Life has changed dramatically for Fin and his younger brother Max. Their dad has not returned home since he followed Kara, their step-mum, when she fled their house after a disagreement. Their mother is away in the city, looking into what has happened. One day life is normal, the next it is dark and desolate and desperate.
I read ‘The Sky So Heavy’ around the time of experiencing the bushfires in the Blue Mountains, and so readily identified with many aspects of the story:
- - the isolation which comes when normal communication lines is lost
- - the worry about friends and family in a time of chaos
- - the anxiety felt when you don’t know what is really going on in the community around you
Fortunately, however, I did not experience the ongoing loss of power and communication which occurs for Fin, Max and their neighbourhood. For them, the trauma lasts much longer and they are forced to seek out food, fuel and other options to keep themselves alive. Also unlike the bushfire experience, their community is not cohesive and caring, since people begin to fight for their own survival, food becomes scarce and knowledge of what is going on around them is limited.
Much of what I liked about the book had to do with its setting; so I spent a lot of time considering where things were taking place, enjoying Zorn’s descriptions, while trying to imagine the mountains community cloaked in a nuclear winter coat.
Her characters also rang true, without being over-the-top in their actions. They behaved in ways that I could accept teenagers under immense pressure might – brave though still children, caring for one another while still wanting care for themselves, strong at times of importance but soft enough to feel for the plight of others. Other readers might ponder if they would act the same in similar circumstances.
‘The Sky So Heavy’ makes you think about many things – including what it might be like to be thrust into nuclear devastation. As we consider what life must be like for those caught up in the ravages of Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines, it helps us think about what actions we might take to survive a global catastrophe, and what lengths we might go to for family and friends.
Posted by Linda J
on November 20th,2013 Debut novel
| tags: dystopia
Spending time reading catalogues and reading guides is a great way to take a breather between book reviews. It helps gather ideas about all the new books about. Unfortunately, it also increases the length of the list of books you really should read…
The ’2013-2014 Kids’ Reading Guide’ put out by the Australian Booksellers Association is a recent example of this. From the intriguing picture books, (which deal with fun infant concepts like learning the alphabet, and revisions of ‘This little piggy’), to the latest Anh Do book and classics retold – there is lots to capture the imagination of readers young and old.
Another fabulous addition to this particular catalogue is the inclusion of reviews by young readers – long enough to give you an idea of the story, but short enough not to give away the whole plot. It’s a great way to acknowledge young readers and get an insight into what they enjoy about the featured books – what attracted them and what they they think others might like about the book – and isn’t that what reviewing is all about?
There are several books within the guide that I plan to read, among others that I have read and recommended – e.g. to read: Gabrielle Wang’s ‘the Wishbird’, ‘Zac and Mia’ by A.J.Betts and ‘the Vanishing Moment’; and recommended: ‘the Sky so Heavy’ by Claire Zorn, and ‘the Kensington Reptilarium’ by Nikki Gemmell. There are also books by Andy Griffiths, Anh Do, Morris Gleitzman and John Flanagan which continue to be popular – many either as continuing series, or in familiar formats to older titles.
An additional bonus to this catalogue is the inclusion of illustrations from Shaun Tan’s latest book, ‘Rules of Summer’ which mix well with the multitude of book covers that readers have to choose from. So browse carefully, before you decide which delight to take home from your local Australian Bookseller.
N.B. For some great insights to the creative mind of Shaun Tan, visit ‘the Rules of Summer’ website
Posted by Linda J
on November 12th,2013 Catalogue
After much anticipation, the Man Booker Prize for 2013 has been announced. Awarded to New Zealand author, Eleanor Catton, for her second novel The Luminaries, it is only the second time for a New Zealand author to be so honoured. These novels might hold appeal for older students, teachers and parents – and past winners and nominees.
