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:

February 17

Two boys, two families – the Kite Runner

Two boys, two families, together from ‘babyhood’, but with differing destinies. That is the foundation of ‘the Kite Runner’.

Set initially in Afghanistan in the 1970’s, it is a tale of friendship, loyalty, betrayal, prejudice and forgiveness. With this background of economic crisis, political instability and the uprising of the guerrilla opposition forces, the mujahidin (“Islamic warriors”), life is extremely challenging.

For Amir, the son of a wealthy well-respected businessman (Baba), life should have been almost carefree. But without his mother (who died in childbirth), Amir struggles to gain his father’s love and attention. Blessed with a playmate, Hassan, he is, however, able to enjoy some childhood joy.

Hassan lives with his father, Ali, who works as a servant to Amir’s father. Though Baba and Ali have also been friends since childhood, their status in Afghanistan is defined by their heritage; thus Ali and Hassan, scorned upon as Hazaras, are fortunate to work for Baba.

As a young child, Amir has the undying loyalty of Hassan. In contrast, Amir finds it hard to defend Hassan when he faces the taunts and attacks that come his way from the local Muslim bullies. He also struggles to meet his father’s ideal of a son, except for one particular occasion – and even then, he ultimately fails in another respect.

Having been born in Kabul himself, Hosseini was the child of middle-class parents like Amir. His family, too, left Afghanistan when he was young and were unable to return due to the Soviet invasion in 1979. They sought political asylum in the United States.

Therefore, it seems like much of the Kite Runner is autobiographical, as it certainly provides a thought-provoking story of life in a battle-torn country. Hosseini provides snippets of information about how another country faces clashes of culture and ingrained beliefs and the impact on the lives of children and their families. He pulls no punches in describing some of the dire situations in which a ‘less significant’ person might find themselves in an age of economic struggle and political turmoil.

Amir’s conscience encourages us to hope that not all mankind believes in these class structures, though his inaction is constantly frustrating. After a surprising act from Amir, the families are separated and then external factors force Amir and Baba to flee the country, and they get a taste of the life of the less-privileged as political refugees.

Throughout the story, Amir reflects on the importance of family and traditions, and the rich cultural Afghan heritage is peppered within this. The atrocities of war and violence are also a strong feature which makes some parts challenging, trying to understand how such things can happen. In spite of these dangers, Amir is ultimately compelled to return to Kabul – to seek peace, redemption and more.

the Kite Runner – book to movie

‘The Kite Runner’ was actually a debut novel for author Khaled Hosseini, and the author states that “if I were given a red pen now and I went back … I’d take that thing apart”. However, it has received many many accolades (and sales) since it was first published in 2003.

(Khaled Hosseini: ‘If I could go back now, I’d take The Kite Runner apart’ from: https://www.theguardian.com/books/2013/jun/01/khaled-hosseini-kite-runner-interview)

# I’m not sure I really liked Amir, even at the end of the novel: do we have to allow him forgiveness for his actions? is there a better ‘hero’ in the story?

## I have not seen the film version and wonder if it gave an even glossier finish to the tale?

November 26

Launching ‘the Godwits’

godwitsWhile this blog is mainly dedicated to reviewing Young Adult fiction, after attending the book launch of ‘the Godwits’ recently, I knew I had to write about it.

This is a tale that connects two worlds – and shows how they impact on one another, in spite of great distances and differing perspectives.

In one place, Gao Wei, the young son of Gao Da and Gao Shu, celebrates his birthday on the shores of the Yellow Sea in China; his new binoculars in hand. Many thousands of kilometres away, Gowie, a migratory bird also celebrates a birthday, as he awaits a momentous occasion.

Wei is passionate about birds, in much the same way as author Bruce Pickworth describes his own long-term passion for writing. Wei’s passion moves him to oppose a development which his father, Da, is meant to support in his work, and the battle begins. (Bruce’s has finally produced a picture book!)

In the other ‘world’, Gowie personifies the life of a Bar-tailed Godwit – an amazing bird which annually migrates between Australia/New Zealand and Alaska, via mainland China. We learn about the instincts these birds need to call upon, and the behaviour of the flock and who controls it. We are reminded that the power of the individual is not determined by size, but by attitude and relationships, when it comes to achieving leadership.

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As the tale develops, page by page, events in Wei’s life sit alongside those of Gowie; as each becomes stronger, and better acknowledged by others.

Dr Meredith Burgmann, who launched ‘the Godwits’, reminisced her own battles against developments threatening the environment. She also identified with many other aspects the book touches on like freedom of speech, feminist issues and family relationships. And then she wondered if it was time again for her to protest – in front of a grader about to start a demolition like Wei does in the story!

