August 9

Feeling – Yellow

Life certainly isn’t rosy for Kirra. At school, she is at the mercy of the ‘in’ crowd, at home her mother is drowning at the bottom of a gin bottle and her father won’t offer her a place to escape – even though he still lives close by. In a small coastal town, Kirra faces more than her fair share of challenges in those troubling teen years.

Throw in a ghost who wants her to avenge his murder, and you have a perplexing tale to piece together.

In her debut novel, Megan Jacobsen weaves a clever story which, while dealing with issues like bullying and family dysfunction, is compelling and believable.

Though many of the characters are a bit cliche,  (like the nasty but beautiful in-crowd) ‘Yellow’ will speak to you, and have you wondering about your day-to-day actions and how they impact on others. Kirra’s thoughts reveal how bad life is for her, and how complex life can be for some people. Sorting out who your friends really are is something many teens struggle with, and Kirra’s actions reveal how difficult life is for her.

You may wonder at some of her actions (is she really type to hurt an innocent animal? can a ghost impact your thinking?), but then, there is a lot that is relatable for teens.  There are also lots of twists and turns to keep you wondering in this tragic but challenging tale. How will it end for Kirra? Read it and see!

Yellow is one of this year’s CBCA Shortlisted Books. Will it win?

August 1

Guest post – 2 from the CBCA shortlist

Two reviews for shortlisted books for older readers (compliments from Mr Balbi):

Bone Sparrow. This is a rather confronting read that gives an insight into the lives of detainees in refugee camps. The trials and tribulations of Subhi are heart wrenching and the relationship between him and Jimmie (someone from the outside that is dealing with her own issues of abandonment) as they both find a shared healing process is powerful. This is an engaging read, much like The Boy in Striped Pyjamas in an Australian context.

There’s a tension between trying to live out your dreams and trying to live in incarceration and balancing the two. Perhaps the only way to truly escape is to escape through your imagination.

Frankie. The attraction here is that the novel is set in Melbourne. Another attraction is the influence of a migrant background. Perhaps, the most important attraction is the way Frankie eventually deals with her anger and grows up. Frankie is an angry girl… a very angry girl and is dealing with a mother who abandoned her and a “just found” step brother. Frankie can be annoying at times and you do want to tell her to “get over it” but isn’t that the value of literature – a powerful character that evokes a wide range of emotions in you!

These are another 2 books shortlisted for the CBCA Young Adult awards this year – which one catches your imagination?

Thanks, Mr Balbi for your insight into these novels!

July 28

Feeling historical – the Blue Cat

SYDNEY 1942 – what was it like to live during this period of time? In her new book, the Blue Cat, Ursula Dubosarsky provides insight from a child’s point of view.

Even though the adults try to keep things as normal as possible, Columba can sense that something is awry. Even as they paste black paper over the windows of the front room, her parents reassure her that the war is a long way away. Her teachers also echo this belief, while fostering national pride at every opportunity.

But then things ARE different. There is a sense of foreboding as people listen to news broadcasts, and begin to promote ways to help the ‘war effort’. Even Columba’s young friend, Hilda, is caught up with a desire to raise money after her brother becomes a prisoner of war overseas.

The arrival of Ellery, a refugee from the fighting in Europe adds further to the puzzled life Columba faces, as war impacts more and more in Australia. Why doesn’t he speak English? Where is his family? Should she be friends with him?

‘The Blue Cat’ centres on how children try to make sense of things they aren’t fully aware of, even while life attempts to go on as normal. Throughout the tale, snippets of history are captured, using historical photographs, newspaper clippings and letters:

…the sorts of things that Columba, Hilda and Ellery might have seen and read themselves as they roamed the streets of Neutral Bay in 1942. (Ursula Dubosarsky commenting on the picture sources.)

Told from the perspective of young children, ‘the Blue Cat’ raises questions like:

how much should parents protect their children from world events? (would this even be possible today?)

can children even understand the impact of war at a distance?

what was it like for a child refugee from WWII? (especially a German Jew)what was it like when Australia was under the threat of air raids and bombs?

what was it like when Australia was under the threat of air raids and bombs?

how might we react today?