Other short-listed nominees included:
- A Tale for the Time Being - Ruth Ozeki (Canadian)
- Harvest - Jim Crace (English)
- The Lowland - Jhumpa Lahiri (Indian American)
- The Testament of Mary - Colm Toibin (Irish)
- We Need New Names – Noviolet Bulawayo (Zimbabwean)
About The Luminaries: set in 1866 during the New Zealand gold rush, contains a group of 12 men gathered for a meeting in a hotel and a traveller who stumbles into their midst; the story involves a missing rich man, a dead hermit, a huge sum in gold, and a beaten-up whore. There are sex and seances, opium and lawsuits in the mystery too. The multiple voices take turns to tell their own stories and gradually what happened in the small town of Hokitika on New Zealand’s South Island is revealed. – Source: http://www.themanbookerprize.com/news/and-winner#sthash.jKC62VHj.dpuf
As noted above, the shortlist included an array of writers with differing heritages, in an award which began as an annual celebration of the best novel written in English by a citizen of the British Commonwealth.
The tales which featured in this list also vary in time and place, including Catton’s setting in 1866 New Zealand, and Crace’s rural setting. Ozeki created a tale about a Japanese American in a post tsunami discovery, while Bulawayo takes her character from Zimbabwe to Detroit, and Toibin’s tale recounts the Gospel story from the point of view of Mary, mother of Jesus.
At 832 pages, the Luminaries is a large volume, (the longest winner, in fact) but one of the judges stated that:
“Length never poses a problem if it’s a great novel. The Luminaries is a novel you pan, as if for gold, and the returns are huge.” – See more at: http://www.themanbookerprize.com/news/and-winner#sthash.KUBveXaY.dpuf
Posted by Linda J
on October 16th,2013 Man Booker Prize
For a long time, they were left to their own devices – able to run wild and free in the Australian outback. Then, sadly for the Caddy children, they receive news that not only their father is missing, but also that they are to be transported to London to live with their uncle because of this.
As they discover, postwar London is a vastly different place to their homeland. Also vastly different is the response of their uncle to their arrival as his family. Four grubby, wild kids from the outback are not what the reclusive Uncle Basti expects to house and care for in his London abode.
Then again, Uncle Basti’s London abode is not exactly what the four grubby children expected either. The fact that it houses a personal collection of snakes and other reptiles in the heart of London is also quite surprising.
As kids from the outback, who have been very much left to their own devices since their mother passed away, Kick, Scruff, Bert and Pin are bold and united – characteristics which see them overcome their uncle’s initial rejection when he flees his house.
As you would imagine, Uncle Basti is quite eccentric. Most of the characters in Nikki Gemmel’s first children’s novel are. Kick, as the nominal mother to her siblings, is wild and unruly – and her appearance reflects this; her character strong and protective. Pin, as the baby of the family, brings the elements of innocence and need to which his brother and sisters respond. The middle children, Scruff (Ralph) and Bert (Albertina), round-out or square-up the family as needed, while they endeavour to make the most of their strange situation in London. They provide important support to Kick when it almost becomes to much for her.
Family is important. What family means to the Caddy children is clear – yet while they don’t clearly state it, an adult figure in their life would make it even better. Uncle Basti’s family, however, is mainly of the reptilian variety – but for how much longer?
Gemmell’s book is fun and curious. Uncle Basti’s house is full rooms with surprises and challenges – intriguing to the imagination of readers young and old. Parts of it remind me of tales like Lemony Snickett, Nanny McPhee and others; with struggles, conflict and the hope of a happy ending. After all, when will Uncle Basti stop changing his mind about whether they are able to stay with him or be sent to an orphanage? And what will become of Perdita, Uncle Basti’s pet cobra, and the rest of his reptile menagerie? And how will they be able to celebrate Christmas in a strange city in a time of post-war rationing without their dad?
In a letter about her book, Gemmell explained that she wrote this book initially for her children to draw them away from screens, and because “the flame of reading passion just wouldn’t ignite”. Did she succeed? Yes, they loved it and I am sure there could be many others who might just have that flame lit for them, as they tumble along with the Caddy kids in their Kensington Reptilarium adventure.
