Light and Dark

all the lightA young blind girl living in Paris. A poor German orphan. A mystical precious gem, the Sea of Flames. And the ominous background of World War II.

These are the characters to be blended together in ‘All the Light We Cannot See’ – a novel 10 years in the  making, a novel awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 2015.

Marie-Laure, who has been blind since the age of 6, lives with doting father, a locksmith who works at the Museum of Natural History of Paris. Building a small wooden model of their neighbourhood, her father has cleverly encouraged her to use all her other senses to get about. Time spent at the museum has also alerted her quick and curious mind. When trouble looms from the German occupation of Paris, Marie and her father flee to refuge with relatives in Saint Malo, a walled city by the sea. [See image below]

In another world, Werner seems doomed to follow in his father’s footsteps, working in the mines which ulitmately killed him. However, fortune shines on him (though lightly), when he is discovered as a clever young boy capable of fixing radios; saved from the mines, but caste into the Hitler Youth.

‘All the Light We Cannot See’ tells their tales in parallel for some time, slipping backwards and forwards through times from 1934 – 1944, and on to 1974. Through their eyes, we experience the conditions in 2 different countries before, during and after WWII, and can begin to understand the dark condition of Europe and its inhabitants, during these times. Like many war stories, we are exposed to many grim situations and many dark personalities. The presence of the young, through whose eyes this is ‘seen’, makes it all even more chilling – especially if you multiply by the millions of children they might actually represent in real events.

Anthony Doerr plays with light and dark in many ways. That Marie-Laure spends her life in darkness, but brings some lightness to the story, is one. She ‘sees’ quite a lot in the story – sensing a lot about people, even just from the way they walk or speak. Her ability to move about her home town, and her new home and village (at Saint Malo) are what her loving father wisely prepared her for. It is not surprising, however, that ultimately darkness pervades her tale.

city-of-st-malo2

The walled town of Saint Malo

Werner’s story has little light to it. His options are dark mines, or dark enlistment to the Hitler Youth and WWII. As an orphan, he has lived somewhat happily with his sister in a children’s home. Taken from this to work ‘for the Fuhrer’, he experiences and witnesses many dark events and situations. Reading these experiences is harrowing and upsetting; through the study of history we know too well that they are quite true reflections of what happened for many – though perhaps we don’t always consider it from the point of view of children.

Other light plays into the story with the legend of the ‘Sea of Flames’ – a precious diamond which is said to be both valuable and a curse – a diamond which has 3 replicas made to keep it safe. And the light we cannot see – radiowaves – impacts them all.

As you might expect, the storylines don’t remain parallel, and events (and the Sea of Flames) draw their lives together, though perhaps not as truly expected.

Here’s a short video you might like to watch before you read the book – Anthony Doerr discusses the inspiration for ‘All the Light You Cannot See’. Or read this interview.


Boys – Stories of war

boyBack in 2006, John Boyne released ‘The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas’ – a tale about a nine-year-old boy growing up during World War II in Berlin. Despite being the son of a Nazi Commandant, Bruno sees the world through the eyes, of a child, which provides an interesting slant on this passage of history.

Once again, Boyne has written a novel set in this time period, and again from a child’s focus – ‘The Boy at the Top of the Mountain’.

This time ‘the boy’, Pierrot, has a mixed heritage, being the son of a French mother and a German father, living initially in Paris. Sadly, this doesn’t remain the case, due to the gradual disintegration of his family:

Although Pierrot Fischer’s father didn’t die in the Great War, his mother Emilie always maintained it was the war that killed him. (opening sentence)

Thus, life changes for Pierrot and he has several relocations and events in a very short time, all set against the background of WWII.

Once again, Boyne’s writing brings the young adult reader some understanding of what life could have been like for young children. It would help to have a knowledge of European geography, as well as what was meant by the Berghof (a home of Hitler), to gain some understanding of the significance in this story – but maybe that’s a challenge for YA readers to reach!

Hear John Boyne talk about his novels:

I didn’t find ‘The Boy at the Top of the Mountain’ as engaging as ‘The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas’. Perhaps the mystery of ‘The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas’ (released without a blurb or much detail about the story from publishers) intrigued readers to begin with? Bruno’s loneliness certainly captured my heart, and I definitely sobbed at the end.