Dubosarsky chats about what inspired her to write ‘the Blue Cat’ in this guest post on Kids’ Book Review. With an ongoing interest in interpreting and portraying Australia’s past, this follows similar/perhaps stronger tales like ‘the Red Shoe’ and ‘the Golden Day’ which also reflect Australian life in another time. And yet another nomination for the Children’s Book Council of Australia awards for 2017. Will it get your vote?

(Click on titles to see past reviews of these.)

July 19

Off the edge? ‘One Would Think the Deep’ – Claire Zorn

Yet another year of nominations for Claire Zorn – this time for a story (One Would Think the Deep) set in 1997 in a small coastal town, where surfing is a major activity.

Sam once lived in Sydney with his mum, but following her untimely death, he moves north to live with his mother’s estranged sister and her family. Though once family ties were strong, it is hard for Sam to adjust to this different lifestyle and struggles to deal with the changes as he mourns his mum.

In his new ‘home’, Sam’s cousin Minty is idolised as the next surfing champ, and as Sam reconnects with his cousin, he too is introduced to the world of surfing and all its challenges. The highs and lows of Sam’s life are echoed in his attempts to conquer the waves. His friendships also have their highs and lows, with events from the past impacting on his behaviour as he tries to find his way.

Situations in which Sam finds himself make you feel for him as he deals with his losses, but his choices make you want to shake him to his senses. Will he make the most of what he still has? Can he overcome the difficulties he has been dealt? Who will be able to break through to him of he won’t really reveal some of his troublesome thoughts?

This is another authentic story from Zorn, though I think I liked ‘the Protected’ more. Is that simply because of the way Sam made me feel? Is it good that Sam made me react to his choices?

After you have read ‘One Would Think the Deep’, for some interesting reviews from others, visit Inside a Dog. And here is part of a review from the State Library of NSW:

One Would Think the Deep has a potent emotional heart, great characters and beautiful writing. Built around gorgeous evocations of surfing and the sea, it is driven by wonderfully evoked characters and an empathetic exploration of masculinity. Source:

Now consider if OWTTD gets your vote for the Young Adult CBCA award this year. Comments?

June 20

Guest review: What matters?

Lauren Wolk has been able to capture many of the elements of To Kill a Mockingbird (and even some from Jasper Jones) as Annabelle has to deal with the prejudices against the town outcast Toby (a World War I veteran). Toby is the first to be accused when things go wrong and when he is accused of kidnapping Betty (the girl who terrorises Annabelle and her brother) it’s up to Annabelle to protect Toby from an unjust town.

More importantly, the ending is one that you just don’t expect.

This really is a moving story that will have you enthralled and captivated throughout.

Mr A. Balbi

Category: General | LEAVE A COMMENT
June 20

Guest review: Passing judgement?

I think I like Robert Newton more and more (When We were Two was already a great favourite of mine) as this novel takes me on a rollercoaster ride to dream fulfilment.

Ok, so the start is very shocking but the relationship that forms between Lexie, Davey and Mr Romanov is so heart-warming and challenging that you tend to forget the shocks at the start.

All three live in a rundown housing project in Melbourne and all three have their reasons for wanting to leave and chase their dream in Surfer’s Paradise.

I found the twists… not all that we hoped for will come true in exactly the way we wanted to be a very life-affirming message.

I also found the courage to look beyond first impressions and to appreciate what lies below very heartening.

Lexie, Davey and Mr Romanov will enthrall and captivate you as they journey together, avoid the police and deal with disappointments in their life-changing journey to their dreams. – Alex Balbi

Category: General | LEAVE A COMMENT
June 7

Big questions – the Honest Truth

Your friend has gone missing, and you have finally worked out where he is heading. The trouble is, you think he doesn’t want to be found. And he is trusting you not give him away. What should you do?

