June 14 2019

Dyslexia-friendly books

It’s great to see publishers and libraries responding to the needs of the community – currently including in their collection new books catering to readers with dyslexia.

I came across this at my local library recently – a display of books which were published to meet the needs of those who struggle to read due to dyslexia. Using a special font and layout, the books are part of a trial collection of dyslexia-friendly titles.

As seen here, they include some newer Adult Fiction releases, and JF & YA fiction too (e.g. Catching Teller Crow, reviewed here earlier, and one of the CBCA Shortlisted books for 2019). You can view a list of titles on the BMCC catalogue – completing a search for “dyslexia-friendly books” will provide the list.

Do you know anyone who would benefit from this idea? Maybe even try one of these books yourself, if it meets your need?

It is being trialled at the Blue Mountains Council Libraries. Obviously, it would be great for the library to have some feedback – especially so that they can meet any expected demand for these titles! (just be aware that the books are a little thicker than some, due to layout demands, but they still hold some wonderful stories…)

I wonder how many other local libraries are likely to try this out themselves? Maybe ask at your local library if BMCC is not near you? Spread the word!

Note: Blacktown City libraries also have dyslexia-friendly titles, including PRC titles.

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May 2 2019

Lenny’s Book of Everything

Lenny has a younger brother, who after a while isn’t really her little brother any more – since he “has a condition” and won’t stop growing. This becomes a challenge for Lenny, her mother and of course, Davey – especially as he nears school age.

In many ways, mum Cynthia is in denial, even though she has had “dark heart feelings” about Davey’s future right from the time of his birth. Thus, Lenny tries her best to understand and cope with the other complications of their family situation – neglectful absent father, remote Nanny Flora and hardworking mum, Cynthia, all while being a normal kid.

Like most families, they have their own quirkiness and ways to get on. Davey and Lenny love to imagine travel together. They long to get away to create a kinder world of freedom and adventure for their family.

A weekly delivery of the Burrell’s Build-It-at-Home Encyclopedia feeds their urges for discovery and creates an interesting side story. The kids absorb the facts voraciously (Lenny is obsessed with beetles and Davey with eagles), while mum fights to claim her winning free subscription to the encyclopedia.

A kindly neighbour, Mrs Gaspar, helps out by caring for the siblings while mum works multiple jobs. What an interesting character she is! Along with Mrs Gaspar, several significant others pop into their lives (including a love interest for mum; a long lost relative for Lenny…).

There has been great praise for this title, including this quote from author Melina Marchetta:

A beautiful read. I savoured every word and loved every character… such a big heart and not a beat out of place.

Lenny is searching – for her father, for a family connection, for meaning in her life beyond the day to day trials and challenges of Davey’s “condition”. These feelings could be part of any child’s life. With characters full of life and ideals, this story of both triumphs and heartaches will be enjoyed by many.

And did you notice the amazing cover? Have a look at it again once you have finished reading it!

What do you think of Lenny’s choices?

Is she a good sister?

Was it right for her to keep secrets from Lenny?

# Awards/nominations  for ‘Lenny’s Book of Everything’ to date (May 1 2019) :

Longlisted Book of the Year for Younger Children, ABIA Awards 2019 AU;

Shortlisted Best Book for Older Readers, CBCA Awards 2019 AU;

Award Winner Best Children’s Book, Indie Book Awards 2019 AU

April 2 2019

CBCA Shortlist 2019

The Children’s Book Council of Australia recently announced the awards shortlist for 2019.

A great selection, as usual – though there remains a lot of fabulous books on the Notables list you could investigate, too.

 

Which of the titles do you rate as the best? Which one deserves the Book of the Year Award? Have you found them in your school or local library yet?

Note, these below are YA titles. Titles in other categories can be seen here: Shortlist for 2019.

Winner and Honour Books will be announced at noon AEST on Friday, 16 August.

In the meantime, consider which one you like best, and which one reflects the Book Week theme: “Reading is My Secret Power” – in what way can reading be YOUR secret power?