This new tale has similar elements, though it doesn’t feel as complete, but is definitely worth reading as it asks questions of loyalties vs the power of indoctrination. Pierrot faces many choices and changes in his life – some with tragic consequences. No doubt, there will be criticism of some aspects of this story, but its value remains as a way to take a different view of history, and to consider how those, other than the people ‘in power’, were affected by the catastrophic decisions of war – the young, the subservient, those of the ‘wrong’ religion or background.

[For me, this has also been an interesting companion read to ‘All the Light We Cannot See’, another novel set in occupied France during World War II, but at 529 pages of course with a lot more research and detail.]


Australia Day Awards!

What a great pleasure to be skimming through the Australia Day Awards to find the names of 4 amazing Australians involved in creating children’s books and promoting literacy. Applause to Geraldine Brooks, Jackie French, Ann James and Ann Haddon!

calebGeraldine Brooks (AO)

Geraldine is an author who began a career as a journalist for the Sydney Morning Herald. However, she is perhaps more well known for her historical novels and non-fiction writing, having won the Pulitzer Prize in fiction in 2006 for her second novel, March. Other books which followed, have received a popular following on best seller lists, and translations into many different languages for a world-wide audience.

Though she now lives in the United States, Geraldine has her roots here; having grown up in the Western suburbs, and attending Sydney University. As a journalist visiting the outback, she was exposed to indigenous children with a great hunger for reading; and this translated to her becoming one of the first ambassadors for the Indigenous Literacy Foundation. As an author, she has also been one to share with, and inspire young writers, during school visits and writing workshops.

Her aims are clear – to encourage literacy and creativity:

“I tell them to be adventurous and unafraid, to do everything and explore every opportunity, because if it doesn’t work out, then sod it, do something else. The beauty of a writing life is there’s no one way into it.

“In all my roles I’ve tried to be open to the world and willing to receive what it has to offer in terms of diversity of thought, and at the same time I’ve tried to advance some of the very great ideas that Australia, at its best, embodies.”http://www.smh.com.au/entertainment/books/australia-day-honours-2016-geraldine-brooks-books-are-essentially-australian-20160123-gmcc5u.html#ixzz3yJZRuBGc

frenchoam

Jackie French (AM) is also well-known to all, and was awarded this year in recognition of: significant service to literature as an author of children’s books, and as an advocate for improved youth literacy.

After being recognised as last year’s ‘Senior Australian of the Year’, Jackie’s star continues to shine – in recognition of her work towards promoting literacy; especially in her recent role as Australian Children’s Laureate.

As an author of more than 140 books, Jackie is not only a household name, but an authentic patron for anyone who has struggled to read and write. In her talks to children, parents and educators, she often recounts her early struggles with dyslexia, and admits those struggles still remain. Her own personal triumphs, in learning to read and write, drive her desire for ways to be found to improve the literacy of all children:

“It has inspired my work for literacy and teacher training … every child has a right to learn to read with the methods that best suit them.” Read more at: https://au.news.yahoo.com/a/30657135/childrens-author-french-takes-home-award/

Both Ann James (AM), author and illustrator of more than 60 children’s books, and Ann Haddon (AM), who has worked as a teacher librarian, have been actively involved in promoting children’s literature, and received an AM for significant service to children’s literature

After initially working as an arts and crafts teacher in Victoria, Ann James expanded her horizons into graphic design and book illustration. Her career in illustrating children’s books provides a rich legacy. Another great achievement came about when, with Ann Haddon, she co-founded the gallery, Books Illustrated. Their aim was to exhibit and promote the works of many outstanding Australian illustrators – and has included the likes of Terry Denton, Shaun Tan and Leigh Hobbs. Theirs was always a clever collaboration, as they explain on Books Illustrated:

A shared love of books, art and children inspired Ann James and Ann Haddon to establish Books Illustrated in 1988.
Together they have a unique view of the picture book industry, seen from many angles – librarian, bookseller, gallery director, writer and illustrator. http://www.booksillustrated.com.au/bi_about.php

What a fabulous collection of talents! Thank you for your inspiration and enthusiasm, and congratulations to all of you, as we celebrate Australia Day.


