Lest we forget – ANZAC children’s book reviews

And the Band Played Waltzing MatildaA couple of months ago I revisited an iconic song by Eric Bogle, finding new breath in Bruce Whatley’s picture book, And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda. Bogle found the words and Whatley the images that profoundly capture all the raw emotion, loss and resilience that epitomises the Great War of 100 years ago.

This collection of titles does the same. All commemorate actual events of WWI. Many embrace the incredible ANZAC legacy. Each is a significant work of art and testimony to real-life heroes who gave their youth, their souls, and tragically, their lives in the quest to protect sovereignty and country.ANZAC Ted Hero Plain as Day

‘Not everyone wins medals, some heroes never do’, but this small collection deserves your attention as absolutely as those we’ll be commemorating during the 100th year Anniversary of World War One (and the Centenary of the Landing of Gallipoli this year). Because they should be remembered.

Ride Ricardo RideAs the war first erupted in Europe, so we begin with the picture book, Ride, Ricardo, Ride! by Phil Cummings and Shane Devries. A young Italian boy’s love for riding his bike under the clear quiet skies of his village is shattered when the shadows of war appear. Devries’ splendid illustrations saturate the pages of Cummings haunting tale of human endurance. Evoking eloquence and beauty out of destruction and despair.

Omnibus Books March 2015

1915Mid-primary reader series, Australia’s Great War landed last year with Sophie Masson’s, 1914 and is followed this year by Sally Murphy’s, 1915. Each honour events specific to that time in history in spirited, easy to read novels that unite an absorbing mosaic of factual occurrences with engaging fictional characters typical of that era. Thoroughly engrossing with further releases due each year until 1918, this series provides an awesome framework for primary students to become intimately acquainted with the machinations and characters of the First World War.

Scholastic Press 1914 – 1918

the-last-anzacOur oldest living ANZAC, Alec Campbell may no longer be able to march but the true-life story of his meeting with a young boy a year before his death is perceptively depicted in Gordon Winch’s picture book, The Last ANZAC. Alec ‘the kid’ Campbell’s encounter with James, is faithfully portrayed with the help of Harriet Bailey’s expressive illustrations, alternating back and forth from the deserts of Cairo and trenches of Gallipoli to present day suburbia. Ideal for the expanding minds of 5 – 7 year-old history scholars. Visit Romi’s full review, here.

New Frontier Publishing March 2015

ANZAC Ted and Belinda ANZAC Ted is the debut picture book of author illustrator, Belinda Landsberry and encompasses two of my great loves: teddy bears and beautiful picture books for kids.

Landsberry uses gorgeous water coloured illustrations to complement a gently rhyming tale of a little boy’s beloved toy. But, Ted is a teddy bear of rather diminished appeal having survived the ANZAC campaign with the little boy’s digger grandfather. Worn, torn, and scary looking, he may score zero cute and cuddly points in the Toy Show at school but he is and was the unsung hero and much cherished mascot of the Gallipoli diggers who more than earns a place in this little boy’s heart. ANZAC Ted gets my vote too. Perfect for reading aloud with someone you cherish or soaking up the atmospheric sepia illustrations alone.

EK Books 2014

The ANZAC PuppyThe Anzacs of course included the New Zealander’s so it is only fitting that popular Kiwi author, Peter Millet and illustrator Trish Bowles are able to share their remarkable picture book story based on another real life war hero, Freda.

The ANZAC Puppy is a tender rendition of the interwoven lives of Lucy, WWI solider, Sam and Freda, a harlequin Great Dane puppy who grew into a loyal and much loved good-luck mascot of the New Zealand Rifle Brigade 5th Battalion. Sam’s tale brought tears to my eyes and will warm the cockles of your heart. It parallels ANZAC Ted in many ways thanks to the stirring sensitivity the creators use to express these tales of nostalgia. My primary-schooler is always a bit dubious about reading ‘another wartime story’. Thankfully, picture books like ANZAC Ted and The ANZAC Puppy have assured her that not all conflict ends in tears and heartache.

Scholastic NZ Mach 2014

My GallipoliThe majority of these Anzac tales will suit primary aged readers. My Gallipoli by Ruth Starke and Robert Hannaford is an exceptional picture book with more sweeping appeal.

This phenomenal, clothbound presentation marries fictional characters with direct accounts in an epistolary chronological description of the months immediately before the first landing at ANZAC Cove to the Allied retreat in 1915, then onto to present day commemoration ceremonies.

