Remarkable journey – Born to Fly

born-to-flyWhat was your childhood career dream? Fireman, racing car driver, ballet dancer, astronaut? How many of us actually followed through on our childhood dreams? Ryan Campbell was passionate about his, and has begun the path to achieving his dream career:

‘I loved our holiday in Vanuatu, but I just could not wait to get back on that aeroplane… Not to go home, just to go flying. That was the day when I decided I would be a jumbo jet pilot when I grew up.’ (He was 6 at the time.)

On June 30, 2013, Ryan took off on a journey to circumnavigate the globe, solo – and with the aim to be the youngest person to ever achieve this. However, as his book Born to Fly details, his departure on this day was the result of a great deal of planning and persistence – with many hurdles to overcome before his journey was to become a reality.

Just exactly how would you begin to plan a circumnavigation around the world in a light aircraft? Where would you begin? Indeed what would even inspire such a massive endeavour? How could a young adult even consider doing it?

Ryan’s passion and determination are evident in Born to Fly – and some credit for this must come from his uncle and grandfather, both passionate aviators. It is also clear that, while he is very much an average young adult in some ways (he admits that he was a fairly non-motivated student at times, a day-dreamer too), once he set his sights on achieving goals related to flying, he became very focussed.

With lots of research,  he began to discover what he had to do to learn to fly, ways to supplement his earnings at the local supermarket to pay for lessons, and also how to meet academic standards for aviation qualifications. Achieving his first solo flight on his fifteenth birthday was just a small indication of things to come! 

Soon, with the confidence from his achievements, Ryan began to dream of bigger challenges, which culminated in his record-breaking solo flight. There is great detail included in his story – the flying challenges, communication challenges, daily revision of decisions and insights to what it is like to undertake such a mammoth journey. He also acknowledges his many mentors and supporters – including Ken Evers, Jim Hazelton and Dick Smith.

There is much to be taken from this story – for both aviation enthusiasts, and others seeking inspiration to achieve their life goals. Born to Fly speaks not only about the challenges and difficulties he faced on this venture, but the ways in which he overcame events and situations that could test even the most experienced aviator. I am sure, Ryan would be the first to admit that he might have done a few things differently, but his courage and determination shines through.

Born to Fly is not the end of Ryan’s story. He is not yet a ‘jumbo jet pilot’. However, he aims to use his influence to encourage other young people to follow their dreams. And he will continue to work on his dreams, stepping towards his ultimate goals while encouraging others to find theirs:

I am proud to have learnt at a young age, proud of my achievements so far and excited at the prospects the future holds for me. I live for aviation, and I know that it is this passion, along with my dedication and commitment that will determine the successful outcome of my next endeavour. (Source: http://www.teenworldflight.com/my-achievements.html)

(Lots more detail is given at the Teen World Flight site, with of course a great focus on aviation.) 

N.B. This would also be a great related text for ‘Journeys’ and ‘Discovery’ – a remarkable journey by a young adult, out to discover the world and himself.

Life choices – Level Up

Level UpGene Luen Yang is a clever writer of graphic novels – though this is probably not the career path his parents would have chosen for him. This insight is given in an interesting dedication at the beginning of the book:

Dedicated to our brothers Jon and Thinh, both of whom work in the medical field, for being good Asian sons.

Dennis Ouyang is the main protagonist in Level Up, and his parents have high expectations for their only son – that he should be a gastroenterologist. Dennis, on the other hand, would rather be playing video games. His struggle with meeting his parents wishes or following his own interests would be familiar to many young adults, particularly those with strong cultural influences on how a child should respect his/her elders.

Yang, and illustrator Thien Pham, have used some interesting techniques in this graphic novel:

# The early pages are shaded blue as we are introduced to the potential conflict of ideas of Dennis and his parents.

# Colour also plays an interesting part in depicting some of the unsavoury choices Dennis takes, the visitations he has (in his mind) from his father,  stronger colours are used during normal day-to-day situations.

# Symbols like angels and feathers link events to the past, and video game characters haunt Dennis till he overcomes certain issues.

# The novel is sectioned like a video game with new levels being achieved as the novel develops and Dennis’ choices take effect. As in videogames, Dennis does not always ‘finish the level’ and his path is sometimes bumpy.