Indie Awards 2016

Each year, the Independent Booksellers select an array of Australian books for recognition. Often these books receive applause further afield, and so the shortlist proves to be a great point, for readers young and old, to select from. Previous winners include Anh Doh, Tim Winton, Richard Flanagan and Craig Silvey (with ‘Jasper Jones’ soon to be released as a movie).

This year’s shortlists (released last week) include:

LEB Indie Shortlist 2016 tiled web banner_1.indd

CHILDREN’S SHORTLIST
Olive of Groves by Katrina Nannestad & Lucia Masciullo, Illus (ABC Books, HarperCollins Australia)
The 65-Storey Treehouse by Andy Griffiths & Terry Denton, Illus (Pan Macmillan Australia)
The Bad Guys, Episode 1 by Aaron Blabey (Scholastic Australia)
*The Singing Bones by Shaun Tan (Allen & Unwin)

YOUNG ADULT SHORTLIST
*Cloudwish by Fiona Wood (Macmillan Australia)
Prince of Afghanistan by Louis Nowra (Allen & Unwin)
*Ranger’s Apprentice: The Early Years 1: The Tournament at Gorlan by John Flanagan (Random House Australia)
*Soon by Morris Gleitzman (Penguin Australia)

Source: http://www.indiebookawards.com.au/#!Shortlist-Announced-for-the-2016-Indie-Book-Awards/cmbz/569c69ff0cf28074ac9d3348

Many of the authors mentioned above would be well recognised by most readers, and our library has those marked *.

I wonder which of these titles will be awarded the top honour? Which one would you choose? 

Other categories also exist at the Indie site –  for debut novels adult reads and non-fiction titles – which are also worth looking into. The Indie Book Awards category winners and the Book of the Year 2016 will be announced at an event in the Sydney CBD on Wednesday 23 March.

Have you been to see your independent bookseller to chat about these titles? Will you have read some of these titles before then? which one will you vote for?

*** Shaun Tan is always hard to beat – so different from the others in the Children’s Shortlist – maybe he’s really in a class of his own?

# Some of the local independent booksellers we rely on include:

the Turning Page, Springwood

Megalong Books, Leura

Wisemans Books, Richmond

Harvard Books, Blaxland

and further afield, the Children’s Bookshop, Beecroft


Pieces of Sky

skyAs I read this book, I felt as though I had read it already. Was it purely because I had started it a while ago and come back to it? or were the flavours of it similar to others I had read? or did it just resonate teen thoughts to me? I think ‘yes’ to all.

Trinity’s writing is authentic in voice, real for her audience and true to the age group. Like many adolescents, Lucy is seeking real friendships, questioning past and future friendships, while dealing with a major crisis in her life – why did her brother die?

‘Pieces of Sky’ will create discussion – of issues, family relations, dealing with death and how we remember the past.

For me, it was unclear which time period the story was set (memories seemed to fluctuate across different times) and Lucy’s perception of Cam seemed too idealistic – or is that how we like to remember others?

Lots of options to consider : themes of friendship, truth and family relationships. Well worth a read, though I don’t think the author has all the answers. But then, who does?

‘Pieces of Sky’ is a debut novel for Trinity Doyle, who has  also worked as a music photographer, graphic designer, among other things. To find out more about how Trinity thinks, visit her blog : Trin in the Wind – including her details about getting that first book published!


Mists and memories

imageAxl and his wife Beatrice cannot understand why they can no longer have a candle in the darkness of their modest home at the edge of their village warren – but that is what had been decided. Struggling also with the taunts of unruly, undisciplined children and the vagueness overcoming other villagers, they decide to embark on a journey to see their son.

Even though, for an elderly couple, such a journey looms as an ominous unknown venture, they feel compelled to attempt it  – and so Ishiguro weaves a veil of intrigue over their travels, and they move amongst differing villages and cultural contexts.

Others they meet along the way include warriors out for revenge, misguided monks upholding tradition and rituals, outcastes of various types, and a brave, though elderly, knight – all with passions of their own, and ideals conflicting with one another.

