August 21 2019

Short stories anyone?

In the busyness of life, it’s sometimes hard to find the time to dedicate to a whole novel. With schoolwork, sport and other activities, time to read has fallen aside. And if you find reading hard, keeping track of a storyline can be difficult. Why not try a short story or two?

Always on the lookout for short stories to add to the library collection? This collection, ‘That Stubborn Seed of Hope’, will “take you on a nail-biting journey through your worst nightmares” – or so the blurb tells you. Indeed, it is a great collection, which you can dip in and out of, choose which ones you want to read, and then spend some time pondering how you are feeling afterwards…

  • What does it feel like to think you are a 17-year-old mistakenly trapped in an 80-year old’s body?
  • What if you lived in a world where physical contact was prohibited due to a virus (would you risk a kiss?)?
  • How do you cope with a brother’s vegetative existence after a major accident, for which you have some aspect of guilt?

These are a few of the issues which author, Brian Falkner, tackles in his collection of 10 short stories:

…stories of fear, heartbreak and tragedy, but also… stories of endurance, of coping and overcoming.

Brian Falkner also encourages the writer. At the end of this book, he includes a section outlining what inspired/directed each story. Thoughts for aspiring writers, if you wish to look beyond the stories. There is also advice for young writers on his website.

What other short story collections have you enjoyed? Any you would recommend?

Will well-written short stories help to engage time-poor readers?

August 16 2019

CBCA awards 2019 announced…

So while I am away, the CBCA awards for 2019 have been announced – here’s the link for those who wish to follow results – https://www.cbca.org.au/winners-2019

Congrats to Emily Rodda for her continued success in writing award winning books for young children (‘His Name was Walter’ winning the Younger Readers category) and, also to  Claire Atkins in the Older Readers category for ‘Between Us’ (this is one I am yet to read…).

Of course, it is also hard to beat the prolific Shaun Tan (with Cicada).

The collection selected this year is well summarised at the CBCA website, which reflects the gammit of issues and topics now well expressed in Australian Children’s Literature.

But very much like the Archibald Prize, I never manage to pick the actual winners – did you?

August 12 2019

Discovery: dyslexicbooks.com

In an earlier post, my discovery of dyslexic-friendly books was introduced (search post on Letter to my Teenage Self). These books have been published to help overcome some of the difficulties experienced by people with dyslexia This was a discovery in my local BMCC library.

Visiting the Dyslexicbooks.com website reveals a great array of choices, ranging from:

  • wonderful stories like Butterflies by Suzanne Gervay (2001), Simple Gift by Steven Herrick (2000)
  • classic fairy tales (like the Ugly Duckling and Three Little Pigs),
  • series fiction (think John Flanagan, Jack Heath, Andy Griffith) and,
  • latest releases (including CBCA 2019 titles and new adult fiction, e.g. Allegra in Three Parts and Boy Swallows the Universe).

Dyslexic Books are specially formatted books for people with dyslexia. Our books use a dyslexic font that is designed to alleviate some of the difficulties typically reported by readers with dyslexia, such as swapping or flipping letters and skipping lines without noticing.

Additional advice is given about dyslexia – identifying the symptoms, early signs in children and signs in adults. Other support services are also collated on the site.

It is also worth taking note of this encouraging quote from the site:

Nevertheless, there are many dyslexics who have overcome their difficulties and lead successful and happy lives. Examples of famous and successful people with dyslexia include Orlando Bloom, Richard Branson, Tom Cruise, Leonardo da Vinci, Walt Disney, Albert Einstein, Whoopi Goldberg, John F Kennedy, George Washington, George W Bush, John Lennon, Jamie Oliver, Pablo Picasso and Steven Spielberg.

While these books do not claim to have all the answers to dyslexia, some problems may be alleviated. It would certainly be worth looking for such titles at your own public library, as many are trialling their popularity.

# Have you found any yet?

## An interesting side-note. In a discussion with an adult friend with dyslexia, she said that reading was easier for her on a Kindle. I assume a dyslexic-friendly font may well be part of the reason for the difference??

### I also acknowledge that there are other publishers like Barrington Stoke who provide a range of dyslexic friendly titles. However, Dyslexicbooks has a great range of Australian titles.

August 5 2019

Discovery: Letter to my Teenage Self

Subtitle: Outstanding Australians share the advice they wish they’d been given growing up. (2016)

This book was pulled together (i.e. edited and published) by Grace Halpen when she was 15 and in year 10 at a school in Melbourne. Having written her own ‘Letter to my Teenage Self’, she was then inspired to gather letters from well-known adult Australians in various fields of experience.