Tim Winton is passionate about writing. As a celebrated author who decided he wanted to be a writer at the age of ten, he is an inspiration for many writers. From a practical point of view, he has also encouraged young writers over the last 20 years having established an award for students in Western Australia.
Hatched is a collection of the award winners, celebrating 20 years of the Tim Winton Award.
In association with the Subiaco Library in his home state of Western Australia, and other sponsors, Tim has been actively encouraging students with the same passion for storytelling which he felt as a child:
‘It’s a great pleasure to see young people exercising their storytelling instincts. During the twenty years in which the award has been given in my name I’ve had the privilege of witnessing this stubborn, lovely impulse as it lives on in a new generation. Whether they’re writing feverish fantasy or gritty realism these young writers are coming to terms with their language and their lives, using stories to shape or unpack what they know and what they fear and what they hope for.’ Quote from: http://www.fremantlepress.com.au/books/newreleases/1370
Hatched includes a great range of stories, from students in middle primary through to upper secondary school, from 5 to 18 year olds. Tales cover many different things, told from the point of view of articulate young Australians. Weird and fanciful, down-to-earth reality, and out of this world concoctions of fertile young minds. Many tales are a reflection of the emotions and experiences of our youth, while others bear witness to their creative abilities.
Luckily, archives of past winning entries in 5 different age groups can also be viewed here.
What an amazing privilege for these young writers! And if their writing skills have continued to develop, what great hope there is for the future of storytelling in its various forms in Australia. Inspiring stuff!
One of the great values of ‘reading’ an audiobook occurs when there is a distinct accent that knits the story together. This is certainly the case for Unpolished Gem, which I have been enjoying recently on my way to work.
The story is the memoir of Alice Pung’s immigrant family – their heritage including past lives in Vietnam and in Cambodia under the regime of Pol Pot. Alice, now a successful writer and lawyer, recounts her impressions of life as a child living across two very different cultures in suburban Melbourne.
Her family arrives in Australia and is in awe of all it has to offer – so different from their homeland experiences, and indeed, so different from the current migrant experience. For them, the suburban streets, shops and government support systems provide so much. In fact, every day her grandmother blesses ‘Father Government’ for giving old people money.
As refugees from the Pol Pot regime, her parents have great expectations of their new homeland, not the least of which is the value of education for their family. The family works hard – her mother as an outworker, while her father eventually becomes a ‘business entreprenuer’ embracing the miracle of franchising.
Naturally, though they embrace the Aussie dream, theirs is tempered by many strong cultural ideals. Insights into the Chinese culture are given with snippets of family conversations revealing their thoughts on how things should be done, must be done, as Alice struggles at times to bridge both cultures.
Listening to Unpolished Gem was fun – to hear Chinese expression, and the repetition and patterns of stilted Chinglish. The frustrations and struggles of Alice’s childhood also feel very authentic in the audio version, as her voice switches from recounts of the things she needed to learn, and things she needed to help her parents (particularly her mother) understand. Pung also loves language and Unpolished Gem is full of quirky sayings, and vivid playful language, so also dipping into the physical book was immensely satisfying.
Published in 2006, Unpolished Gem received much acclaim, and I imagine it would be an interesting contrast to the refugee experience of today. With the authentic insights it gives of a cross-cultural childhood, it is an unforgettable story with moments of tenderness, humour and bittersweet struggles well worth revisiting.
In an interview Writers Talk, Pung reflects on her family, inspiration for writing the book and the migrant experience:
A great book for concepts of belonging, cultural identity or journeys. Or simply a great read!
Some writers are very prolific – with the ability to produce many engaging books in their lifetime. Morris Gleitzman is such an author, with over 30 books to his name.
Extra Time is his latest book, in which Gleitzman reverts back to his humorous style, (after his more intense real-life ‘Once’ series), looking into the world of soccer. Young readers will enjoy this one!