March 22 2019

A thousand perfect notes

Beck’s life has always been routine – music practice – school – music practice – nothing more – nothing less. No time for friends or other activities – the Maestro wouldn’t allow it.

His only other ‘allowed’ distraction is taking his little sister to and from day-care, as his mother is too distracted to deal with anyone outside the family.

Things come to a head as the Maestro prepares Beck for a major performance, at the same time as Beck becomes reluctant friends with August, who takes an interest in Beck. As Beck tries to deal with the violence of the Maestro, and her expectations to make a music prodigy, he struggles to work out his own needs and where his ability truly lies.

Beck closes his eyes. Forgets. Zones out so far he reaches the place deep inside where his own music lies. Little notes clamouring to be free. His own notes. His own creations. His fingers tap a tattoo against his other clammy palm. If people cut him open, they’d never accuse him of being empty. He’s not a shell of a pianist – he’s a composer. Cut his chest and see his heart beat with a song all his own.

‘A Thousand Perfect Notes’ portrays Beck’s struggle with his own ability, the expectations of others, the fulfillment of dreams and the conflicts of family loyalty. At what point did he have the right to stand up against the Maestro? And what would be the consequences for his family? Who’s dreams should he follow? 

# What would you do in this situation? Who’s dreams and aspirations do you want to follow?

## How do you think this compares to ‘Everything I never told you’ – in terms of meeting the expectations of others?

March 18 2019

Reading: shared in a digital space

How do you share what you love (or hate) about a book you have read? What if your family and friends don’t have the same love for the particular genre or author you like to read? How do you get your recommendations?

Of course, you may be lucky to rely on your school librarian, local public librarian or your local bookshop owner, since these people are usually avid readers with lots to share! However, the digital age also presents book-sharing communities that are readily available when these people are not.

These communities include GoodReads and LibraryThing. Both offer the ability to not only track what you read and enjoy, but also the opportunity to connect with other readers who may have the same interests or reading tastes.

You can simply browse for titles (based on authors, titles, genres and more*) or participate by logging what you read, rating books and writing simple (or extended reviews). You can link up with people you know, or follow those who seem to like the same books or have a similar purpose to your own. Once you have logged a few titles, GoodReads and LibraryThing will provide recommendations for your next book.

Checking these recommendations, or reading the varied reviews of others, can also help you decide whether you want to pick up the latest book by Jack Heath or Margaret Atwood, or help you discover someone new. Remember, not everyone likes the same book, so there are sometimes interesting and contrasting discussions to dissect.

Why not give it a try, and maybe encourage a few friends also, to be able to share what you are reading in a safe known group? Then look for other friends or acquaintances with similar tastes to your own. You may even get the chance to ‘Ask the Author’ questions, or participate in a special discussion event – all related to your own specific likes and dislikes. Do it on your laptop, tablet or phone as apps easily available. What have you got to lose?

What other avenues do you use to share and find reading recommendations?

* Other things include reading lists, giveaways, new releases, interviews and GoodReads choice awards.

** You can always browse this LibraryThing, JustNew, which shows how you can list your own bookshelves/reading, and the app offers. (You can change it to look at cover images to browse over 900 titles…) Then, why not setup up your own!

March 11 2019

Be proud of who you are…

When we first meet Rob in ‘A Song Only I Can Hear’, he is shy, uncertain of himself, and in the throes of first love. He has a few significant people in his life, but not many friends. And a bully lingers at school.

Fortunately, he has a fun, if quirky, family – one which many readers will relate to. Then again, how much help is a fat, balding dad with bad dance moves, and a mum who always sides with the school when things go awry? Even his grandfather, who swears like a trooper, doesn’t seem to understand him. So apart from his friend Andrew, how much help is anyone?

Initially, Rob’s main concern is to win the heart of Destry, but how can he do it? Suggestions come his way in a series of mysterious text challenges from someone anonymous (not surprising since he only has about 4 contacts on his phone).

