August 30

Mystery in the making

red notebookIf you lost your bag – handbag, schoolbag or backpack, what would it tell others about you? Without your ID (driver’s licence, school ID, etc.), could you be traced? identified? found?

If you found a bag (mentioned above), what would you do?

In ‘the Red Notebook’, bookseller Laurent Letellier feels compelled, when he comes across an abandoned mauve leather handbag, to find the owner. With little identification in the bag, the mystery begins, and Laurent calls on suggestions from others, and in so doing becomes quite involved.

Following hints given by journal jottings, receipts and personal items in the bag, Laurent works to find the mystery owner. Along the way, he works through testing relationships, and surprising events while he searches.

‘The Red Notebook’ is a short romantic tale, translated from French, which makes you wonder about connections and connecting, our actions and taking time to know people, and how interwoven our lives could be in this busy world if we took the time. Laurent could have simply passed the handbag on to police after he discovered it in the street, but was the journey that followed instead worth it?

Antoine Laurain paints a description of a relaxed Parisian lifestyle, though marked by a mugging early in the tale, and peppered with the literary references you would expect from an authentic bookseller, Laurent Letellier. As a reluctant hero, he follows through his plan to reunite the handbag and its owner, with some interesting results along the way.

While not a YA novel, the emotions, decisions and cultural setting are worth discovery. Considering how people’s paths may cross in life, and the result of choices made, are some of the ideas generated in ‘the Red Notebook’.

How does he do it?  does it really make a difference in the long run? will he be able to solve the puzzle with so few clues? how does it then impact on his everyday life?

August 24

He’s a poet, who knows it! Steven Herrick

herrickWriters watch

and observe

and create. 

Scratchy notes

scribbled on a serviette 

or in a tattered notebook

become a story through their crafting.

 

This week, Steven Herrick shared his observations, transformed into poems, with students at school – in a time of performance art and great merriment. He explained the ways in which his ideas come together, from simple beginnings, daily events and everyday life, while the audience hung on his every word and action. (Thanks for your visit, Steven.)

‘Another Night in Mullet Town’ is also like that. In his typical form of verse novel*, Herrick portrays the life of friends, Manx and Jonah, as they move through days of school, and nights with friends, in a lakeside town facing change. As Manx bemoans:

People like you and me, Jonah,

we drag down the price of everything we touch.

Conflict exists in several predictable but realistic forms – between male student rivals, between rich and poor, and between the locals and new residents aiming to develop the town for ‘bigger and better things’. Friendships and evolving love interests are also handled genuinely and delicately, as are the sometimes strained relationships of Jonah’s parents, and thus, his family situation.

In simple but succinct language, Herrick wastes no words at all – and in his usual finely-honed manner, so this should appeal to many teens. Australian teens, in particular, will enjoy visiting the coastal town he depicts, acknowledge the school situations he describes and may even stop to ponder some of the community and family issues ‘Another Night in Mullet Town’ presents.

And, once you enjoy ‘Another night…’, there are many other award-winning verse novels from Herrick to read – ‘Love Ghosts and Nose Hair’, ‘A Simple Gift’ and more.

For a taste of Herrick’s poetry performance, watch ’10 things your parents will never say’:

*A verse novel is a type of narrative poetry in which a novel-length narrative is told through the medium of poetry rather than prose.

 

August 22

CBCA AWARDS 2016

Awards have been announced for 2016 CBCA Book of the Year!

70 CBCA

Image source: http://readingtime.com.au/2016-cbca-book-year-award-winners-honour-books/

In the Older Reader’s category, Fiona Wood has received the top honour this year- just 2 years after winning the same honour! Alongside her, receiving Honour Book are Vikki Wakefield (who had the same award in 2013 for Friday Brown) for ‘Inbetween Days’, and Meg McKinlay, whose book A Single Stone has also received many other awards before this one.

You can read Fiona Wood’s acceptance speech here: Read Winner’s speech from Fiona Wood. Details of other winners and awards can be found at the CBCA site, including popular authors, Morris Gleitzman, Sally Morgan and Emily Rodda.

Many of these are available in the school library  – do  you agree with the awards given? Maybe they’ll inspire you to read more from each of these great authors, and others on the Notables list for 2016. If you have read any of these, make a comment here.

August 12

Magic disguises

NewtsEmerald.inddSometimes, authors have an idea for a book which takes a while to complete.

Garth Nix’ book Newt’s Emerald is an example of this – beginning its life (well, the first lines) 23 years before it was published! In a note at the back of the book, Nix talks about the first version of this book “which remains in a bottom drawer and there it will stay.” Thus, Newt’s Emerald represents the re-working of a past tale from Nix’ creative mind.

Within the story there is a mix of fantasy, love story and historical fiction, as Lady Truthful seeks to recapture an enchanted emerald stolen from her ailing father. To do so, she uses her own enchantments (along with those of her aunt), to follow a dangerous journey while disguised as a man.

Woven into the mix is her proposed introduction to society, as a young lady from a well-to-do family, turning eighteen.  Thus, Truthful switches between the roles of a well-bred young lady and a gentleman, known as Chevalier de Vienne (her own French cousin). Will she be detected?

Truthful herself, is a mix of personalities – able to act as a lady, but at the same time able to parry with the male cousins with whom she has grown up. These influences come into play as the story moves into dangerous situations, as Truthful calls upon both her instinct and undeveloped magical powers to recover the Newington Emerald.

Add into this, an evil sorceress, people who are not always who they say there are, and you have situations which can twist and turn as the pages turn.

Newt’s Emerald – ‘a regency romance with a magical twist’. Shortlisted in the CBCA Older Reader’s  category this year.

Will it pull off a magical award? Will it enchant Garth Nix fans? Will the mix of fantasy, romance and historical fiction bewitch young readers?

Perhaps Garth Nix describing his book might invite you into the tale?

July 20

One wish – Cloudwish

cloudwishCloudwish comes from the creative mind of Fiona Wood, who won the CBCA Book of the Year (Older Readers category) award in 2014 with Wildlife. Her earlier book, Six Impossible Things, was previously reviewed here. So it is no surprise to see her latest novel among the CBCA shortlist for 2016.

While Cloudwish is a school story, with much of the usual angst and issues facing young teens, it has so much more to offer.

What is life like for a young girl, whose parents are Vietnamese refugees with high aspirations for their clever daughter? A scholarship to a prestigious private school  may seem the answer, but Van U’oc Phan faces struggles daily as the realities of her school life and home life contrast immensely and harshly.

With shades of Laurinda (by Alice Pung), Cloudwish is a wonderful portrayal of how different cultures may either mix or clash in our multicultural Australian society, and the extra struggles faced by children of immigrant families. Like Lucy Lam in Laurinda, Van moves between 2 worlds, and faces the challenge of fitting into both worlds. Poverty and privilege, blending in or maintaining a low profile, meeting parental expectations or following her own dreams – these are some of the issues for Van to deal with. Mix in a little magic and the fun begins.

References to Jane Eyre (Van’s role model?), Sylvia Plath and IB studies will strike a chord of recognition for many student readers. They also make it clear that Wood has worked in a school and indeed, she has tutored students from non-English speaking backgrounds (like Van) for many years. (See the SMH article, Working with a young Vietnamese-Australian girl inspired the author’s latest novel for more interesting details aout Fiona).

Cloudwish is a great read, and possibly, a relaxing contrast to the authors Van (and our own students) studies and admires!

June 13

Freedom Ride

freedomSue Lawson’s book, Freedom Ride, has previously been reviewed on this blog, so it is just to offer congratulations for its inclusion on the CBCA shortlist that this post is about. And to offer praise for a well-told historical fiction tale which is sure to make people stop and think.

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. https://crewsreviews.edublogs.org/2015/08/11/history-meets-fiction/

Since this time, Freedom Ride has already received several accolades, being included in the 2016 NSW Premier’s Literary Awards and the Ethel Turner Prize for Young Adult Literature, and of course, the current CBCA shortlist.

Freedom Ride was actually released to coincide with NAIDOC week, an annual celebration of Indigenous achievement. It is another worthy choice which young adults will enjoy, even as it teaches us something (cringeworthy) about our past.

How powerful is it for us to learn history from fiction? Do you enjoy reading historical fiction? 

March 31

Replica – what does that mean?

There are some books where writing too much in a review can spoil even the beginning of a novel. You could think here of the Book Thief, the Life of Pi and the Boy in the Striped Pyjamas (which was even published without a blurb). Replica is another title, where too much information early on would spoil the twists and turns the story takes.

Source: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/books/children_sbookreviews/11032027/Replica-by-Jack-Heath-review.html

Author Jack Heath and cover of Replica

That said, it can be revealed that Jack Heath’s tale is one that will grip you, and have you guessing about what is real, and where the next twist in the tale might happen. Indeed, the main character, Chloe, spends a lot of time trying to understand who she is, what her role in life might be, and what sort of dangers her family and friends might be facing:

Chloe wakes up to find all her memories have been wiped. And the only person who knows what happened is a teenage girl who looks and sounds exactly like her.  [Source: http://jackheath.com.au/replica/]

As more is revealed about where Chloe is and who she is dealing with, challenges arise in the story. Will the replica be able to fool her family? Friends at school? Will that protect Chloe and her family?

There are many questions to be answered, and changing circumstances to be overcome, as our heroine makes choices in how to act and who to trust. (Great to have an active female protagonist too!) The action in the story is fast and furious, creating a page-turner where you struggle to be able to place all the pieces togther. (Can you guess some of the twists and turns ahead?)

Cleverly scripted, Replica is another book from Jack Heath, who rose to fame as a young author. Having started writing The Lab when he was 13 years old, he was given a publishing contract at the age of 18. Other titles which followed, Remote Control, Money Run and his latest titles, the Cut Out and 300 Minutes of Danger are all action-packed thrillers for young adults, and always eagerly awaited by his followers.

Jack is an author who likes to share his love for reading and writing and has many videos to promote this. In this interview from 2012, he speaks a lot about his ideas for writing, how he does it, and why. His compulsion to write and his ideas leading up to the writing of Replica, a book set in Canberra about a robot who is pretending to be a human being… are interesting to hear, especially after the release of Replica:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5_19zskzVvo

Jack Heath: “Writing is what keeps me happy. (I’m) Just a guy who’s interested in stuff”.

Aren’t we lucky he is? What ideas can you pick up from this interview?

March 26

Fairest of them all…

imageIf you are expecting a retelling of Snow White from Sophie Masson’s ‘Hunters’ Moon’, then you will be disappointed.Though it refers to the ‘Fairest Lady’ and deals with a step-mother plotting her step-daughter’s downfall, it is far more than ‘Snow White and the Seven Dwarves’.

The tale of Snow White explodes in Masson’s tale. It is full and detailed; with characters new and real; with familiarity and clever modern twists that make it her own.

Bianca is not a helpless Snow White waiting for a prince to rescue her, but an observant, resourceful young woman, ready to take action and seek out the truth behind her father’s demise.

The world Masson has created is alive with characters, alliances and mysteries that Bianca must sort through. At first, she is blessed with rescue in the Haven after her stepmother’s servant, Drago fails to kill her. Unlike Snow White, however, she plans to overcome her alluring stepmother’s plans to win over the adoring community, to help them see through her pretentious facade.

‘Hunter’s Moon’ weaves fantasy, fairy tales and traditions with a little bit of magic and steam punk (automata) to bring about a challenging tale. You can never be sure who is hanging around in the shadows – friend or foe.

This is the challenge Bianca faces throughout the tale – who can she trust? Who can she rely on? How can she expose Belladonna for who she really is? Does she have the strength to do it herself? Who is on her side in the end?

A fantastic twist on a traditional tale – another great novel from the prolific Sophie Masson.

March 7

the Martian – book or movie?

martianScience fiction has not been my favourite genre for some time now (though it used to be..). But I convinced myself to read ‘the Martian’ after recommendations from an English teacher (thanks, Amanda) – before watching the movie, of course. [Note: it is suited to a mature audience.]

If you want a example of the genre, science fiction – then this is it! ‘The Martian’ is full of scientific events, descriptions and data calculation, which at times I found overwhelming.

The complex explanations and calculations that Mark Watney makes (in order to decide how best to cope with being stranded on Mars) consume a lot of the early part of the book; but after all, he is an astronaut with the associated scientific background. The lucky thing is that he is a botanist, and so able to calculate the best way to grow his own food in the ‘Hab’ – the unit in which the crew of 6 had previously habitated on Mars.

Did I mention Mark Watney was stranded on Mars? This happened after a severe storm, which NASA had predicted, and had thus ordered the evacuation of the team to Hermes, the vessel orbiting Mars (ready for their return to Earth). Assuming he was struck dead in an accident, the other 5 team members reluctantly left him there.

Understandably, there are lots of tensions in ‘the Martian’. Tensions between NASA and Mark Watney regarding the best ways for him to survive. Tensions for the Commanding Officer, Lewis (and her team) who left Watney behind, believing he was dead. Tension also arises as parties within NASA try to decide the best ways to rescue Watney, and whether they should risk the lives of others to rescue him. And of course, global political tensions and overtones are always under consideration.

Mars-Discovery

Martian Landsacpe – Source: http://www.lifehacker.com.au/2015/09/marsnasa-live-blog-watch-tonights-major-announcement-here/

There are also lots of laugh-out-loud moments; which humanise the predicament Watney finds himself in. He complains about the disco music Commander Lewis left behind. He laughs when he makes mistakes. And, he laughingly pronounces loudly the firsts he has achieved as a human on Mars eg. the first colony (his potato farm in the hab). Or to quote the book:

It’s a strange feeling. Everywhere I go, I’m the first. Step outside the rover? First guy ever to be there! Climb a hill? First guy to climb that hill! Kick a rock? That rock hadn’t moved in a million years! I’m the first guy to drive long-distance on Mars. The first guy to spend more than thirty-one sols on Mars. The first guy to grow crops on Mars. First, first, first!

Source: http://www.techinsider.io/the-martian-best-space-sci-fi-movie-2015-8

Movie still – Source: http://www.techinsider.io/the-martian-best-space-sci-fi-movie-2015-8

One of the big issues Watney has is forgiveness –  for the crew that left him behind. They did what they were expected to do, given the information they had, and for this he forgives them. Of course, they have no hesitation when called upon later to initiate a rescue mission. But that, they must realise, could have implications for their future careers – as well as their lives.

In reality, how long can a man survive when his survival depends on monitoring all things needed for survival in a harsh environment – food, water and oxygen? Would you survive, or just give up?

Having already told too much of the story, I will pause here with a comment from a recent Catalyst program which actually praised the value of sci-fi literature (the Martian, in particular) for inspiring the imagination:

NARRATION
But perhaps one of the key benefits of sci-fi is it helps makes the future seem more possible.

Dr Katie Mack
Like with The Martian, you know, you see this landscape, it’s depicted as a place you can go, an achievable goal. And so I think a lot of times people see these kinds of depictions in science-fiction and that makes it seem more achievable and it makes it seem like more of a goal that they can work toward. Source: http://www.abc.net.au/catalyst/stories/4415534.htm

Another part of the Catalyst program pointed out discrepancies in ‘the Martian’, and scientific fact as we know it; BUT, who knows what science fiction will inspire in the future?

## Looking forward to watching the movie soon – to fill visual gaps – and of course, so that I can point out what they missed from the book! Did YOU read the book first?