August 24

He’s a poet, who knows it! Steven Herrick

herrickWriters watch

and observe

and create. 

Scratchy notes

scribbled on a serviette 

or in a tattered notebook

become a story through their crafting.

 

This week, Steven Herrick shared his observations, transformed into poems, with students at school – in a time of performance art and great merriment. He explained the ways in which his ideas come together, from simple beginnings, daily events and everyday life, while the audience hung on his every word and action. (Thanks for your visit, Steven.)

‘Another Night in Mullet Town’ is also like that. In his typical form of verse novel*, Herrick portrays the life of friends, Manx and Jonah, as they move through days of school, and nights with friends, in a lakeside town facing change. As Manx bemoans:

People like you and me, Jonah,

we drag down the price of everything we touch.

Conflict exists in several predictable but realistic forms – between male student rivals, between rich and poor, and between the locals and new residents aiming to develop the town for ‘bigger and better things’. Friendships and evolving love interests are also handled genuinely and delicately, as are the sometimes strained relationships of Jonah’s parents, and thus, his family situation.

In simple but succinct language, Herrick wastes no words at all – and in his usual finely-honed manner, so this should appeal to many teens. Australian teens, in particular, will enjoy visiting the coastal town he depicts, acknowledge the school situations he describes and may even stop to ponder some of the community and family issues ‘Another Night in Mullet Town’ presents.

And, once you enjoy ‘Another night…’, there are many other award-winning verse novels from Herrick to read – ‘Love Ghosts and Nose Hair’, ‘A Simple Gift’ and more.

For a taste of Herrick’s poetry performance, watch ’10 things your parents will never say’:

*A verse novel is a type of narrative poetry in which a novel-length narrative is told through the medium of poetry rather than prose.

 

August 12

Magic disguises

NewtsEmerald.inddSometimes, authors have an idea for a book which takes a while to complete.

Garth Nix’ book Newt’s Emerald is an example of this – beginning its life (well, the first lines) 23 years before it was published! In a note at the back of the book, Nix talks about the first version of this book “which remains in a bottom drawer and there it will stay.” Thus, Newt’s Emerald represents the re-working of a past tale from Nix’ creative mind.

Within the story there is a mix of fantasy, love story and historical fiction, as Lady Truthful seeks to recapture an enchanted emerald stolen from her ailing father. To do so, she uses her own enchantments (along with those of her aunt), to follow a dangerous journey while disguised as a man.

Woven into the mix is her proposed introduction to society, as a young lady from a well-to-do family, turning eighteen.  Thus, Truthful switches between the roles of a well-bred young lady and a gentleman, known as Chevalier de Vienne (her own French cousin). Will she be detected?

Truthful herself, is a mix of personalities – able to act as a lady, but at the same time able to parry with the male cousins with whom she has grown up. These influences come into play as the story moves into dangerous situations, as Truthful calls upon both her instinct and undeveloped magical powers to recover the Newington Emerald.

Add into this, an evil sorceress, people who are not always who they say there are, and you have situations which can twist and turn as the pages turn.

Newt’s Emerald – ‘a regency romance with a magical twist’. Shortlisted in the CBCA Older Reader’s  category this year.

Will it pull off a magical award? Will it enchant Garth Nix fans? Will the mix of fantasy, romance and historical fiction bewitch young readers?

Perhaps Garth Nix describing his book might invite you into the tale?

June 13

Freedom Ride

freedomSue Lawson’s book, Freedom Ride, has previously been reviewed on this blog, so it is just to offer congratulations for its inclusion on the CBCA shortlist that this post is about. And to offer praise for a well-told historical fiction tale which is sure to make people stop and think.

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. https://crewsreviews.edublogs.org/2015/08/11/history-meets-fiction/

Since this time, Freedom Ride has already received several accolades, being included in the 2016 NSW Premier’s Literary Awards and the Ethel Turner Prize for Young Adult Literature, and of course, the current CBCA shortlist.

Freedom Ride was actually released to coincide with NAIDOC week, an annual celebration of Indigenous achievement. It is another worthy choice which young adults will enjoy, even as it teaches us something (cringeworthy) about our past.

How powerful is it for us to learn history from fiction? Do you enjoy reading historical fiction? 

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’?

February 1

Boys – Stories of war

boyBack in 2006, John Boyne released ‘The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas’ – a tale about a nine-year-old boy growing up during World War II in Berlin. Despite being the son of a Nazi Commandant, Bruno sees the world through the eyes, of a child, which provides an interesting slant on this passage of history.