Writers include sportspeople, performers, writers, politicians, researchers, entrepreneurs and more.

Adam Gilchrist advises his younger self to learn a musical instrument; Josh Frydenberg sends the  message that persistence pays off; Layne Beachley warns against comparing yourself to others – “Always believe you are deserving of love and you are enough, just the way you are.”

Many of the contributors point out that we all make mistakes – but this is how we learn. Respect for others is also a common theme. Recognising the support you can get from parents and friends, who have your best interest at heart, is not always obvious to teenagers – another common idea expressed by many.

Some try to help their younger self understand and get through bullying episodes – reflecting back and now being able to raise their heads triumphantly in a successful career – and wondering how their bully fared in life. (e.g. Missy Higgins, Judith Lucy). Others suggest that teens not take themselves too seriously (“Guess what? No one is watching your every move” – James O’Loghlin), and “try to be a little less arrogant” (Sir Gustav Nossal).

As well as these sentiments, there is a lot of encouragement to ‘be yourself and be courageous in following your dreams’. This is in spite of the angst many remember – angst about fitting in, body changes and all that is involved in the journey through the teenage years.

Discovering who you are in the teenage years is a challenging time. Many of these letters will speak to the heart of both teenagers and adults alike. Thank you to Grace and her willing mentors – this is a fantastic collection well worth dipping into.

Read about Grace’s editorial journey here.

Other contributors include Guy Sebastian, Peter Alexander, Jackie French, Dannii Minogue, Shaun Tan, Stephanie Rice, Maggie Beer and many more. (I only wish there was an index or table of contents which listed the letters of the 53 prominent Australians!)

# The edition I read was a Dyslexia Friendly book – obtained from Blue Mountains Council Library. These books have a special font and layout to help alleviate some of the issues experienced by readers with dyslexia.

## It is also available as an ebook from various sources.

### Another bonus from this book, is the fact that all profits from the sale of the book go to the Reach Foundation, which works to “inspire young people to believe in themselves and get the most out of life.”

What would you like to tell your younger self?

July 29 2019

Worse than school

“There are lots of things worse than school.”

This comment, made by Charlotte, begins an argument between her and Luke’s best mate, Blake; on a day they decide to skip school. It later becomes something Luke ponders more deeply, as he gets to know Charlotte a little better.

In usual Steven Herrick style, ‘the Bogan Mondrian’ is told in a clear, waste-no-words fashion.

Luke and his friends are relatable characters – teens biding their time at school, but preferring to spend a more casual existence away from school. As regular visitors to the principal’s office for truanting and cheekiness, they are nonetheless likeable.

Luke is still coming to grips with life after his father’s premature death from cancer. Charlotte has recently enrolled in the local public high school he attends, though she is clearly from a wealthy background and could attend a costly private school. Even though they live in contrasting worlds of wealth, their friendship evolves as they work through their own personal issues, and occasionally gain support from each other.

That said, it is not always an easy relationship, with aggression and flareups often arising. Luke is uneasy about Charlotte’s homelife, and Charlotte is not very willing to be open and honest with everyone – under attack and often quite aggressive herself.

Other characters woven into the story provide interesting levels of support for Luke, in the absence of his father. Rodney, a petty local criminal, gives Luke a few pointers/things to think about at times, and later in the story, tools for action. Neighbour, Mr Rosetti, also provides advice and amusing banter each time they cross paths. Even Buster (the local mutt that Luke adopts for his walks) has a important place in grounding Luke’s emotions throughout the story.

For Blue Mountains readers, there will be places and names you may well enjoy recognising. On the other hand, you may have to allow poetic licence to Herrick as he tells his tale – with the cultural divide north and south of the highway a bit irksome, and the efforts of the Mr Pakula, the school principal, (seeking out truants himself) a bit questionable. But still the story must be told.

You will find that there are worse things than school; things sadly that some young people face daily. Herrick’s fictional youth tackle these the best way they can – though not always with glowing success. Lots of food for thought and highly recommended reading.

# Those who wonder about the title and cover design can find information on Mondrian here.

## More importantly, after you have finished ‘the Bogan Mondrian’, you can read here the reasons why Steven Herrick wrote this book.

### Shortlisted for CBCA Older Readers 2019.

July 24 2019

CBCA – promoting Australian Children’s literature

Link to CBCA Book Week details

Can you recall what you read as a young child?