Bridie tells the story, beginning with an indication that there has been sadness in the life of their family. Now, both her and her older brother live a somewhat protected existence after a tragic car accident. This accident killed their twin brothers, resulted in pins in Matt’s legs, and lots of cotton-wooling from their parents. Bridie’s asthma is another thing which her parents worry about, which also causes a little bit of grief from time to time.
However, Matt still has exceptional soccer skills, in spite of the accident, and in many ways playing soccer is his life. His dedicated sister, Bridie, affirms this, as she sees herself as the future manager of his international soccer career. A confrontation with the bullies in his country town one day (which leads him into dire straits), sets a changed course for both Matt and Bridie when it is captured on TV cameras.
Gleitzman likes to write for children. And though Extra Time is a more humorous book, it also deals with some serious issues. Both Matt and Bridie struggle with the protectiveness of their parents, as shown by Bridie’s dream:
“There’s bubble wrap round my legs. And my arms. And my chest.
Matt’s not much better off. His soccer shirt and shorts are made of cotton wool.” p.25
When researching for the book, Morris also dug into the world of the Premier League and soccer scouts and talent searches. He considers the sacrifices of families for junior stars, and the impacts of this on family life.
“My main interest is taking stories into the places in life internally; in terms of emotion, in terms of hopes, dreams, fears, ambitions, that are most important to young readers… those most important aspects of the inner world are also most important aspects of adult’s inner world as well so we are talking about fairly universal stuff here. [though kid's life experiences are limited].” excerpt from an ABC interview at: http://blogs.abc.net.au/queensland/2013/07/morris-gleitzman.html
In Gleitzman’s usual style, there are some surprising situations Matt and Brydie find themselves in – including travel overseas with their uncle, Brydie making a spectacle of herself at a major soccer game and Matt playing soccer on a council estate with a professional player. Lots of fun and thought in this latest release, which will be enjoyed by soccer fanatics and fans of Morris Gleitzman alike.
If you would like a taste of Extra Time, follow this link where you can read the first chapter, or have it read to you by the author himself!
Source: SMH, September 12 2013
Accolades once again to Jackie French’s writing talents! She has been awarded the Young People’s History Prize at NSW Premier’s History Award for 2013.
Extraordinarily, Jackie had 2 chances to win, as 2 of her books were shortlisted for the prize – Pennies for Hilter and Dingo: The Dog Who Conquered a Continent. A third book, What are the Mysteries of Lake Mungo? by Timothy Gurry and Robert Lewis, made up the shortlist for this section of the History awards.
Jackie is well reknowned for her writing – especially historical fiction; and has won many awards over the years as children’s author. As a prolific researcher and writer, she collects her inspiration from around her, including comments from fan-mail. Pennies for Hitler is a fine example of this:
After reading French’s first book on the fraught topic, Hitler’s Daughter, the boy was moved to write his first note, observing: “I have learnt to be wary of anyone who makes you angry”.
French says: “I had been wondering how did Hitler do it. How did he get people to believe that people because of their race and religion should be exterminated? And a 14-year-old boy gave me the answer. Anger is contagious.” From SMH article below.
Read more: http://www.smh.com.au/entertainment/books/jackie-frenchs-pennies-for-hitler-wins-young-people-prize-at-nsw-premiers-history-award-20130912-2tmnd.html#ixzz2eizC2ZWU
# Also see our previous review on Pennies for Hitler. Congratulations once again, Jackie!
Shahana is the first of several books in a series Through My Eyes, with a focus on children living in conflict zones around the globe.
Life for Shanana is difficult; even more so with the death of her father, mother and older brother – victims of militant fire in the borderlands of Kashmir. With her younger brother, Tanveer, in her grandfather’s mountain village home, she ekes out a living daily by sewing and haggling for their basic necessities.
As if life isn’t hard enough already, when Shahana and her brother come across a half dead boy being attacked by wild dogs, they rescue him. Not only is he another mouth to feed, his Indian family background is in conflict with their heritage in a zone of great political conflict. Add to that the problems of a 13 year old Muslim girl living with an unrelated male in her house, and you begin to understand the complexities in the life of Shahana and her younger brother.