The world Ishiguro has created has mystical elements, including a mist of forgetfulness, dragons, pixies and ogres. Within this, human spirit battles historical conflicts, myths of the past and present, and that ‘which-may-be-remembered-but-probably-shouldn’t’.

A powerful mist has robbed many of their memories – both good and bad – and Axl and Beatrice had seen evidence of this occurring more and more before they left on their journey. They too, strugged to recall much of their past, but in their hearts they sought to find their son, and so their journey begins.

‘The Buried Giant’ recalls parts of history – the conflict between the Saxons and the Britons, but talks of a time of forgetting when they live peacefully side by side. Niggling memories are what haunt those like Axl and Beatrice, Master Wistan and Sir Gawain, and suspicion and cultural beliefs hunt young Edwin from his native home.

Their fragmented journey together, where loyalties are tested time and again, make for a challenging tale of love, life and destiny. Yet another well crafted tale from Master Ishiguro, including a beautiful portrayal of love and marriage.

For a bit of a taster, listen to this audio excerpt. This is definitely a great book for an audio version – I really enjoyed hearing the different voices, so well expressed by David Horovitch.

For another, more extensive review read: http://www.theguardian.com/books/audio/2015/mar/04/kazuoishiguro-fiction


And the winner is… (CBCA Awards 2015)

protectedHow exciting! Congratulations to local Blue Mountains authors and illustrators who were awarded highly in this year’s CBCA awards.

Firstly, Claire Zorn, who was nominated last year for her debut novel, the Sky so Heavy, took out the Book of the Year honours in the Young Adult category with the Protected. A timely book – dealing with bullying, sibling relationships and the impact of the untimely death of youth – the Protected is raw, real and thoughtful, and well deserving of the CBCA accolades. Previously reviewed here – we loved it too!

Another Blue Mountains winner was Freya Blackwood who was shortlisted in 3 categories.. and won in 3 categories. Obviously, the authors with whom she collaborated were part of the equation, but to to be teamed with the likes of Libby Gleeson and Irena Kobald, Freya must have proven her worth. Having worked with Libby since their first collaboration on Amy & Louis, won a Children’s Book Council of Australia Book of the Year in 2007, Freya’s talents have continued to shine through in 2015.


‘It’s the first time in the awards’ 69-year history that a single creator has been honoured three times in the same year’
. [Three times lucky…]

Freya’s beautiful pencil and watercolour illustrations in The Cleo Stories: The Necklace and The Present combine well with Libby’s prose to tell a tale many young children will identify with, if they have enough imagination to look for ways to have fun.

cleo cover_s

Freya and Libby also paired to win the Early Childhood category with Go to Sleep, Jessie! – a heart warming story of a sister trying to find a way to comfort her little sister.GotoSleepJessie

my two blIn My Two Blankets, Freya’s illustrations combine this time with Irene Kobald’s concise prose to reflect a cautious integration into a new culture by a young refugee girl.

The gentle nature of the illustrations, with the repetition of the safety of the blanket, and the slow development of the girls’ friendship help to show how new relationships can grow in the face of change; just as Freya works in a different relationship with another author.

# I loved this year’s awards, so much much to ponder  – the first time in many I have actually agreed with the judges!

What did you think? Did you agree with the judges for 2015? or were there other more deserving winners?


History meets fiction

I thought of Micky – there was nothing useless or dirty or stupid about him. He was funny and worked hard. He was smart too. Actually he was just, well, normal. And that man on the television, Charles Perkins, spoke better than half of Walgaree.

freedomThis quote comes from Sue Lawson’s book, Freedom Ride; a fictional tale tied into the real events of the 1965 Freedom Rides which occurred in NSW. (Their aim was to draw attention to the poor state of Aboriginal health, education and housing.)

In Lawson’s book, we are introduced to Robbie – a teenager in a fictional (but representative) country town in NSW. Through Robbie’s eyes, we quietly see the subtle segregation that was ‘accepted’ in Australian history. Naturally, Robbie’s youthful views are his family’s views, but these are slowly adjusted as he critically observes the practices and beliefs of different adults around him.

