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: http://www.sl.nsw.gov.au/one-would-think-deep-claire-zorn

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