzealous exposition however, it is nonetheless a fascinating account of the conflict thPaper Planesat divided a nation and its people for nearly half a decade. Ashamedly, I knew very little about the Civil War that savaged the former Yugoslavia in the early 90s in spite of the fact that I was living and working in Europe at the time.

Paper Planes traces the plight of one family in Sarajevo through the eyes of the quite naive 12-year-old Niko and his eventual escape from the city under siege. Flecked with historic accuracies, this story does prick the emotions and beggars the belief as to how we humans are (still) able to fight our fellow man in such prehistoric ways for so little substantial reason.

Recommended for mid-grade readers, Paper Planes is another story about a terrible war and cultural genocide, the sufferers of which are often the innocents; the children and the people who never wanted it in the first place and like all war-torn tales, it is based on real historical facts and the lives of those who lived them.

Find all books here.

Scholastic Australia March 2015 – March 2016



Historical Fiction with Goldie Alexander

9780992492434Writing historical fiction requires more than just authorly talent and an interest in the past. It requires a love of research and, even more importantly, the ability to turn that research into a story that will be relevant to current readers. It’s not an easy task, but there are writers out there who do it remarkably well.

One such author is Goldie Alexander, whose latest young adult novel, That Stranger Next Door, is another in a long line of historical novels for young people. Today, Goldie has stopped by with an account of how she approaches the genre. Take it away Goldie…

Fictionalising History
By Goldie Alexander

Over the years I have had 6 historical fictions published for young readers. The challenge was to create convincing settings, characters and dialogue, and the all-important story line to keep my readers involved. This narrative develops from the problems my characters encounter — their aims, wishes and fears. All fictions based on history start with the premise ‘what if you were there at the time’. Though they are based on carefully researched facts, this research must never show. The story must be seamless.

In Mavis Road Medley my two contemporary youngsters find themselves in Princes Hill Melbourne at the end of the Great Depression. In My Australian Story: Surviving Sydney Cove a thirteen-year-old girl convict lives in the Sydney of 1790, when the First Fleet felt cut off from the rest of the world. Body and Soul: Lilbet’s Romance describes a disabled girl’s life just before the outbreak of World War Two. In Gallipoli Medals Great Uncle Jack is a soldier in WW1.

9781741304954The Youngest Cameleer is viewed from the perspective of a fourteen-year-old Moslem. This lesser known exploration into the interior led by William Gosse in 1873 included both Europeans and Afghans, and is based on Gosse’s own journal. This expedition was the first non-indigenous group to stumble across Uluru, and without the use of cameleers they might never have survived the harsh desert conditions.

My most recent historical fiction That Stranger Next Door is set in 1954 at the height of the ‘Cold War’. In the United States, Senator McCarthy was using anti-communist laws to force academics, film-makers and other intellectuals to a senate hearing to ask if they ever belonged to the Communist Party and to name anyone who had gone to their meetings. Many people lost their jobs and their families. Some even committed suicide.

We think of this time in Australia as a time when Prime Minister Menzies ruled, the Queen visited us wearing pearls, England was Home, there was the Korean War, migrants being shunted into camps, the Snowy Mountain Scheme, the six o’clock swill, nuclear families, housewifery for women, and the coming of television. Politically, there was the Communist Referendum, the split in the Labour Party into ALP and DLP, and the infamous Petrov Affair.

When an insignificant Russian diplomat called Vladimir Petrov defected to Australia, promising to provide information about a Russian spy-ring, he ‘forgot’ to mention this to his wife. As Evdokia was pulled onto a plane in Darwin, she was rescued at the last minute by ASIO and hidden in a ‘safe house’. At the time PM Menzies was also trying to bring in similar anti-communist legislation to the US, and thankfully, in this he was unsuccessful.

In That Stranger Next Door, fifteen-year-old Ruth, her Jewish mother, father, four-year-old brother Leon and her grandfather (Zieda) live above the family milk-bar in Melbourne’s Elwood. Because Ruth’s father once belonged to the Communist Party, the family fear that the ‘Petrov Affair’ will help bring in anti-Communist legislation that will produce another wave of anti-Semitism.

