Review: Sweet Adversity

Assimilating history into a palatable, meaningful tale for today’s children is no easy thing. Get it wrong and you risk children shunning not only a potentially great read, but learning about periods of our past that explain the character of our future as a people and a nation. A situation of unquestionable adversity, yet adversity has many advantages – ‘sweet are the uses of adversity’ after all. Get it right, and children will embrace history with gusto and every ounce of the here and now vigour that defines childhood.

Sheryl Gwyther’s ability to immerse young readers into worlds of yesteryear with such a clear strong presence of today is exemplary. Her narrative slides along as alluringly as a sweet mountain brook, mesmerizing readers with plenty of action and emotion. Sweet Adversity is exactly the type of book my 12-year-old-self would have lapped up with unbridled zeal, especially as it acquaints children with the wondrous words of Shakespeare, some of which adult readers will connect with of course, but which provide a beautiful rich new seam of learning for tweens.

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Show Books

Very Hungry CaterpillarIt’s holiday time so some shows based on outstanding children’s books are currently being performed in Sydney and surrounds, as well as in other cities around Australia.

A highlight is The Very Hungry Caterpillar (Penguin), a production created around four books by Eric Carle: The Very Hungry Caterpillar, of course, The Artist Who Painted a Blue Horse – my new favourite, The Very Lonely Firefly and Mister Seahorse. Literature is celebrated in the performance and the backdrop is an actual book with turning pages. The show will also be playing in Melbourne and Brisbane and will tour in 2016 if successful. Judging by the sell-out Sydney season, this will not be an issue.Blue Horse

Along with a couple of others, I am writing teacher notes about the play which will be available via a website linked to the show soon. This is a great opportunity to read and re-read Eric Carle’s stunning picture books. The production is excellent. The children (and adults) in the audience were besotted.

A second book-related show is The Gruffalo. This loved picture book by Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler about a mouse in the woods has been playing around Australia.

GruffaloAs well as reading the book itself, this is an opportune time to read other books by this creative team, including The Gruffalo’s Child, Tiddler, The Snail and the Whale, Stick Man, Superworm and their most recent collaboration, The Scarecrows’ Wedding (Scholastic).

The Scarecrow’s Wedding is quite a sophisticated tale about a scarecrow couple, Betty O’Barley and Harry O’Hay who wish to marry but suave Reginald Rake interrupts their plans. It will also be enjoyed by Aaron Blabey’s legion of fans.Scarecrows Wedding

Another production inspired by a picture book is Kit Williams’ Masquerade. Unfortunately this 1978 book is only available second-hand. An enterprising publisher should re-publish it. Playwright Kate Mulvany was enthralled and comforted by this book when she was a child suffering from cancer. It is playing now at the Sydney Opera House and will be in Adelaide for the Festival and elsewhere, no doubt. I can’t wait to see it soon.

RabbitsGood luck getting tickets for The Rabbits Opera, based on the book by John Marsden and Shaun Tan (Lothian/Hachette Australia), with music composed by the brilliant Kate Miller-Heidke and libretto by Lally Katz. The Rabbits will play in Perth and Melbourne this year. Hopefully it travels further.

Where is Rusty? by Dutch author-illustrator, Sieb Postuma (Gecko Press) is about a curious young dog lost in a department store. It has aired overseas as theatre and television and is currently available as a picture book. Its themes of hiding, searching and safety are ideal for young explorers.

Another book recently published by exciting Gecko Press, although we perhaps don’t want to think about this subject quite yet, is I don’t want to go to school! by Stephanie Blake.I Don't Want to go to School

Boldly illustrated in bright colours and with some comic panels, this is a quirky, heart-warming story about starting school. And this diverts us to the many wonderful Australian and other books on this important topic, beginning with Starting School by Jane Godwin and Anna Walker (Viking/Penguin), the classic Starting School by the Ahlbergs and my evergreen favourite, First Day by Margaret Wild and Kim Gamble (Allen & Unwin).

First Day

Review – Fallout by Sadie Jones

9780701188511I am a massive Sadie Jones fan. The Outcast was a debut from a writer of the highest calibre that could easily stand up to comparisons to Ian McEwan. Small Wars only confirmed this but The Uninvited Guests didn’t connect with me. So there was a little trepidation before I started reading her new book. Completely unnecessary trepidation because not only was this the Sadie Jones I loved, this was Sadie Jones at her absolute best.

The novel is set in and around the world of London theatre in the early 1970s. Luke Kanowski is a young playwright destined for big things. Big things not possible until he meets Paul Driscoll and Leigh Radley. Their friendship allows Luke to put his turbulent past behind him and introduces him to the fringes of the London theatre scene. Together they look set to change the world.

Interspersed with Luke, Paul and Leigh’s story is Nina Jacobs. The daughter of a failed actress she is bullied into the same career. Her marriage to a producer supplements her mother’s cruelty. When her life intersects with Luke their affair threatens to consume everything and everyone.  And the world Luke is set to change threatens to shatter completely

This is a wonderfully constructed novel that unfolds like a play. Each character is so vividly drawn especially Luke whose internal and external emotional confusion ricochets around everybody he meets. It is an intense novel of friendship and a deeply passionate love story. But it is also deceptively volatile keeping you enthralled until the very last words on the page.

Sadie Jones is an author like no other. The Outcast reminded me a lot of Ian McEwan but she is well beyond that now. I may not have liked her last book but that means nothing. Great writers should always strive to be different and take their craft where they see fit and The Uninvited Guests resonated with many other readers. Her new novel though is simply sublime and I am over the moon that she has reaffirmed, for me, her immense talent.

Buy the book here…