  • Was it suited to a young child?
  • Was it age-appropriate?
  • Was it something you understood?
  • Was it from an Australian author?

At a recent Blue Mountains CBCA gathering in the school holidays, I was reminded of how far Australian children’s literature has come over the years. We were lucky to have author Libby Gleeson speak at the dinner function.

Libby, who has been writing children’s literature for 35 years, reminisced that we were not always blessed to have such a great amount ‘children’s literature’ from Australian authors. And, that writing quality books for younger age groups has also been a much more recent development.

How fortunate are young readers now? There are so many quality books for 0-5 year olds!

However, the abundance of children’s books about – some far cheaper and in greater supply than others – may sometimes mean it is hard to find the best. This, of course, is where the CBCA is invaluable. Since its inception in 1945, it has been fundamental in promoting children’s books of high literary and artistic quality, and in fostering a vibrant community of Australian authors and illustrators of children’s literature.

Our Vision is to be the premier voice on literature for young Australians and to inform, promote critical debate, foster creative responses, and engage with and encourage Australian authors and illustrators to produce quality literature. Through these efforts, we are nurturing a literate, educated and creative society. (from CBCA website – https://www.cbca.org.au/about)

As Children’s Book Week (17 – 23 August 2019) nears, schools and libraries are keenly aware of the CBCA (preparing book parades, competitions and all kinds of literary promotions). Through out year, this community is also involved in lots of professional activities – it doesn’t all just happen in Book Week!

For those who would like to see this furthered locally, you can vote for the Blue Mountains branch of the CBCA to gain funding from My Community Project. It is looking for a grant to support a Blue Mountains Festival of Children’s Literature in 2020. For details (and to vote) go to: My Community Project. Please have a look and make your vote count for children’s literature! (Note: Voting ends 15/08/2019)

July 21 2019

Perspectives – And the Ocean was our Sky

Patrick Ness, the author of ‘a Monster Calls‘ and ‘the Chaos Walking‘ trilogy,  is known for looking at things from a different perspective – so the inverted point of view in ‘And the Ocean was our Sky‘ should come as no surprise.

It is a tale told from the point of view of Bathsheba. Who or what Bathsheba is, takes a while for the reader to determine. However, when this comes about, it really turns your thoughts upside down.

Thankfully, there is some revelation of the setting in the beautiful illustrations of Rovina Cai. These play an integral part of the story, creating a time to pause and reflect on the events in the text. They are also a  reminder that different worldviews exist; their swirling colours echo the turbulence of the tale. (Warning: some of these may upset young readers.)

Key character Bathsheba reluctantly works as an apprentice under Captain Alexandra, in brutal battles against their foe. She bemoans that she never wished to be a hunter, and it becomes clear that her acute thinking skills will come to the fore. She constantly questions the morality and reasons for their obsessive searches for the devil known as ‘Toby Wick’, and their aggressive hunt for ‘man-ships’.

And the Ocean was our Sky‘ begins with ‘Call me Bathsheba…’ – a line that mimics one from Herman Melville’s famous ‘Moby Dick’. Indeed, there are many clever nods to this famous tale – now told by Ness from a far different perspective, where the hunted becomes the hunter! Ness has also made some interesting choices when naming characters like Bathsheba, Alexandra, Demetrius and Wilhelmina – the work of a master craftsman, don’t you think?

The story questions the things which we may use to justify our actions, emotions and prejudices. Should there be a never-ending war, just because “So it has been, so it shall always be.”? Is the enemy real or a myth? Do we keep enemies in our minds without really knowing why? Can moral choice instead override the historical biases laid on a culture? Must Bathsheba continue to follow in her assigned role forever?

Below, Patrick Ness introduces his book:

 # This was read as an audiobook – but fortunately with the beautifully illustrated copy on hand. This was definitely a time where the physical book was essential!! 

## ‘A Monster Calls‘ was previously reviewed here.

July 5 2019

Inspiration, lockdown, detention

What inspires a writer? Well, just about anything in everyday life, it seems.

Listening to Tristan Bancks being interviewed on TV the other day made this quite clear. His new book, Detention, was inspired during a school visit when there was a lockdown. As a school visitor, he was involved in the drill, and listened as the teachers and students discussed examples of lockdown situations they had experienced in the past.

Spinning on from this, his creative mind pondered what else might generate a lockdown situation. Then an actual news item, about asylum seekers on the run, further sparked his ideas for a story involving a young girl whose family attempts to escape a detention centre.

While I have not yet read Detention, early reviews suggest that fans of Two Wolves and the Fall will again enjoy a thriller from Bancks. (You can also view the first part of his book – and then submit your own reviews directly back to Tristan! Just click on the link in the quote below.)

And now it’s your turn. You’ve read the early Detention book reviews and I’d love to read your review. The first three chapters are free and you can buy it in Australian bookstores big and small from 2 July. (from Tristan’s website)

Detention tackles the issues faced by young asylum seekers, giving readers lots to think about – putting them in the shoes of those caught in the politics of the world through no fault of their own. You can expect real characters which you can identify with, as well as a situation which you may need to think about carefully, dealing with the tragic experience faced by many fleeing conflicts around the globe.

Of course, there is a lot more work involved in story-writing, including lots of authentic research (which Tristan discusses in the TV interview here). But then, you wouldn’t expect anything less for a result like this!

June 28 2019

Obsession or escape?

What do you know about dead things? How do they make you feel?

Charlotte (Lottie) seems oddly fixated on dead creatures – collecting them from her local neighbourhood in the hope of preserving them. Her interest extends to anything at school which alludes to preserving life, such as the embalming rituals of the Egyptian culture. Is there a reason for this?

Her Aunt Hilda (who cares for her, and her father, since the death of her mother) struggles to cope with Lottie’s obsession, calling it crazy and unhealthy. Thus she constantly tries to block Lottie’s collection and preservation attempts.

In his own grief, Lottie’s father also struggles. However, as a scientist, he supports her investigations – and encourages her scientific curiosity and interest in taxidermy.

In “The Art of Taxidermy”, death, grief and emotions are both raw and beautiful. Mix in a few elements from the past (an immigrant history) and cultural conflicts of the time (mid 60’s?) and you can understand the turmoil Charlotte/Lottie and her family experience.

As a verse novel, the reading flows easily. (If you haven’t tried a verse novel before, this is a good one to choose.) Australian readers will lap up the vivid and concise descriptions of all that Charlotte finds beautiful – dead or alive e.g.:

The corellas were grazing
with a scatter of galahs.
We sat on a fallen log
and watched them squabble and tussle,
beat their wings and waddle
like hook-nosed old men
with their arms tucked
behind their backs.

What some might struggle with is her fascination with ‘dead things’. But then, that may be the key to understanding the issues of dealing with premature death – from sickness, accidents and war – to intentionally make you uncomfortable. Through all these things, Sharon Kernot explores how we might feel in this wonderful, but heartbreaking verse novel. Don’t hesitate – read it – available from your school library – and in ebook version from other sources too!!

Have you read a verse novel in the past? Did you like it?

Don’t you love Kernot’s descriptions of the Australian countryside? Which part is your favourite?

Why do you think Aunt Hilda is so much against Lottie’s ”obsession”? Is it the right choice?

Note: this book is shortlisted for CBCA honours this year. Will it be a worthy winner?

June 24 2019

I’ve finished; now what?

So you’ve just finished reading a fantastic book. Once you have let go of the characters which are probably still spinning around in your head, how do you decide what to read next?

Well, apart from browsing the pile of books you may have on hand, you may like to get a bit of help, so here’s a few ideas:

Inside a Dog is a fabulous site for Australian YA readers, not only for recommendations but also to be involved. Find out about new books, enter competitions, submit your own reviews and even publish your own work. Totally relatable, as much of it is written for teens by teens.

So if you want personal accessible recommendations, definitely start here. You can also follow Inside a Dog on Twitter or Instagram for regular updates!

LibraryThing allows you to add the books you read, and then recommendations and other information come to you. Have a look at our LibraryThing (seen on the sidebar below) – click on a book and check the information available to you about it and other similar titles.

Similarly, you could Join GoodReads. This is a community of readers, which works a bit like NetFlix once you have added some titles to your own profile. Recommendations come up based on what you have read, liked or commented on. You can choose to be as private or public as you want – either using it as your own personal catalogue, or commenting and reviewing the books you read and joining in with the conversations of others, including friends and groups. Easily accessible as an app too.

Sites like WhichBook? are good for making you think about what you like in a book, and for generating some title suggestions also (though maybe short on Australian authors). Work your way through the options which matter the most to you, and recommendations are made.

Happy reading – I hope this gives you some great suggestions – but don’t forget that the Library staff at both school and local libraries are always ready with recommendations for you also, so don’t be afraid to ask!!