The story opens with Eva moving in next-door and Ruth meeting Catholic Patrick O’Sullivan. (Patrick’s father is about to work for Bob Santamaria and the emerging DLP party). Patrick offers to teach Ruth to ride a bike at a time when some Jewish girls were actively discouraged from riding bikes, never allowed to mix with gentile boys, and kept sexually ignorant. Eva agrees to provide Ruth with an alibi for meeting Patrick, but only with the proviso that her presence also be kept secret. As Ruth rails against her mother’s authority, she is fascinated by Patrick’s totally different background. Between Ruth’s account of her first love, Eva fills in her own story. All this takes place during the height of the Cold War when the world seemed on the knife edge of nuclear annihilation.

Australians are sometimes chastised for dwelling on immediate present, as if only 21st Century problems are relevant. Nevertheless I agree with those who argue that ‘those who are ignorant of history are destined to repeat it’.

George’s bit at the end

My thanks to Goldie for sharing her approach to writing this kind of fiction. I am amazed by the amount of historical knowledge demonstrated in just this short article. Imagine what her books might be like! Well, guess what? You don’t have to imagine. Go read one. 🙂

Catch ya later,  George

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mrsmuir01Check out my DVD blog, Viewing Clutter.

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Blog, blog, bog

Bog instead of Blog! If I could have a dollar for every time I’ve made that typo. One missing letter and you have a potential catastrophe (albeit a rather amusing one). Mostly it happens on Twitter. I’ll quickly post a link to a bog instead of a blog. I did it this morning.

I wrote a guest post about character names for the blog of fellow author Goldie Alexander (see “What’s in a name?”). The post went online this morning and I Tweeted about it.

WHAT’S IN A NAME? Guest post on Goldie Alexander’s bog about character names…

Thankfully I spotted my error and deleted the Tweet within seconds, replacing the offending typo.

Anyway… this got me thinking about blogs. These days, it seems like every author and his dog has one. And all these authors are also doing guest posts on other people’s blogs. I certainly seem to spend more time writing blog posts than fiction.

I write two regular blogs — this one and a DVD/Blu-ray reviews blog called Viewing Clutter. I also write an irregular blog on my homepage. In addition to this I write guest posts on other people’s blogs, mostly as a way of promoting my blogs and my books.

I write my blogs as a way of cementing my ‘author brand’. Although I must admit that I hate that term — ‘author brand’. It makes me sound like a packet of breakfast cereal or some such thing on a supermarket self. But in today’s publishing industry, it’s a reality. Authors need to get out there and create a brand and be recognisable, so that each time they bring out a new book, people will know about it… and hopefully buy it.

Branding aside (god, now I have an image of corralled authors being herded like cattle), I actually enjoy writing my blogs. I like inflicting my opinions on an unsuspecting blogosphere. And there’s no editor telling me what I can or can’t say… which is not necessarily a good thing, but it is liberating.

As for the guest posts… they are usually specifically focussed on promoting a particular book or series of books. So, as well as my post on Goldie’s site, other recent guest posts that I’ve written, have all been about my Gamers books and, in particular, the latest one, Gamers’ Challenge. Want a couple of examples? Of course you do…

I’ve written about setting novels within virtual worlds for Ian Irvine’s blog.

I’ve written about book trailers for Ripping Ozzie Reads.

I’ve written about letting my imagination run wild for ReadPlus.

Etc, etc…

And, of course, I’ve hosted guest posts from other authors here on Literary Clutter. Recent visiting authors have included Ian Irvine, Sean McMullen, Simon Hayes and JE Fison.

Is all this blogging actually helping authors? You know, I have absolutely no idea. I know that people are reading my blogs (In fact, I’ve got stats apps that are telling me exactly how many people.). But I don’t know if my blogging has helped me to sell any more books. Do people who read my blogs also read my books? I’ve no way of knowing.

So, why do I keep doing it?

Well, for the time being I’m enjoying it. And so long as I’m enjoying it, I’ll keep doing it. If it ever gets to be a chore; if it ever stops being fun — that’s when I’ll stop. In the meantime, you’ll just have to put up with me. 😉

Catch ya later,  George

PS. Follow me on Twitter


Check out my DVD blog, Viewing Clutter.