As the texts come in, Rob grows a little with each challenge, while curious to find out who they are from.

Though Rob’s decisions aren’t always perfect or met with the desired result or applause (with some comical episodes), it is mostly fun experiencing his journey. There are also moments to reflect on – and tears to shed, and as Jonsberg brings this tale to an end, have your tissues handy.

While the anonymous texter challenges Rob to take action, a twist in the story also challenges the reader and what they believe, in a moving and surprising novel about family, love and identity. You might, like me, think you need to reread it at the end.

How well do we know those around us?

What things do they struggle with?

How often do we judge others we don’t really know?

What more should we try to know about our own families?

 

## One of the Indie Book Award Winners for 2019!

See more about the Indie Awards for 2019 here.

March 6 2019

Missing by Sue Whiting

What would you do if one of your parents went missing while overseas? Unfortunately, as author Sue Whiting notes over 38,00 people are reported missing in Australia each year – and “roughly 1600 are considered long term missing”.

Mackenzie’s mother could be one of these statistics, after failing to make contact with family and friends while working overseas in the jungles of Panama. Distraught after a length of time, her father decides to take the search into his own hands, and in the dark of night, he and Mackenzie leave home.

What happens as a result of this impulsive move, rushed and without informing anyone, creates a tricky adventure for Mackenzie.  However, she becomes strong and determined, while being rightly cautious in some circumstances. What she holds back from others seems to make her stronger in her search for clues, while unusual circumstances begin to provide clues of her mother’s whereabouts.

In some parts, what Mackenzie is able to achieve is questionable (how old is she really – #12/13 0r older?), but it is easy to be swept away in this puzzling tale – so that you suspend the sort of questions and let the story roll out. All the while you keep hoping for her to be successful in her search, but there is always a lingering doubt.

‘Missing’ is great tale of family love and desperation, trust and wariness – all based on the true concerns for those who go missing from families year after year around the globe. Clearly, Mackenzie loves her mum and shares many strong interests with her (which are important in the story), so it a quite an emotional ride, even right to the end.

Whiting explains here why she wrote such an emotional tale:

 

There is no denying that Missing was a tough story to write and a sad one to read, but I believe it is also an important one. Because it is as much a story about resilience and human endurance as it is about grief and loss. And it’s a story to remind us of the human faces and personal tragedies behind the statistics.

To what extremes would you go to find a missing loved one? Would you be able to match Mackenzie’s efforts?

Are you aware of how important it is to stay in touch? How do we guard our personal safety?

[# I think the story would have worked better if she was older. Some of the initial setting talks about her just finishing primary school.]

February 28 2019

Google It! A history of Google

Can you remember a time without Google? Older readers will remember when research could only be done using books and/or accessing a library. Times before you could easily find out the answer to a puzzling trivia question or idea, by tapping it into your smartphone or tablet… Times when information wasn’t so instantaneously* available (though now I can check the spelling of that word*). It really wasn’t that long ago – but it did involve quite an extensive process to get where we are now in the Information Age.

Thanks to the determination and efforts of Larry Page and Sergey Brin, two Stanford University students, we now have a multinational technology company which has changed the way many of us now research – for both facts and fun.

Google It has the subtitles ‘A history of Google’ and ‘How two students’ mission to organize the internet changed the world’. And in its 230 pages, you will find details of:

How Larry and Sergey first met (and how didn’t really get on at first)

What they ultimately had in common

The initial project which started it all

The primitive beginnings of Google

What it took to get things going

And the transformations of the Google juggernaut over the years.

The book is written in an easy-going language, with inserts here and there to explain ideas and details (like footnotes and callout illustrations). Some of these inserts are interesting, but can also be a little distracting. However, the Google story is easily absorbed.

There are reminders of how we used to do things, and how we do things now:

Imagine this: you get into a car for a road trip . You’ve got your playlist, your bestie, some snacks and a book on how to get there. Yes, a book of maps. Printed. Paper. Maps. (From Google It, p. 148)

Now- Google Maps

Regardless of what you think of the Google machine, a great theme flowing through this book is how ideas and sacrifice overcame the necessary failures for its gradual development and success. The importance of these elements show that, for Larry Page and Servey Brin, academic qualifications were less critical than their own intellectual drive and determination. An interesting concept. A story worth reading.