Author, Bruce Pickworth has combined a life-long passion for writing with a family interest in bird-watching, adventuring and natural discoveries. The result is a delightful tale which both entertains and informs, as Wei and Gowie overcome struggles put before them. Illustrator, Lorraine Robertson, provides gloriously detailed scenes to contrast the two worlds (as well as informing the astonishing fact pages). Authentic support from Birdlife Australia and their own personal histories bring Bruce and Lorraine together in achieving a wonderful project.

Once the story itself is finished, it is complemented by pages of amazing facts about Godwits, and actions that have been taken to ensure their migration path remain accessible  as the industrial world encroaches on these sites.

Here is another book to join those like Jeannie Baker’s ‘Circle’ to both entertain and inform our younger readers – and stun and amaze older readers, by presenting great visuals, and an appealing story for important environmental issues we must all consider. (It may be interesting to use them as comparative texts?)

* Copies of the book and teachers notes are available from Bullawai Books. The trade and school distributor is INT BOOKS – intbooks.online

November 18

A Monster Calls – Patrick Ness

a_monster_callsConor is facing a monster – it looms high above him and takes on the shape of the old yew tree – except it is in his bedroom. And it leaves evidence from its visit – like poisonous red yew berries strewn across his bedroom floor. This nightmare has been visiting him, ever since his mother started her treatment.

Life is troubled for Conor. At school, he is targeted by bullies; at home, his interfering grandmother has come to stay; and now, he feels distant from others he used to be friends with. His mother is also distant as she battles illness, even though she puts on a brave face.

Then all of a sudden, everyone wants to ‘have a little talk’:

  • at school, his teachers ‘have a little talk’ when he gets caught fighting
  • his grandmother wants ‘a chat’ about his mother
  • his father (returned briefly from his overseas/other family) discusses ‘the future’
  • and even the monster forces Conor to ‘talk’ – to express himself after three tales he tells him

‘A Monster Calls’ came about when Patrick Ness was asked to complete a story which orginated with another author. Unfortunately, Siobhan Dowd* tragically succumbed to illness before her characters and ideas came together fully in her novel. As stated in the preface, Ness was at first hesitant to write the story, but thankfully, was able to take a hold of her ideas which:

…were suggesting new ones to me …(so that)… I began to feel the itch that every writer longs for: the itch to start getting words down, the itch to tell a story.

(Then) along the way, I had only one guideline: to write a book I think Siobhan would have liked. Patrick Ness.

‘A Monster Calls’ has recently been released as a movie, which may not be for the faint-hearted as this clip may suggest:

‘A Monster Calls’ works on many levels as Conor struggles to cope with all that life is dealing him.

As a fantasy novel, it is a little different from his previous dystopian ‘Chaos Walking’ trilogy. It challenges your feelings, questions the way people sometimes act, by presenting everyday events that you can relate to. Nightmares, real or imagined, face us all at times – emotions may ride high as a result.

Look around – what are your monsters, and how do you tackle them?

Do you think Siobhan Dowd would like the story Patrick Ness developed from her ideas?

November 16

Prime Minister’s Literary Awards 2016

Teachers and students, if you are looking for some great reading after a hectic exam period, or planning ahead for the holidays, then why not visit the Prime Minister’s Literary Awards site to see which books have been given accolades this year?

prime-ministers-2016

Among these awards are categories for fiction, non-fiction, poetry, Australian history and Young Adult fiction. Notably, several books which were on the CBCA list were also included in the shortlist for this award. Have you read any of them yet? Perhaps there are suggestions here for Christmas presents for family and friends – impress them with your choices!

non-fiction

Here’s a link to more detail about the winning entries from the Better Reading website, to help you make you choices. See what you can find in our library, and ‘get your reading on’!

November 14

Before you see the movie…

Now out in cinemas, the Light Between Oceans, is a powerful story – with lots of questions about how the decisions we make can drastically impact the lives of others.

Previously reviewed here, the story remains thought-provoking, heart-breaking and well-worthy of being made into a movie – but READ IT FIRST – it’s an incredibly moving debut novel, from an Australian author!

I wonder how well the movie will reflect the book?

N.B. not really YA, but good for older readers.

November 7

How to write – Richard Harland

richardAt a Creative Writers’ camp recently, Richard Harland worked with students to demonstrate ways in which they might create and build a story. He drew on examples from some of his most popular stories, Worldshaker and Song of the Slums to inspire students to investigate the feelings and emotions of the characters, and how they might develop these ideas in their own writing.