As Dennis struggles to work out which is the right path for him to take, his mind begins to play tricks on him and he has visitations – from his father, from an angelic chorus (his conscience?) and from the ghosts of an old computer game. Though he at first happily drops out of medical school, and achieves fame and fortune in the videogaming world, there are more changes to come. Will he ultimately discover who he really is? Whose expectations he will meet in the future - his dead father’s? His ill mother’s? his own?

Yang himself may have faced the same struggles in his youth. While it is said his parents tried to instill in him a strong work ethic and traditional Asian culture, they also told him stories. It is clear that this combination inspired his creative skills with a will to achieve – though not in the medical field.

With Pham’s quirky but expressive illustrations, he has created a clever and humorous story, which also makes you wonder about which is the right direction to take in life. Being built around a videogame-style concept makes it appealing and quick to read. However, it is worth a closer look once you finish to find all the little elements we may gloss over in a graphic novel.

Another thought-provoking novel from the author of award-winning American Born Chinese. 

Life as you know it?

incredibleMichael is a typical school boy living in the suburbs of Western Sydney. For him, life has a rhythm and routine which is closely bonded to his older brother’s. That is until tragedy strikes, and he decides that:

‘my life isn’t my life any more: It is like a movie, it’s the place where I enter the scene again and again and everything is different.’

From the time that Michael regains consciousness after the accident, his thoughts are fragmented. Indeed the nature of Felicity Castagna’s book, ‘the Incredible Here and Now’, is that it, too, is a whole story slowly pieced together. Gradually, chapters reveal little insights into the lives of people in Michael’s world, as the picture develops describing his life with family, school and his mates, and how life can suddenly become distorted and troubled.

Without his older brother, Dom, the form of Michael’s life has changed. At home, his mother grieves and (has) ‘slipped out of our lives’. His father, though acting calm and together, ‘walks (him) to school for the first time since I was 10′. In his own way, Michael disconnects from school and other aspects of his old life. He constantly wonders ‘how can someone be there one day and not the next?’

However, ‘the Incredible Here and Now’ is not a sombre tale, but a thoughtful one. As a coming-of-age story, we are taken through the neighbourhood streets where Michael is growing up and dealing with the first throes of love and conflict. Through his eyes, the tapestry of different immigrant lives are illustrated; with their particular features and foibles. Teenage lives are interconnected not only through school, but through sport and other hangouts.

Castagna’s little vignettes capture many different things about Michael’s family, friends and acquaintances. For most people around him, life goes on as before – but how can things remain the same when someone important is lost from your life. Castagna also captures the differing cultures which permeate Michael’s life, and the unique mix of his neighbourhood. This will provide some ‘aha’ moments to those readers who can identify with some of the locations described, and an interesting insight to others from different social backgrounds.

Teen readers will also love the short chapters which collect the thoughts of Michael fairly concisely. As he dips in and out, his thoughts seem somewhat fragmented but are also part of the whole – as he attempts to deal with his now fragmented world.

The Incredible Here and Now does not tell us how to deal with the loss of a family member. Neither does it come up with a solution to everyday teenaged angst. What it does is provide great realistic fiction which should appeal to many teenage boys; they could easily identify parts of themselves in many of the characters, and the situations in which they act.

In Felicity’s words, The Incredible Here and Now:

… is about being an absolute insider in a place you know as well as the back of your own hand. It’s a young adult’s novel told through the eyes of Michael whose life changes dramatically in the summer he turns 15. Michael knows everything about the community he lives in and through his stories, he lets the reader in; to the unsettled lives of his family members, the friends he meets in the McDonalds parking lot at night, the swimming pool where he meets the one girl who will acknowledge he’s alive and the classmates who spend their mornings drooling at the Coke Factory on their walk to school. (Source: the NSW Writers Centre, Felicity Castagna Talks Writing a Sense of Place, http://www.nswwc.org.au/2013/05/felicity-castagna-talks-writing-a-sense-of-place/)

# The Incredible Here and Now was shortlisted for this year’s CBCA awards, and the NSW Premier’s Literary Awards 2014 – and is Felicity’s first novel.

Struggle to be free – the Invention of Wings

inventionofwingsxI hereby certify that on this day, 26 November 1803, in the city of Charleston, in the state of California, I set free from slavery, Hetty Grimke, and bestow this certificate of manumission upon her.

Sarah Moore Grimke.

So begins Sarah Grimke’s attempts to free her personal slave, Handful – a gift from her parents on her eleventh birthday. As the middle daughter of a wealthy and prominent family in Charleston in the American Deep South in the 1800′s, she struggles to act in the way society expects of her. Sarah is unable to turn a blind eye to the brutal treatment of slaves – both those in her household and in society at large.

From an early age, witnessing the harsh treatment/punishments meted out (to keep the slaves in line) has a massive impact on Sarah. A troublesome stutter, which she struggles with at times of angst, in fact has its roots in a vicious flogging she viewed. The reality and pain of this urged Sarah on to fight for the abolition of slavery, but also provided a stumbling block to her ambitions – that, and the fact that she was a girl in a male-dominated society. Though she is known as ‘the daughter her mother calls difficult and her father calls remarkable’, there is nothing remarkable planned for her future.

The Invention of Wings is also told from the perspective of Hetty, otherwise known as Handful. Through Handful, the daily struggles of a slave are told, along with the coping mechanisms they use to survive. Handful’s mother, Charlotte, tries to weave hope into their pitiful existence, as she tells her about her family and their traditions – aiming to foster pride and courage in her daughter. As a talented seamstress, Charlotte is also clever in  teaching Handful valuable life skills and worthy talents to make life a little easier.

The story is actually founded on actual historical figures, Sarah and Angelina Grimke, American abolitionists, and members of the women’s suffrage movement. Much of the detail about Sarah is based in fact, while Handful’s story comes from research into slave narratives and personal childhood experiences of Sue Monk Kidd with African American voice.

Both Sarah and Handful ache for wings to free them from the fetters of their lives – one captured by slavery, the other with the sentence of being female at a time when women had few rights. While Sarah’s key purpose  is to promote the abolition of slavery,  and fulfilling a promise to Charlotte to try to free Handful, her own ‘slavery’ as a female also gives rise to the fight for women’s rights (which was also the case in history).

The Invention of Wings follows the success of The Secret Life of Bees, and would also make a great movie.

To get an insight into the writing process, there are several interviews with Monk Kidd online – including one hosted on her own website. It is a really interesting read, as she talks about the characters coming alive on the page over the 3 1/2 year writing period!

# I ‘read’ this book as an audiobook, which provided a great cast of voices also – though as usual I still needed the actual book when I became impatient to see the words on the page.

 

CBCA 2014 – announcement today…

The winner is announced Friday August 15 in the ‘Older Readers’ category, which includes the following books:

cbca2014_2Shortlisted Older Readers Titles 2014

The Incredible Here and Now, Felicity Castagna

The First Third, Will Kostakis

Life in Outer Space, Melissa Keil

Fairytales for Wilde Girls, Allyse Near #HONOUR BOOK

Wildlife, Fiona Wood #WINNER 2014

The Sky so Heavy, Claire Zorn #HONOUR BOOK

Each of these titles is available from the Senior School Library for you to judge yourself.

Of course, you may not agree with the judges’ selections, or even wish to pick up any of these titles. There are many other worthy titles included in this year’s CBCA selection of notable books by Australian authors for Australian children. These can be viewed at the Children’s Book Council of Australia’s website in each of the following categories:

There should be many great choices available in these lists to inspire readers of all ages! To find out the eventual award winners see the CBCA website, after noon on Friday.

Brotherband series continues…

socorroRight from the beginning, I have to confess that I haven’t read the previous books in John Flanagan’s Brotherband series. However, this hasn’t impacted on my recent enjoyment of ‘Slaves of Socorro’ – no. 4 in the series.

After the introductory comments, explaining sailing terms, the tale begins with the fun and frolics of the seafaring community of Skandia. Bjarni is anxious about his boat rebuild, Hal is anxious about his recognition as a master boat builder and Lydia is seeking a way to flee an aspiring lover. Thus, some of the Heron Brotherband are reintroduced and the scene is set for future adventures.

Fortunately, John Flanagan’s storytelling ability enabled me to understand not only the concept of the Brotherband, but also to understand some of the quirks and talents of Hal and his intrepid crew. In this, the fourth of the series, their ship (Heron) becomes the Skandian duty ship to the Kingdom of Araluen – a ship at the disposal of King Duncan ready to move people and things quickly if necessary.

Fans of the Ranger’s Apprentice will appreciate the time and the world in which the Brotherband books are set, though these adventures take place in seafaring communities.  Flanagan brings a mixture of characters to this series, and Slaves refers seamlessly back to events from the past books, without sounding like he’s on repeat. Indeed, there is also a Ranger who joins Hal’s crew to fight a common foe.

There are many likable characters in Brotherband and plenty of action for them take on. In the video below, John Flanagan talks about some of his ‘Brotherband’ characters:

If you are already a fan of the Ranger’s Apprentice series, then you would definitely enjoy the Brotherband series – just ask the author! (This is but one of the comments he makes in  SIX THINGS YOU SHOULD KNOW ABOUT BROTHERBAND.)

If you are like me, and yet to catch up with the previous books in the series, they are: the Outcasts, the Invaders and the Hunters – and all 4 books including Slaves of Socorro are available in our library.

For those who are already fans, Brotherband no.5 Scorpion Mountain is due out in November!

Circus Star! the Sequin Star

sequinEver wanted to run away to join a circus? Or just wanted for a time to run away from your daily life? Is life perhaps more glamorous somewhere/ anywhere else?

As Claire ponders her chances of being chosen for the next ballet concert, she is also starting to ache for a bit more freedom to just ‘hang out with friends’. Some of her friends’ parents seem to be less controlling; according to Amy, her mum “let’s me do pretty much whatever I want”, while Claire has to fall in with her mother’s plans and wishes.

However, Claire’s life is turned upside down when firstly her dear grandmother has a fall at the ballet, and then Claire herself is knocked out in an accident. When she returns to a conscious state, none of her surroundings make sense – especially the monkey peering down at her!

Befriended by two young circus performers, Rosina and Jem, she is slowly introduced to a different world in a different time – far removed from the leafy northern suburbs of Sydney she has known. As her displacement slowly dawns on her, Claire has to adjust to not having everything at her fingertips. Things like her mobile phone, her modern wardrobe and a regular family meal just don’t appear in her new environment - that of a travelling circus.

Gradually, Claire gets a sense of place and time as she takes in the colours, activities and odours of circus life in 1932. Learning more about her new friends, she is also exposed to a lifestyle far removed from her own.

Author Belinda Murrell paints an interesting picture of life of the Great Depression, when many families struggled to survive in tight circumstances. Often, when the travelling circus arrived, it would transport families to a world away from their daily cares and worries, if only for a short but grand time.

For some like Jem, it provides an income to share with his large but destitute family; and for others like Rosina, it provides her family. And for Claire it provides an intriguing link to her past.

Within the circus confines, Murrell weaves an exciting and entertaining story about circus performers. Outside of the circus, she alsoBelindaMurrell adds in some notes of history, including celebrations for the opening of the Sydney Harbour Bridge and political intrigue of the times. Mixed in with this are questions about class differences and how we often unfairly judge people. All of which make the Sequin Star a great adventure story, inspired by the stories of young women who grew up performing in Australian circuses. (Published: May 1, 2014)

I have always been fascinated by circuses. One of my earliest memories is visiting The Great Moscow Circus with my father and being entranced by the performing bears. (As a vet, Dad was called out to treat one of the Russian bears when the circus first came to Australia.) I remember as a teenager trying to teach myself bareback circus tricks on my pony and getting thrown off multiple times. Over the years I managed to break several bones attempting fancy tricks on horseback. (A comment from Belinda Murrell, in notes available from Random House)

Were you surprised by the actions of any particular character in this story?

Would you like to run away to join a circus?

## For more details about the other (20 or so) books written by Belinda Murrell, check out her website: http://www.belindamurrell.com.au/

Image source: http://www.randomhouse.com.au/

CBCA 2014 shortlist announced

It that’s time of year again, when the CBCA (Children’s Book Council of Australia) shortlist is announced! Congrats to all those honoured.