Starke is genius at capturing the moment even if it did take place a hundred years ago. She masterfully connects the reader to all those touched by the doomed campaign to capture the Dardanelles: the diggers, their families, the Turkish countrymen, the nurses, the COs and, the war correspondents. First person recollections plunge us into their places of battle and pain with powerful precision. Hannaford’s  fine charcoal, watercolour, and gauche portraits anchor their thoughts with tangible identities.

My Gallipoli reaffirms the futility of war but also underlines the courage, the tenacity and the hope that were crucial to the survival of thousands of men (and women) at that time.Each page, each Gallipoli recollection is a complete superb story unto itself.

My Gallipoli is a picture book of substantial implications for students of history and art and a glorious record of our inglorious past. My pick for in depth and animated Centenary discussion.

Working Tile Press March 2015

 

 

Meet Jane Austen’s Little Sister

Who better to introduce modern tweens to the minefields that are love and romance than Jane Austen’s little sister, Jenna Austen?

From an award-winning Australian children’s author writing under the pseudonym ‘Jenna Austen’ comes the perfect series for girls aged 9+ who have moved on from Harry Potter but aren’t quite ready for Twilight yet.

romance-diariesParents will love the fact this series introduces their daughters to the works of Jane Austen; tween girls will love the diary format, great characters and sweet romance.

Protagonist Ruby is worried that her friends keep making the same mistakes when it comes to romance. Then she develops a theory: most girls go for either a ‘Jane Austen’ guy (funny, sweet, caring) or a ‘Jane Eyre’ guy (dark, brooding, serious) – when really they should be dating the exact opposite!

But when Ruby puts her theory practice, the results don’t exactly go to plan … And if she’s so smart about love, how come she can’t figure out who’s been sending her all the flirty emails and flowers?

About the author

‘Jenna Austen’ (aka award-winning author Sophie Masson) loves reading and writing. Especially the kinds of stories that end with happily-ever-afters. And she adores a good romance – she’s read EVERY Jane Austen novel ever written. She thinks Ms Austen is One of Greatest Writers To Have Ever Lived and used to wish that she was related to her. (She’s not – she checked!) But she doesn’t mind at all if people want to call her ‘Jane Austen’s Little Sister’…

Review – Ned Kelly’s Secret

It’s the Gold Rush in Australia – a time when bushrangers are rife and travellers, both local and international, are aplenty in the harsh buslands of northern Victoria and New South Wales. Young Hugo Mars and his wealthy Papa are on an intrepid voyage to Australia to research stories for a French magazine (edited by Jules Verne), when their coach is held up by none other than the infamous Harry Power – the gentleman bushranger.

Brave, smart and clever, Hugo Mars is as intrigued as his Papa by this odd, self-inflated bushranger – and this event is the catalyst for a series of incredible encounters that will take a curious 15-year-old boy into the lair of the Kelly gang and their infamous inlaws, the Quinns . . . but as a friend, not foe. It also take us through the plotting and eventual capture of Harry Power, and the convoluted associations that kept him in business so long.

This intriguing book does indeed hold a Ned Kelly secret – but even more than that, it holds close a tale of commitment to family, to betrayal and honour. Its central theme may be the power of friendship but its cleverly-crafted plot and insightful, fascinating relationships – all based on fact and factual characters – is multi-layered and richly rewarding.

Author Sophie Masson has herself admitted in her author’s notes that the aim of this book was not to laud Ned Kelly and his questionable career, but rather present an open-ended question about how, where and why, a smart, spirited, 15-year-old Ned Kelly (the juvenile bushranger) eventually turns from mere horse wrangler to murderer and questionable ‘hero’. Masson asks what the pressure of saving face and strong family ties plays in his downturn and eventual violent end – and Ned Kelly’s Secret indeed perfectly addresses this question through historical conjecture and with much diplomacy (and perhaps with a wee dram of tenderness).

I loved this book. Well-written, balanced, meticulously researched and with a cast of brilliant characters – mostly real but some imagined – I adored how Masson ran her foreign Hugo Mars character – a kid with enormous hope and promise – alongside his age-contemporary friend Ned, whose destiny was as sordid as his early days of crime. But did it really need to end this way? Is a life of crime really in the blood or is it driven by need, greed and betrayal by others? Could things have been different for young Ned Kelly?

This book makes you think, it makes you wonder. It opens your heart and it’s just all round great reading. I am only hoping Masson brings us another Kelly tale – perhaps this time about the fate of the remaining Kelly clan, whom she paints with sheer wonder.

Ned Kelly’s Secret is published by Scholastic.

Five Very Bookish Questions with author Sophie Masson

Which genre of children’s books do you like most and why?