Once again, Boyne has written a novel set in this time period, and again from a child’s focus – ‘The Boy at the Top of the Mountain’.

This time ‘the boy’, Pierrot, has a mixed heritage, being the son of a French mother and a German father, living initially in Paris. Sadly, this doesn’t remain the case, due to the gradual disintegration of his family:

Although Pierrot Fischer’s father didn’t die in the Great War, his mother Emilie always maintained it was the war that killed him. (opening sentence)

Thus, life changes for Pierrot and he has several relocations and events in a very short time, all set against the background of WWII.

Once again, Boyne’s writing brings the young adult reader some understanding of what life could have been like for young children. It would help to have a knowledge of European geography, as well as what was meant by the Berghof (a home of Hitler), to gain some understanding of the significance in this story – but maybe that’s a challenge for YA readers to reach!

Hear John Boyne talk about his novels:

I didn’t find ‘The Boy at the Top of the Mountain’ as engaging as ‘The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas’. Perhaps the mystery of ‘The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas’ (released without a blurb or much detail about the story from publishers) intrigued readers to begin with? Bruno’s loneliness certainly captured my heart, and I definitely sobbed at the end.

This new tale has similar elements, though it doesn’t feel as complete, but is definitely worth reading as it asks questions of loyalties vs the power of indoctrination. Pierrot faces many choices and changes in his life – some with tragic consequences. No doubt, there will be criticism of some aspects of this story, but its value remains as a way to take a different view of history, and to consider how those, other than the people ‘in power’, were affected by the catastrophic decisions of war – the young, the subservient, those of the ‘wrong’ religion or background.

[For me, this has also been an interesting companion read to ‘All the Light We Cannot See’, another novel set in occupied France during World War II, but at 529 pages of course with a lot more research and detail.]

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January 24

Indie Awards 2016

Each year, the Independent Booksellers select an array of Australian books for recognition. Often these books receive applause further afield, and so the shortlist proves to be a great point, for readers young and old, to select from. Previous winners include Anh Doh, Tim Winton, Richard Flanagan and Craig Silvey (with ‘Jasper Jones’ soon to be released as a movie).

This year’s shortlists (released last week) include:

LEB Indie Shortlist 2016 tiled web banner_1.indd

CHILDREN’S SHORTLIST
Olive of Groves by Katrina Nannestad & Lucia Masciullo, Illus (ABC Books, HarperCollins Australia)
The 65-Storey Treehouse by Andy Griffiths & Terry Denton, Illus (Pan Macmillan Australia)
The Bad Guys, Episode 1 by Aaron Blabey (Scholastic Australia)
*The Singing Bones by Shaun Tan (Allen & Unwin)

YOUNG ADULT SHORTLIST
*Cloudwish by Fiona Wood (Macmillan Australia)
Prince of Afghanistan by Louis Nowra (Allen & Unwin)
*Ranger’s Apprentice: The Early Years 1: The Tournament at Gorlan by John Flanagan (Random House Australia)
*Soon by Morris Gleitzman (Penguin Australia)

Source: http://www.indiebookawards.com.au/#!Shortlist-Announced-for-the-2016-Indie-Book-Awards/cmbz/569c69ff0cf28074ac9d3348

Many of the authors mentioned above would be well recognised by most readers, and our library has those marked *.

I wonder which of these titles will be awarded the top honour? Which one would you choose? 

Other categories also exist at the Indie site –  for debut novels adult reads and non-fiction titles – which are also worth looking into. The Indie Book Awards category winners and the Book of the Year 2016 will be announced at an event in the Sydney CBD on Wednesday 23 March.

Have you been to see your independent bookseller to chat about these titles? Will you have read some of these titles before then? which one will you vote for?

*** Shaun Tan is always hard to beat – so different from the others in the Children’s Shortlist – maybe he’s really in a class of his own?

# Some of the local independent booksellers we rely on include:

the Turning Page, Springwood

Megalong Books, Leura

Wisemans Books, Richmond

Harvard Books, Blaxland

and further afield, the Children’s Bookshop, Beecroft

January 18

Pieces of Sky

skyAs I read this book, I felt as though I had read it already. Was it purely because I had started it a while ago and come back to it? or were the flavours of it similar to others I had read? or did it just resonate teen thoughts to me? I think ‘yes’ to all.

Trinity’s writing is authentic in voice, real for her audience and true to the age group. Like many adolescents, Lucy is seeking real friendships, questioning past and future friendships, while dealing with a major crisis in her life – why did her brother die?

‘Pieces of Sky’ will create discussion – of issues, family relations, dealing with death and how we remember the past.