Since our focus is young adult, here is the shortlist for YA straight from the CBCA website:

Book of the Year: Older Readers

title
The Incredible Here and Now
author/illustrator
Castagna, Felicity
publisher
Giramondo Publishing
isbn
9781922146366
title
Life in Outer Space
author/illustrator
Keil, Melissa
publisher
Hardie Grant Egmont
isbn
9781742973951
title
The First Third
author/illustrator
Kostakis, Will
publisher
Penguin Group (Australia)
isbn
9780143568179
title
Fairytales for Wilde Girls
author/illustrator
Near, Allyse
publisher
Random House Australia
isbn
9781742758510
title
Wildlife
author/illustrator
Wood, Fiona
publisher
Pan Macmillan Australia
isbn
9781742612317
title
The Sky so Heavy
author/illustrator
Zorn, Claire
publisher
University of Queensland Press
isbn
9780702249761

Better get reading!!

Which of these have you read and loved so far?

Indie Award Winners 2014

From: http://www.randomhouse.com.au

From: http://www.randomhouse.com.au

Announced on March 26, 2014 the award winners for the Independent Booksellers Awards 2014 included:

  • Book of the Year – The Narrow Road to the Deep North, Richard Flanagan
  • Non-Fiction – Girt, the unauthorised history of Australia, David Hunt
  • Debut Fiction – Burial Rites, Hannah Kent
  • Children’s – Kissed by the Moon, Alison Lester

How many of these books have you read or plan to read soon?

# Burial Rites has been reviewed here previously.

After ‘Fault in our Stars’… Zac and Mia!

imageZac is condemned – to spend an insufferable number of days, confined to a room, in the cheerful company of his mother. Not that he hates his mother’s presence – he just hates that she feels she has to be here. Or that he has to be here. But that’s what the medical system recommends. For treatment of his disease. And Zac accepts this.

Mia, on the other hand, resists. In the room next to Zac’s, she shouts, argues with her mother, and plays Lady Gaga on repeat, repeat, repeat.

Confined to his room, Zac wonders about the girl next door. Why is she so angry? Why does she argue with her mother? Why doesn’t she realise that the odds of her survival are so much higher than others on the ward? He knows all this – he has spent plenty of time googling for that kind of statistic. And her stats are good…

A.J.Betts  spent quite some time with kids in hospital. That fact is obvious. Her story is woven with mundane but realistic facts about living and dying with cancer. Without being boring, she tells of the ‘day-to-day’ experienced by families impacted by serious childhood illness, and the different ways they might cope.

Some have compared ‘Zac and Mia’ to ‘the Fault in Our Stars’. Some reviewers have criticized it as a copy, but having been written around the same time in a different continent it simply relates a similar focus – of young people dealing with cancer.

Having read and enjoyed both, and investigated the timing etc. needed to publish a book, I would say to the reader just ENJOY BOTH stories, since they have unique qualities to share. Zac and Mia do not go through the same therapy programs (as Hazel and Augustus). Zac and Mia finally meet after talking on Facebook and through hospital walls! Under different circumstances, their paths may never have crossed.

Strangely, the differences in their lives is what draws them together. The support Zac has in his family and friends is sadly lacking, for much of the story, for Mia. Their sameness is the struggle they face with a potentially lethal disease.

Zac and Mia is a thoughtful story, filled with astute observations and discreet comments from an author who has spent time on a hospital ward, supporting young adults in dire times. There is lots to absorb and think about – especially for those trying to understand some of the struggles faced by teen cancer patients.

A little bit extra:

In weeks to come, there will be a list of other books for those who have enjoyed  both ‘the Fault on Our Stars’ and ‘Zac and Mia’.

For those who can’t wait, there is another book worth reading – This Star Won’t Go Out’ by Esther Earl. This is a real life journey, said to have inspired John Green’s story, ‘the Fault on Our Stars’ - this video introduces Esther’s book. (Comments here from John Green and Esther’s sisters.)

That there are a number of books with a focus on young adults with life threatening illnesses at the moment is probably more a reflection of the openness of the medical profession, and more education from the media, than duplication or copying of an idea. What do you think?

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