In this tale, Rosanne Hawke cleverly reveals ways in which life unfolds for many young girls like Shahana; when they are orphaned, or their families face the challenges of poverty in a land of war and strife. Each day is a test of survival. Each day also brings the challenges of testing friendships and relationships – determining who one can trust, and which people you should rely on.
Shahana is a strong character, bound however by the traditions of her sex. Many of her decisions are taken in the light of this, as we see her modify her choices because she has to ‘take her place’ and be wary of overstepping her role. However, her fate is to challenge the idea of being submissive - to avoid suffering at the hands of others just because she is orphaned and female.
There is lot to be learned about Shahana’s Kashmiri culture, and the story is sprinkled with the language and traditions of her family and those around her.
Tragically, there is also truth in the fictional lives of the people who populate Shahana’s world:
- Zahid, the child soldier
- Mr Nadid, the opportunistic carpet-maker
- Amaan, the Indian militant
- Rabia, the half-widow – mother of Ayesha, Shahana’s best friend
In many ways, these are the critical elements of the tale – revealing as they do a world apart from our own western experience. A world in which a 13 year old girl has to feed and care for her younger brother, and keep him from the clutches of a greedy businessman. A world in which unknown people are feared, and known people change according to their unfortunate circumstances. A world where a young girl has great responsibilities, beyond her tender years. A world all too common in many parts of the world today.
In this clip, Rosanne Hawke talks about how and why she wrote Shahana, and what she hopes readers take from the story:
Shahana is the first book to be published in this series; with others by renowned authors (including zones of ongoing conflict such as Somalia, Afghanistan and Mexico) to be published soon. For future details see: http://throughmyeyesbooks.com.au/
A portion of the proceeds from the sale of the series will be donated to UNICEF.
How do you survive in a world where the king bombs your city? where can you hide? how can you escape?
The king must have decided that Rourton’s people were gettting restless, because it’s unusual to bomb the same city twice within so few years. Perhaps we’ve got more dissidents than the other cities in Taladia. I wouldn’t know; I’ve never been outside Rourton’s walls.
After this bombing, Danika decides she must escape – after all there’s nothing for her in Rurton – her family had been wiped out by the last bombing, and she had been homeless and street-bound ever since.
In her first novel, Chasing the Valley, Skye Melki-Wegner builds a challenging fantasy world where you have to be strong and streetsmart to survive. Danika grabs the chance to flee the confines of her walled city, but only after she proves herself to a small group of teens who also aim to be free of their miserable and threatened existence.
In this world, Danika and the other teen refugees struggle against the odds, against the powers of the king, to find safety – as they journey towards the legendary haven of the Magnetic Valley. To survive however, they must first develop trust in one another, and use their shared skills to overcome their common enemy, the king and his troops.
Chasing the Valley would be enjoyed by fans of the Hunger Games, Tomorrow When the War Began and other dystopian fiction, with lots of unique elements. Danika, a scrubber, lives in a world where magical abilities (one’s proclivity) mature as you get older; it’s something mysterious to be tamed for use by each individual. (Danika’s illusion talents come to the group’s rescue many times.) Alchemy bombs rain down from the king’s biplanes to destroy lives, but often leave behind a bizarre sea of flowers in their wake. Foxaries, giant fox-like creatures are used for transport as the refugees flee – to name but a few things unique to their world.
Melki-Wegner introduces all sorts of charms and talents for Danika and her crew, many of which are essential for them to beat the odds. The abilities and schemes of their enemies are also woven carefully through the tale. There is a gradual build up of understanding about adolescents in a world that is different but the same as our own. The author’s early love of fantasy and other worlds shines through in this debut novel, with the great news that there is more to come!
For more inspiration, Skye Melki-Wegner talks about her writing here:
Lovers of fantasy and dystopic worlds with a bit of steam punk thrown in will love Chasing the Valley – it’s sequel, Borderlands is due for release in early 2014!