For me, it was unclear which time period the story was set (memories seemed to fluctuate across different times) and Lucy’s perception of Cam seemed too idealistic – or is that how we like to remember others?

Lots of options to consider : themes of friendship, truth and family relationships. Well worth a read, though I don’t think the author has all the answers. But then, who does?

‘Pieces of Sky’ is a debut novel for Trinity Doyle, who has  also worked as a music photographer, graphic designer, among other things. To find out more about how Trinity thinks, visit her blog : Trin in the Wind – including her details about getting that first book published!

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November 12

Mists and memories

imageAxl and his wife Beatrice cannot understand why they can no longer have a candle in the darkness of their modest home at the edge of their village warren – but that is what had been decided. Struggling also with the taunts of unruly, undisciplined children and the vagueness overcoming other villagers, they decide to embark on a journey to see their son.

Even though, for an elderly couple, such a journey looms as an ominous unknown venture, they feel compelled to attempt it  – and so Ishiguro weaves a veil of intrigue over their travels, and they move amongst differing villages and cultural contexts.

Others they meet along the way include warriors out for revenge, misguided monks upholding tradition and rituals, outcastes of various types, and a brave, though elderly, knight – all with passions of their own, and ideals conflicting with one another.

The world Ishiguro has created has mystical elements, including a mist of forgetfulness, dragons, pixies and ogres. Within this, human spirit battles historical conflicts, myths of the past and present, and that ‘which-may-be-remembered-but-probably-shouldn’t’.

A powerful mist has robbed many of their memories – both good and bad – and Axl and Beatrice had seen evidence of this occurring more and more before they left on their journey. They too, strugged to recall much of their past, but in their hearts they sought to find their son, and so their journey begins.

‘The Buried Giant’ recalls parts of history – the conflict between the Saxons and the Britons, but talks of a time of forgetting when they live peacefully side by side. Niggling memories are what haunt those like Axl and Beatrice, Master Wistan and Sir Gawain, and suspicion and cultural beliefs hunt young Edwin from his native home.

Their fragmented journey together, where loyalties are tested time and again, make for a challenging tale of love, life and destiny. Yet another well crafted tale from Master Ishiguro, including a beautiful portrayal of love and marriage.

For a bit of a taster, listen to this audio excerpt. This is definitely a great book for an audio version – I really enjoyed hearing the different voices, so well expressed by David Horovitch.

For another, more extensive review read: http://www.theguardian.com/books/audio/2015/mar/04/kazuoishiguro-fiction

August 21

And the winner is… (CBCA Awards 2015)

protectedHow exciting! Congratulations to local Blue Mountains authors and illustrators who were awarded highly in this year’s CBCA awards.

Firstly, Claire Zorn, who was nominated last year for her debut novel, the Sky so Heavy, took out the Book of the Year honours in the Young Adult category with the Protected. A timely book – dealing with bullying, sibling relationships and the impact of the untimely death of youth – the Protected is raw, real and thoughtful, and well deserving of the CBCA accolades. Previously reviewed here – we loved it too!

Another Blue Mountains winner was Freya Blackwood who was shortlisted in 3 categories.. and won in 3 categories. Obviously, the authors with whom she collaborated were part of the equation, but to to be teamed with the likes of Libby Gleeson and Irena Kobald, Freya must have proven her worth. Having worked with Libby since their first collaboration on Amy & Louis, won a Children’s Book Council of Australia Book of the Year in 2007, Freya’s talents have continued to shine through in 2015.


‘It’s the first time in the awards’ 69-year history that a single creator has been honoured three times in the same year’
. [Three times lucky…]

Freya’s beautiful pencil and watercolour illustrations in The Cleo Stories: The Necklace and The Present combine well with Libby’s prose to tell a tale many young children will identify with, if they have enough imagination to look for ways to have fun.

cleo cover_s

Freya and Libby also paired to win the Early Childhood category with Go to Sleep, Jessie! – a heart warming story of a sister trying to find a way to comfort her little sister.GotoSleepJessie

my two blIn My Two Blankets, Freya’s illustrations combine this time with Irene Kobald’s concise prose to reflect a cautious integration into a new culture by a young refugee girl.

The gentle nature of the illustrations, with the repetition of the safety of the blanket, and the slow development of the girls’ friendship help to show how new relationships can grow in the face of change; just as Freya works in a different relationship with another author.

# I loved this year’s awards, so much much to ponder  – the first time in many I have actually agreed with the judges!

What did you think? Did you agree with the judges for 2015? or were there other more deserving winners?