One of the things he emphasised was that writing requires you to draw on your own experiences. However, he assured us that even if you haven’t actually experienced the particulars of an event, it is possible to transfer emotions from a similar event to develop an idea. So we then had a few “have you ever…?” moments to inspire ideas and discussion.

Early on, Richard spoke of his own writer’s block – his first fully published success was at the age of 45 even though he has written all his life! Discovery of your own writing style and talents is thus important, he stated. He encouraged students to seek comment from others – both positive and negative – so that they might work out what they write best.

Another idea he demonstrated in the workshop was that writers are all unique, drawing from different experiences and lifestyles to create their stories. As we shared our ideas, this was clearly  obvious, with many different scenarios developed around the group. “Ransack your memories…

The finale was when Richard demonstrated his SteamPunk guitar, which he encouraged a friend to create from his own imagination.

guitar

“Put yourself in the character’s shoes, and imagine how s/he would be feeling.”

In weeks to come, there should be some reviews or comments from those on the camp who purchased his book, Song of the Slums, so check back soon.

October 17

Banned Books

While on a recent holiday in the US, I visited a library with some interesting displays.

Outside Fairhope Public Library were colourful displays, as it was taking part in an arts festival. Shops and businesses were invited to ‘yarn bomb’ the streetscape. (See below).

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Inside, to coincide with Banned Book Week, (September 25 − October 1, 2016), they had an interesting collection of books on display – books which had at one time or another been banned in America.

With this in mind, when I returned from holidays, we set up our own (quick) Banned Book Display in the High School Library. There were some interesting titles which came up in the searches library staff completed – including some books which are now considered ‘classics’ and others with a popular following among young readers.

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Banned Books Display – Fairhope Public Library

These are some of the titles we found to include in our display:

Where the Wild things Are / The Lorax / Grimm’s Fairy Tales / Alice in Wonderland / The Fault in the Stars / To Kill a Mockingbird / Paper Towns / Tin-tin in America / Of Mice and Men / Charlie and the Chocolate Factory / Brave B=New World / Harry Potter / the Curious incident of the dog in the night-time / the Catcher in the Rye / Bridge to Terabithia / Little Brother / Lord of the Flies / the Absolute Diary of a Part-time Indian / the Hunger Games / Siddharta / the Diary of Anne Frank

Some questions to consider:

Can you think why some of these were banned? Who should decide? Does banning just make the book popular? do the bans reflect the times?

 

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September 8

Rich and Rare…

rich-and-rare-frontAt over 480 pages, Rich and Rare, may at first seem like a challenge – but as a collection of Australian short stories, poetry and artwork, it is probably one of the most accessible books published in Australian YA fiction recently.

Editor, Paul Collins, has described it as as ‘a sumptuous literary feast’ in which ‘no one will go away hungry, as the collection is a literary banquet with something for everyone.’ And like a feast or banquet, it is a book which you can dip in and out of wherever you want, and, as much as you want or need.

With the contents divided into 13 different genre groupings, there will be parts that appeal to many different readers, at different times in their reading journey. With an amazing collection of contemporary Australian authors, it also provides a tasting of writing by our very best, well recognised Australian authors, poets and illustrators – which is truly inspirational.

As a collection of short stories, the anthology provides many great examples of how to tell tale succinctly; which will appeal to a generation which wants things ‘fast and furious’ and who read with ‘a need for speed’.

As a collection of short stories, set in Australian condoitions, it provides many ‘aha’ moments which readers will recognise – for example:

  • the perfect weather which ends school holidays (A Tidy Town)
  • the sadness of losing a sibling (My Brother’s Keeper)
  • the tussles of brotherhood (the Knitting Needle Ninja)
  • when talent and perserverance triumph (Bringing Luisa to Life)

It also provides some interesting tales, which challenge:

  • the rights of privilege and inheritance (the Two-faced Boy)
  • the spirit of adventure (Search)
  • what you should/could do to support your family in times of crisis (I Can’t Sleep)
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# Young and free creators in ‘Rich and Rare’

While Brodie writes diary entries to frogs (the Frog Diaries), a precious pet is lost in Carpet Capers, and a vindictive teacher makes life uncomfortable for his young students (Dr Lovechild Regrets) – but will he reap what he sows? In the mix, with many many more tales, there is a great assortment to both please and intrigue readers – indeed, too many to write about individually.

In the busyness of daily life, this anthology could be  a welcome collection. With reknowned authors, interesting genres/themes and inspirational tales to share, it provides strong but concise stories without huge time demands on readers. Perhaps ones that will inspire discovery of lengthier stories written by many of these talented creators? Indeed, there are many more stories to discover within and beyond this amazing collection.

Which is your favourite:

  • tale with the book?
  • author within the book?