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Goldie Alexander’s book, The youngest Cameleer brings to life the exploration to the interior led by William Gosse in 1873. She has based her story on Gosse’s own journal.

Goldie has chosen to tell this story from the point of view of 13 year old Ahmed Ackbar, the youngest cameleer who has to cope with homesickness and the perils of the expedition.

He is also grieving for his father who died in mysterious circumstances that Ahmed is determined to get to the bottom of. Ahmed suspects that his father’s brother, Uncle Kamran was involved, an added uncertainty he must deal with on the trip.

Goldie Alexander blends fact and story seamlessly in The youngest Cameleer to create a fascinating work of historical fiction that both informs and entertains.

She also captures the unpredictability of the Australian wilderness.

“It being close to dusk, we were trekking along a dry riverbed when I heard the sound of rushing water. I ran to where the bed takes a sharp turn. To my astonishment a stream of frothing brown water was heading straight at me. Meanwhile up ahead came cries of ‘Watch out! Flood’!”

Ahmed is an engaging character and the reader is introduced to his Muslim lifestyle and the cultural differences of the participants of the expedition.

There was also plenty to learn about camels and the way they live and how their bodies have adapted to the harsh environment in which they live.

The youngest Cameleer is told in diary form with Ahmed giving all kinds of details of the trip and his experiences.

“The nights are so cold, I wear my pakal and my coat, and even then I’m half-frozen.”

As the expedition continues so does Ahmed’s story and when he confronts uncle Kamran about his father’s death, the truth is not what he expected.

The youngest Cameleer is a book for readers who enjoy history and adventure. It is published by Five Senses Education. Teachers’ Notes are available on Goldie’s website www.goldiealexander.com


Goldie and the youngest cameleer

Goldie Alexander is a versatile Australian author of books for kids and teens. She has written both fiction and non-fiction, chapter books and novels, and everything from science fiction to historical fiction. Her latest book is a YA historical novel, The Youngest Cameleer, and she joins us today to provide a little insight into the writing of fictionalised history.

Creating characters from history
By Goldie Alexander

Until very recently history had fallen out of favour and it’s a pleasure to see it once again become important. The challenge is to make history less dull. One way is to use fiction as a means of transporting the reader back into the past. For an author this means creating convincing settings, characters and dialogue that are totally different to one’s own experience.

In Mavis Road Medley a ‘time warp’ novel for young readers, my two contemporary youngsters find themselves in the Princes Hill of 1933 at the end of the Great Depression. In My Australian Story: Surviving Sydney Cove I invented a thirteen year old girl convict in the Sydney of 1790, when terrible hardships prevailed and the First Fleet felt cut off from the rest of the world. In Body and Soul: Lilbet’s Romance I took on the voice of a disabled eighteen year old living in Melbourne just before the outbreak of World War Two.

My most recent fiction The Youngest Cameleer has been one of my greatest challenges as I took on the personae of a 14-year-old Moslem. A lesser known exploration into the interior was led by William Gosse in 1873.  The various members of this exploration (both European and Afghan) did exist and my story is based on Gosse’s own journal and often using his own words. This expedition was the first non-indigenous group to stumble across Uluru.  Without the use of the Afghan cameleers they might never have survived the harsh conditions they encountered.  Some cameleers even lent their name to well know landmarks: Kamran’s Well. Alannah Hill.

My intention was to bring this expedition to life. In late 1872 Ahmed sails into the prosperous city of Adelaide to help look after four camels. But he has other things on his mind. What if his uncle Kamran isn’t as innocent of his brother’s death as he seems? As the expedition treks into the interior, Ahmed must cope with Jemma Khan’s enmity, his own homesickness, and the difficulties of exploring unknown territory.

If we don’t have Aboriginal ancestors, we are all migrants. My parents came from Poland in the late twenties. Our great migrant waves have occurred at various times: during the gold-rush, straight after World War Two, and in the seventies when the ‘boat people’ arrived. Given the current political climate, it is good to recall that Afghans have been responsible for opening up this vast continent and that without their camels the task would have been harder than it already was.

George’s bit at the end

My thanks to Goldie for sharing her insights into writing characters for historical fiction. For more info about her and her writing, check out her website.

And tune in next time to fine out how JE Fison went from being a television news reporter to a children’s author.

Catch ya later,  George

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Goldie Alexander’s Hedgeburners: An A-Z PI Mystery was inspired by Enid Blyton’s ‘Famous Five’ and she decided to write a contemporary version.

The book is loosely based on a series of actual crimes committed in the recent past where a series of old hedges was burned down by a gang.

The story is told from the point of view Zach Santisi, the reluctant helper of budding detective Anna Simpson.

Anna will stop at nothing to find the truth. Zach is a little less zealous. He’s not into mysteries so much and if he doesn’t get his homework done, he’s at risk of having his beloved breeding birds confiscated.

Zach and Anna are joined in their quest by Zach’s pet rat M, Brett the nerdy journalist and Ruby who wants to be a famous wrestler. It’s the characters and their quirks that add humour to the story.

The problem Zach and Anna face is that just about everyone they come across has a motive and as time goes by, more fires occur and Zach and Anna put themselves in ever increasing danger.

The young detectives are aged 13 and this book will appeal to children aged 10-12 with an interest in mysteries and adventure who enjoy plot twists and turns, and trying to work out whodunnit.

The underlying issues between the adults in the story add another layer to the plot and pave the way for class discussion on a number of topics.

The text is complimented by the clever and lively illustrations of Marjory Gardner. www.marjorygardner.com/

Goldie Alexander is the author of over 60 fiction and non fiction books for adults and children of all ages. You can find out more about her at www.goldiealexander.com


Goldie Alexander became a professional writer after 25 years of teaching English and History in secondary schools.

She was  commissioned to write 4 YA novels for the ‘Dolly’ imprint, dealing with contemporary issues that were important to teenage girls eg body image, education, acceptance by one’s peers etc etc.

I asked Goldie, “What do you enjoy most about being a writer?”

Being forced to use my imagination when I create interesting characters and then the plotting. There’s the sheer happiness of working as hard and long as I feel like without having a boss breathing over my shoulder. The downside is far less money.

What is the hardest thing about being a writer?

Finding an appropriate publisher for a particular book and then marketing that book.

What is your greatest writing achievement?

Others would say it’s my historical account of the First Fleet ‘My Australian Story: Surviving Sydney Cove” which is now in its 10th edition with a brand new cover. I think that still having passion for my craft and still being published after so many years rates as my major achievement.


Persistence is everything. Be aware that writing is one part inspiration and 99% perspiration. Edit! Edit! Edit!


Hedgeburners: An A~Z PI Mystery was inspired by Goldie’s love as a child of Enid Blyton’s ‘Famous Five’.

I decided it was time to write a contemporary version. I had already published 2 adult mysteries UNJUST DESSERTS and UNKIND CUT so I had a fair idea of how to go about it.

Hedgeburners: An A~Z PI Mystery was loosely based on a series of actual crimes committed in the recent past, this suspense-filled detective book with a difference poses the question:  Who is setting fire to the old cypress hedges? Anna Simpson insists that her best friend Zach Santisi help her find the culprits. Just about everyone these 13yo detectives come across has a motive, and as time goes on there are more and more fires and more serious confrontations.

Hedgeburners: An A~Z PI Mystery is a humorous story exploring hobbies that kids enjoy eg Zach who tells the story is mad about animals. He keeps cats, dogs, gold fish, breeds budgies and chooks and never gets around to completing his homework.


Zach and Anna are best friends, but it is Anna who wants to find the arsonist and she forces Zach to help her.  They are joined by Ruby who wants to be a famous wrestler, Brett, a nerdy journalist and of course M, Zach’s rat. Each helps bring the criminals to justice.

Goldie’s says that the thing she enjoyed most about writing this book was creating the characters.

I loved my characters. Because there are five I could makes them quite disparate and have them reflect lots about kids I know and meet.

What was the hardest thing about writing this book?

Finding an interesting crime that didn’t involve murder or anything I considered unsuitable for young readers. Then making the whodunnit not emerge until the very end. I had to use lots of red herrings.

You can find out more about Goldie at her website www.goldiealexander.com Teachers Notes for all her books can also be found here.