With little previous exposure to the plight of Aborigines in his community, Robbie only begins to question community values when a holiday job sees him working side-by-side with Micky.

Historic events litter the tale, setting it in a real time and place in Australia. For a brief history about the time in which it is based, see BTN Freedom Ride

Was this how things really were in country towns in the 60’s? Some would argue this was not the case. But Sue Lawson has taken a pocket of humanity to illustrate the racist attitudes which promoted the Freedom Ride movement. Many who lived in similar locations would agrue that these emotions were not rampant in their mind’s eye – but for those suffering racist taunts and restrictions, it would have felt this way.

An interesting tale to put young adults in another person’s place and time in history.


Thirst by Lizzie Wilcock

thirst-21Imagine:

  • a car accident in the desert
  • driver (probably) dead
  • 2 foster kids stranded
  • one totally disenchanted with foster care
  • the other a young boy

This is the way Thirst begins, and, as we learn a little about the stranded kids, 14 year old Karanda and 8 year old Solomon, it seems that there is little chance their luck is likely to improve in a hurry.

Karanda’s emotions are mixed – angry, perhaps privately scared, but she is determined to get away from her miserable existence as a foster child, passed from family to family. On the other hand, Solomon simply wants to tag along, as Karanda begins to storm off who-know-where, but away from the car-wreck (which is probably their one chance of discovery and rescue). What other option does he have, really?

In her anger, Karanda is uncaring; suspecting that it would be easy for searchers to eventually find sweet little Solomon near the car wreck. However, he is persistent, and keeps up as she marches away from the wreck and her old existence. Thus their circumstances ends up binding them together in a struggle for survival; which would challenge anyone of any age.

Thirst, by Lizzie Wilcock, is peppered with great descriptions of the Aussie outback, and many unique survival tips from the wise-for-his-age Solomon – lucky for Karanda that he follows along.

Karanda’s anger and struggles are palpable throughout, while Solomon’s quiet perserverence is far beyond his years – making much of Karanda’s action seem quite immature and thoughtless.

The physical situations they face are a good reflection of the harshness of the outback; and their emotional battles give the reader lots to pause and think about. But whether it is a realistic story has been questioned – there have been mixed reviews. It is a good survival story, if you just go with the flow.

In the end, is it worth the struggle? What do we learn? What really challenges us the most from this tale?


The hills are alive…(with book creators!)

emily

Emily Rodda

Well, the mountains really, are alive with many Australian children’s authors and illustrators – and many of them came together last week at the (inaugural) Blue Mountains chapter of the CBCA at the Carrington Hotel. They gathered together with many bibliophiles, such as teachers, teacher librarians, publishers and others interested in promoting children’s literature; and in particular, with a local focus.

Actually, there has been a CBCA chapter in the mountains in the past so this was more of a revival – boosted by the enthusiasm of those who attended. Authors old and new, included Emily Rodda, Tohby Riddle, Margaret Hamilton and, illustrator Freya Blackwood, who has three books shortlisted for the 2015 Children’s Book of the Year Awards. Sadly, James Roy, Stephen Herrick and Stephen Measday were unable to attend at the last moment. Perhaps, we will see them next time.

It was a time to applaud the achievements of these creative Blue Mountains residents, and gather to chat with them and those who promote their fabulous books.

Freya Blackwood

Freya Blackwood

Quotes about the night included:

  • It was a fabulous event. 
  • Wonderful to see so many people passionate about children’s literature! Looking forward to many more.
  • Special evening and wonderful atmosphere. Always a pleasure to match the minds with the works!

Aptly held in the Library venue of the Carrington Hotel – warmly panelled in wood and offers a large open fireplace, comfortable lounge seating, it was well worth venturing out into a cold winter’s night to join the literary soiree. One of the joys of such meetings is to chat with book creators, hear what inspires them, to find out their future plans and also hear how passionate they remain about getting kids to enjoy reading at each and every level!

Tohby Riddle

Tohby Riddle

 

Of course, no such evening is complete without the purchase of books, (thanks to Megalong Books for attending), and the compulsory signing and discussion of books with these fabulous book creators.