I can’t just pick one genre: my top four are fantasy, adventure, history and mystery – and if these can be combined in the one book, that’s the best of all! I also love a little tingle of romance in the blend.

So here are some titles as example: the Harry Potter series; Northern Lights, (Philip Pullman – this is my top favourite of His Dark Materials series – the other two fall off considerably), The Hunger Games; Leon Garfield’s novels (especially Black Jack and Devil in the Fog), Alan Garner’s books, especially The Owl Service, the Narnia series, the Moomintroll books, Allan Campbell McLean’s The Hill of the Red Fox, Nicholas Stuart Gray’s The Stone Cage. And more. Lots more!

Which books did you love to read as a young child?

All the above (of course, excluding the modern titles), plus books of fairytales and myths: Roger Lancelyn Green’s Tales of the Greek Heroes, the Hamish Hamilton collections of stories of  fairies, dragons, mermaids, giants, etc, stories of King Arthur; all the Tintin books in English and French, plus heaps of French titles in abridged form, such as Michel Strogoff by Jules Verne, The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas and Capitaine Fracasse by Theophile Gautier.

Enid Blyton’s Famous Five and Secret Seven were big favourites (but I didn’t much like her school or fantasy series, for some reason.) I also loved Nancy Drew and Donna Parker mystery series.  I loved ghost stories too and scared myself silly reading them till late at night!

I also remember reading also lots and lots of random books I loved, such as James Thurber’s The 13 Clocks, Cynthia Harnett’s The Wool-Pack, Mary Mapes Dodge’s Hans Brinker or The Silver Skates.

Which three attributes make for a great children’s book?

All these books I’ve quoted have the right attributes: gripping stories, vivid characters, memorable voice. Pretty much the same attributes as for any great book full stop!

What is your number one tip for encouraging children to read?

Let them read what they want but don’t be afraid to introduce them to new things. And show them by example rather than lecture how exciting reading is!

Name three books you wish you’d written.

You mean, apart from Harry Potter? Black Jack by Leon Garfield. Northern Lights by Philip Pullman. The Seven Crystal Balls, by Herge.

About Sophie

Born in Indonesia of French parents, Sophie Masson came to Australia at the age of 5 and spent most of her childhood shuttling between France and Australia, an experience which underlies much of her work. She is the author of more than 50 books, mainly for children and young adults, published in Australia and internationally. Her recent historical novel for children, The Hunt for Ned Kelly, won the Patricia Wrightson Prize for Children’s Literature in the 2011 NSW Premier’s Literary awards. Her most recent novels are The Boggle Hunters (Scholastic), Moonlight and Ashes (Random House) and Ned Kelly’s Secret (Scholastic).

www.sophiemasson.org

 

Review – Moonlight and Ashes

Selena’s mother died some time ago. She lives with her father, a nobleman of deep emotional weakness, in a grand old house with her wicked stepmother and two self-absorbed stepsisters. She is virtually enslaved to her stepmother, spending her days cleaning, sewing, running errands and copping the humiliation of a life bound with emotional and physical slavery.

Sound familiar?

Moonlight and Ashes is indeed inspired by Cinderella, but the belly of this story not only touches on fairytales, it writhes in evil magic, steeps in human deception, glimmers with enchantment, and in matters of love – transcends life itself. Set in several towns and villages of the Faustine Empire (which author Sophie Masson says is based, in part, on the late 19th century Austro-Hungarian Empire), it follows the journey of Selena and a magical cast of characters – in search of freedom from oppression.

When Selena learns she is the last of the Moon Sister blood line – a line virtually wiped out by the all-powerful order of the Mancers, she knows she may now finally find the power to escape the misery of her life. Upon the announcement that the King of Ashberg will soon be holding a grand ball in honour of Crown Prince Leopold, Selena sets about finding her way to the ball where she meets not only the Prince but his bestie Maximilian von Gildenstein – a young man she is oddly drawn to.

The Prince, however, unnerves Selena, and there sets in motion an astonishing series of events that lead Selena to a Mancer prison, a magical escape, a kidnapping, a werewolf, a giant boatman, a magical hazel tree, a long journey, a timely meeting and a plot stuffed with sophisticated turns and twists and alleyways that gather up the reader and carry them forward to an uncertain end.

I adored the opening to this book. Masson paints a visual world so evocatively with her words, and indeed, as the book unfolds, this world becomes richer and more woven, as the plot careens towards an ending that will both surprise and delight. Faced with deceit, confusion, haunting memories – even murder – can Selena set herself and her friends free? And will she snag the prince and live happily ever after?

Moonlight and Ashes is published by Random House