Warning, Google It does present the positive glossy side of Google and its evolution. While I was pleased to see its beginnings were actually rooted in making “the credibility of a web page just as citiation validated research” (p.19), we still need to evaluate Google results, and also have to consider some of the negative impacts of Google.

What do you think? Read it and see.

(My copy was available from BMCC library A Kindle version is also available from Amazon.)

February 24 2019

Present and past entwined – Catching Teller Crow

Catching Teller Crow is an intriguing mystery, told in two voices through poetry and story.

Sixteen-year-old Beth begins the tale, introducing her death and the need to look out for her father since the accident. He is the only one who can see her (she is a ghost), and she hopes to be able to help him move on with his life. She is also there to help him work through mysterious happenings in their home town, in an effort to get him back to police work.

In crime story tradition, events and clues are revealed gradually, and both Beth and her father have differing interpretations of what they mean.

Some clues are provided by strange revelations from Isobel Catching, who is the second voice in the novel. Her voice differs from Beth’s. Using poetic form creates a wariness in her character and at times implies a reluctance to help solve the mystery.#

Authors, Ambelin and Ezekiel Kwaymullina, have created an enthralling, though somewhat disturbing novel, which reflects some of Australia’s past attitudes and actions. The main characters (Beth, Catching and Crow) are Aboriginal, and have each suffered due to that. However, themes of love and family, along with their spiritual beliefs are also strong in the story. When they finally bond together, they become strong together.

A ghost story as well as a psychological thriller, Catching Teller Crow seamlessly weaves together the poetic and everyday life – Justine Larbalestier

Catching Teller Crow goes straight to the heart of Australia’s darkest history – Margo Lanagan

Sister and brother, Ambelin and Ezekiel Kwaymullina speak briefly here about the writing process, and their own personal need to tell their story – “We wanted the strength of those (past Aboriginal) generations to flow through the pages like a river.”

Catching Teller Crow is more than just a crime story. It reaches into the past, hoping to make an impact on the future. It will make you think – what really happened? who is to blame? and finally, who has suffered as a consequence?

Can Beth ultimately be able to let go?

How many similar episodes like this actually happened? 

# This poetic form wasn’t as obvious in the audio version of this book, though the different character voices were well defined by the narrator, Miranda Tapsell. A great option!

February 18 2019

Don’t Stop – playlists of life

Planning events these days will involve a playlist – that is, the significant songs that can be used during the event. Special songs for the wedding couple, meaningful songs for a birthday celebration, reminiscent songs for anniversaries. The Spotify generation can relate to this – and plan their playlist.

Stevie has a playlist her father left her – to deal with different days and different times – even though he wasn’t expecting to leave her life quite so soon. Her mother certainly didn’t expect that either – and Stevie has also ‘lost’ her too since she is severely depressed and unable to cope with daily life in any form – including caring for Stevie.

In another world, Hafiz was sent from his family – forced to flee as a refugee from Syria – and to leave his parents behind. Facing life without his parents (in a strange new country, in a new school), Hafiz finds some solace in Stevie’s isolation from others, when he first sits at his allocated desk, beside her, in homeroom.

Each has their own struggles, which slowly surface as they slowly expose different parts of their life to one another. And together, they find support.

Curham’s novel Don’t Stop Thinking about Tomorrow’ blossoms from the Fleetwood Mac song – as Stevie and Hafiz deal with the usual teen issues, along with their fragmented family lives. It is told alternatively by Stevie and Hafiz, giving two sides to the story. How these unlikely friends, cautious about sharing with others, ultimately work together (without romantic involvement) is what keeps you reading, and provides lots of food for thought.

What are your takeaways from this book?

Though it is set in England, would it easily transfer to an Australian setting?