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.

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)
rich-and-rare

# 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?
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?

February 10

Taking a stand – ‘The Beauty is in the Walking’

the-beauty-is-in-the-walkingDoes the title of a book ever keep you wondering all the way through? Does it capture you more, or less, than the book cover?

I admit that I picked this book up based on the reputation of the author. Australian author, James Moloney has over 40  books for children and teenagers in his writing swag, along with a collection of literary awards. But the title had me puzzled.

It is only gradually that the reader is introduced to the narrator, 17-year-old Jacob O’Leary, who seems to be an average teenager – looking for friendship, his own status and love. What makes Jacob unique is his cerebral palsy (CP).

The Beauty is in the Walking shows how this impacts his daily life, his own thinking and his family’s expectations of him. Also, though he has a strong circle of friends, he is sometimes the victim of bullying. And of course, at times, even these friendships can be fickle and changeable when under pressures such as final exams and outside influences.

Set in a fictional country town in Queensland, the story raises issues about outsiders, racism, fitting in and the adolescent search for romance, against the mystery of a series of violent crimes. Jacob shows strength, determination and commitment when he beleives that the police have accused the wromng person for the shocking crime that has impacted the whole community.

At the same time, he begins to question, with the help of his outspoken English teacher (Mr Svenson) and friend, Chloe, the limited opportunities set out for him after he completes Year 12. He struggles with the plan his parents have set for him (to remain in Palmerston in the family business), against the changing perception of his own potential.

Students will identify with the angst felt by Jacob, as he ventures timidly into his first romantic relationship. They will feel his pain as he deals with his mother’s protective nature, intensified since his older brother, Tyke, has left home. And older students will understand the difficulties and anxieties faced in the final days of high school. (Though students in NSW schools may question the timing of some end-of-year events)

Jacob has a lot to prove – to the community, his parents, his teachers and himself. With determination he will try – can he succeed in his ‘walk’?

January 26

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.

August 11

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.

August 6

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?

August 2

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.

 

July 21

A10567 – just a number?

altmannAs I read Alexander Altman A10567, I recalled Suzy Zail’s earlier book the Wrong Boy – and it made sense that this book should follow. It made even more sense, when I read an interview where she spoke of wanting to tell her father’s story of surviving Auschwitz.

As Suzy stated in this interview:

There were history books and photos in the library, but not all children liked to read history books. Not all of them were ready for graphic images. I’d been to schools and libraries and talked to children about their holocaust reading and knew that the best way I could help them understand the holocaust was by giving them a character to care about.

In Alexander Altman A10567, she certainly gives young readers someone to care about (primarily 14 year old Alex). And as she describes the trials and desperation of those in concentration camps, there is also lots to think about on a personal scale. In doing so, Zail has not protected young minds from the brutalities of war, but causes you to think about the dark things that have happened in the world’s history, and the powerful instinct of survival.

Alexander’s world is understandably turned upside down as his family trudges towards the Jewish concentraion camp of Auschwitz. The alone, in survival mode, his wits are sharpened and his trust in others switches off. He sees too much, and questions everything in his efforts to survive. Truly a reflection of the brutal experiences and suffering which Zail researched – but there is hope and humanity to be discovered – somehow.

As another reviewer stated:

Alexander Altmann A10567 is not for the faint-hearted. People die horrendous, senseless deaths between its pages. However, Alexander Altmann A10567 is not to be missed if you can manage to push through. The power of one simple act of kindness truly can change the world.

pic-A-U-Auschwitz concentration camp gate

Auschwitz Concentration Camp Gate

With the character of Alexander Altmann based on the experiences of a real Auschwitz survivor (Fred Steiner), Zail has personalised history, shared the atrocities of war and made history accessible to young readers. Many will identify with the changing emotions of Alexander – even though it might be really hard to imagine being in his place. Certainly, it provides another way to understand some of the impacts of the Holocaust on the Jewish people – fitting well alongside other books such as the Book Thief, the Boy in Striped Pyjamas and of course, the Wrong Boy.

# One of the 21 CBCA Book of the Year Awards Notables for 2015.