For most of his life, Mark has been battling to stay alive. When his cancer returns, he decides he wants to do what he wants to do – and not be dictated to by others such as doctors. In other ways, Mark is lucky – he has loving parents, a great friend in Jessie, and a loyal dog. These are his supports – but he has had enough. He wants to be a normal kid, but how can this happen if you spend your life in and out of hospital?

‘The Honest Truth’, by Dan Gemeinhart, is a gentle but emotional tale, dealing with big questions – of life and death, friendship and promises. It will have you in tears; then in the next minute, pondering what YOU might do if YOU were Mark’s friend.

For those who have loved books like ‘the Fault in our Stars’, or ‘Zac and Mia’, this tale presents the thoughts of a terminally ill protagonist who fights to achieve a personal goal. It intersperses these with the thoughts of his friend Jess, and how his parents deal with his choices. How this occurs, and the impact his disappearance has on others, make for a moving story with a powerful message about some of the important things in life.

A closing quote from the Honest Truth states:

“What Jessie said wasn’t a lie. It was just a better kind of truth.”

How this fits with the story is for the reader to discover; just like understanding “the mountain was calling me”, and why. Recommended read.

May 30

When life gives you challenges – Dandelion Clocks

Life already has lots of challenges when you are entering your teen years, right? Well, throw in an extremely challenging brother and a secret your parents are keeping from you, and that makes life difficult.

Olivia has this to deal with, as well as a growing infatuation with Ben, who she thinks her best friend is also keen on. How tragic can life be?

‘Dandelion Clocks’, by Rebecca Westacott, presents these, and many other typical ‘teen’ issues in an authentic voice – that of Olivia, as she deals with a major family event. How she copes (or not) feels very real, as the story deals with the ups and downs of a typical teenager – but with added complications.

Rebecca Westcott addresses many mother-daughter issues in this novel which has really strong and noticeable characters. Living with a brother with Asperger’s is challenging enough for Liv, but then it seems that her whole world falls apart.

How the family copes with a major event in their lives varies – dependent on who they are –  mother, father, daughter, son. But as the tale is told through Olivia’s (Liv’s) eyes, we watch her struggle with family responsibilities, friendship loyalties and young love.

You may need a box of tissues in some parts, or just be happy to laugh at the differences in the generations, as Liv compares her mother’s diaries to her own life experiences. Either way, Dandelion Clock has a lot to make you think about how relationships change and develop over time, and how we might consider what’s worth hanging on to in times of trouble and grief.

## Readers might also like Life on the Refrigerator Door’ by Alice Kuipers (previously reviewed), which also deals with mother-daughter relationships at a time of crisis.

Category: General | LEAVE A COMMENT
February 24

the Mozart Question – Michael Morpurgo

Renowned author, Michael Morpurgo, deals with yet another challenging issue in this short tale – how can we discuss trials and tragedies of the past? How do we heal the impact of extreme and damaging situations which haunt survivors – things their descendants struggle to understand?

When a young reporter is thrust into an important interview with a famous violinist, she is warned not to ask ‘the Mozart question’. Thankfully, she is unaware of what this means and in her innocence of this, she is able to develop an extremely meaningful and significant conversation with a descendant – of a survivor – of a Nazi concentration camp.

Morpurgo has written several stories related to the impact of war  – most famously, War Horse, which has been made into both a global stage play and a movie. ‘The Mozart Question’ tackles the silence many families have faced, post-war, and gives younger readers a hint of discussions that never happened after major wars. What were the things that no-one wanted to discuss? How hard was it to have been a survivor? What were the impacts on life after survival?

‘The Mozart Question’ represents many of the unasked questions we have for survivors of war. In this story, we might ask:

  • Why doesn’t Paulo’s Papa play his violin anymore?
  • Why did his mother never reveal that she also played violin?
  • How will they react to Paulo’s violin lessons?

Morpurgo offers one type of resolution to come through an extreme wartime experience –  what can we learn from this? Can it reflect real life? and what can we learn about human resilience in the face of historical tragedy? Can stories like this show us what people have faced in times of war and beyond? Yes, yes!

# Listen to Michael Morpurgo (2010) discussing where his stories spring from: