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

February 8

Write about what you know…

dietIn her first novel for young adults, Tamar Chnorhokian does exactly that; the Diet Starts Monday is set in Western Sydney and involves the mix of cultures you might expect to find there.

Zara (or Zaruhi, as her Armenian family wants to call her) is a typical western Sydney teenager, except for the fact that she is a size 22 girl with a crush on the hottest guy at school. Because of this, she decides yet again, to go on a diet – but with renewed determination this time, as the Year 12 Farewell looms at the end of the year.

Privy to Zara’s thoughts and anxieties, we can identify with her body image angst, and empathise with the things that trigger her poor eating habits. There are also little hints about what her friends think of her dieting efforts, and her fixation on Pablo Fernandez (after all he already has skinny girlfriend, and, what about his gross habits?).

There are times when you want to shake Zara back to her senses, and make her realise that as she loses weight, she is also losing the respect of her long term friends, Carmelina, Ramsi and Max because of how she is now behaving. I know I was also waiting for her new ‘friends’, Pamela and Holly, to turn around and trip her up on her self-discovery journey. And how was she now treating her own family?

The voices and characters in TDSOM are quite authentic, and the places they go are also real. As a member of Sweatshop, Western Sydney Literacy Movement, this is precisely what Tamar aims to do – to be real and provide an authentic reflection of the community she knows:

SWEATSHOP believes the best way for Western Sydney communities to identify issues that affect them, take control of how they are portrayed and perceived and build alternatives is through literacy.

(Tamar) was one of the original members of The Sweatshop Collective and has been collaborating with Michael Mohammed Ahmad since 2006. Tamar identifies strongly with her Western Sydney community and her Armenian background. [Sweatshop, Western Sydney Literacy Movement]

In an article in the SMH just before her book launch, it is clear how close to Tamar’s heart Western Sydney is:

I wanted to write a positive representation, because there are only negative representations in the media. Where I live, there are wonderful things that happen there, that is the thing I wanted to talk about.

Read more: http://www.smh.com.au/entertainment/books/my-secret-sydney-tamar-chnorhokian-20141126-11to2k.html#ixzz3NpAX7qmw

Readers should easily be drawn in to The Diet Starts Monday (we all know that phrase) and will be keen to find out what happens over the HSC year for Zara and her friends. Writers will be impressed with the example set by Tamar as she sets our her commitment and contribution to Western Sydney literacy and literature development in this novel.

What might you change in TDSM to reflect the area you live in and the personalities you know in your school and community?

June 13

Book launch – ‘Jac of Hearts’ by Jenny Mahoney

It was a great pleasure to be at a book launch for a past teacher of our school recently, when Jenny Mahoney launched her first Young Adult book, Jac of Hearts. It is always inspiring to hear how and why a particular author writes, and this time was no exception.

Jac is a strong-minded, feisty young girl who wakes in hospital confused and disoriented after an accident.

Her heart refuses to believe her father is dead, in spite of what she has been told, and she isn’t very happy about living with a long-lost aunt, when she is released from hospital. Add to that, the confusing messages she gets from her step-cousin, Tom, who lives with Aunt Penelope, and the evasive Nat, who taunts her, and there is a lot Jac has to sort out.

Jenny wrote this book in response to weaknesses she saw in Twilight characters. Jac is a girl in control (most of the time); not a whining, like Bella. She doesn’t simper outside the action; in this mystery/ romance story she fully takes part!

Responses from girls who have read Jac of Hearts include: “Jac is real!”, “Being in her head was an enjoyable experience.”, “Jac is not a cookie-cutter kind of girl.”, “I love that Jac has had to deal with changes in her life (like me) and that she wrestles with her faith.”

So if you want realistic characters with romance and a bit of mystery and suspense thrown in, ‘Jac of Hearts’ is for you.

March 6

Self published – ‘Switched’

For those who have spent lots of time and angst waiting to have their manuscript accepted, here’s a lesson from an author who couldn’t wait –  a publishing sensation, with millions of copies of her books sold around the world – Amanda Hocking.

‘Switched’ is the first of these books, which began life as an ebook, then has been picked up with a big $ deal by publishers. Very fortunate for Hocking as she began it with a trilogy in mind…

It begins with a flashback, to Wendy’s birthday party as a six year old. Wendy behaves in an extremely precocious manner, to the extent of which her mother takes a knife to her to kill her! In the ensuing years, Wendy’s mother is send to an insane asylum, while Wendy and her older brother Matt go to live with their aunt.

The story resumes with Wendy beginning yet another school, following a string of moves, triggered by her aggressive and uncooperative behaviour at previous schools. This time she becomes aware of another peculiar student, Finn, who observes her intently, and who, in moves reminiscent of Edward (of Twilight fame), enters her life to explain her real nature….

Wendy is a changeling – a troll child, swapped at birth for her mother’s true child. Her mother’s instincts had been correct, and Wendy’s own perception of not really belonging has also been accurate. Finn comes along to take her back to her own ‘tribe’, the Trylls, and after some precaution, Wendy agrees it is probably best for all concerned (including her brother and aunt).

Thus, Wendy is transported to a new and different world – where new and different rules and traditions are to be learnt. Meeting her real mother for the first time is a somewhat frosty experience, and she natrually wonders about the choice she has made. It is later revealed that she has a privileged position as princess, but with, no doubt, attached risks and responsibilities. There is also a rival tribe, Vittra, to contend with (Team Edward/ Team Jacob?), while Wendy struggles with loyalties for her old familiy and understanding a newly discovered world.

While recognising her great break into the publishing world, astride her self publishing reknown, Hocking’s books have received mixed reviews. ‘Switched’ is the first of 3 books, which were optioned for film release this February (2011). Definitely a trilogy with appeal to girls, it may also hold interest to all young adults interested in watching the phenomenon of e-book -to book- to film as it might happen in the immediate future.

What are your opinons on “Switched’ – worth all the hype? Worthy of a film release? (Not all film options make it to the screen)

Is it another Twilight clone, or is it an original world you will be looking into more? (titles to follow are ‘Torn’ and ‘Ascend’).

Do you think it could inspire your urge to write (and self-publish)?

March 14

Aiming for 80 – Wavelength by A.J.Betts

wavelengthYou have to feel for Oliver: he is trying to study hard for his final high school exams, he knows what he wants to do after school and his precious sleep is being broken as his mum begins her morning muffin preparations. Combine that with 2 younger siblings, whose care he is semi-responsible for since his dad left, and friends who cruise effortlessly in their study, it seems, with their tutor’s help – it’s little wonder that he is anxious about achieving his goal mark. This is the focus of ‘Wavelength’ by A.J.Betts

Mum’s solution: send Oliver to his Dad’s for time out before his exams. The trouble is, along the way to his dad’s for his study break, he loses his bags; he arrives penniless, bookless, without his mobile phone and rather upset. It doesn’t help that he’s had little to do with his dad in recent years, and that for some reason, he can’t seem to get on the right wavelength with Emma, a girl where his dad works, who seems to hate him on sight.

After this auspicious arrival, all sorts of things seem to act against Oliver and his chances for successfully studying to achieve the magic 80 for entry to uni. What can he possibly do? Has he lost his last opportunity to succeed? Why is he even in this crazy situation? Doesn’t anyone understand?

‘Wavelength is authentic, entertaining, with astutely perceived details and some excruciatingly funny rude bits.’ Sun Herald, 13th March, 2011.

Readers should be able to identify with the intensity of Oliver’s frustrations, laugh at some of the situations that arise, reflect on all that happens in the story – to ponder what’s important in life. Betts has provided real characters in this story, and paints a vivid picture of how focussed students might get on a particular goal, and how life often throws something quite unexpected at them along the way.

Many adults write for Young Adults – has A.J.Betts written in an authentic voice for some of the youth of today? Do you identify with any of the characters? Is life like this? If so, has Betts made a point to you?

N.B. you can view this book trailer as a preview:

February 28

Life on the Refrigerator Door

life_on_refrigerator_doorAlice Kuipers presents a story in an unusual but clever form in her debut novel – post it notes on the fridge.

Claire is your average preoccupied teenager who lives with her mother, a busy doctor, in (it would seem) a busy modern city. We are not given any flowing descriptive passages about their life. Instead, their tale is slowly revealed through a growing collection of notes posted on the refrigerator door.

The messages begin with simple reminders and hellos:

“I made spaghetti bolognaise for when you get in. Love, Mom”

“Babysitting tonight, Mom. Gotta run!!

I can’t find my key. Will you be home to let me in? Call me and let me know.”

…all of which might be recognisable to any busy household.

While ‘Life…’ is relatively easy to read, the concepts it deals with should make the reader stop and wonder. Surprisingly, it is possible to tell this tale through notes left on the fridge door, and it’s interesting to see the tone of the notes change as the storyline about Claire’s mother’s breast cancer develops.

Some people may criticise a book written purely in little notes; others may be happy to see the story develop clear of unnecessary details. Many have commented on how quickly the book can be read (perhaps in under an hour).  However, the subjects it touches on – life’s busyness and the trauma for families facing life threatening illness, are real and worthy of airing in this way. And it might even be a thought-provoking resource for those facing these issues.

Well worth a read. I would love to hear what others think. Is it too spartan? Does it skim the issues too much? Would it really help anyone? Did it make you think?

August 10

Kidnapped, stolen or rescued?

StolenWas Gemma abducted or saved? It all depends on your point of view. Ty thinks he has saved her from the evils and troubled relationships of modern society by drugging her and taking her off thto the wilds of the Australian desert. Gemma, on the other hand, is traumatised and terrified, as she struggles to comprehend her situation and to find a way back home, after being kidnapped from Bangkok airport. 

 ‘Stolen’, nominated for the CBCA Book Awards this year, is a debut novel for its author, Lucy Christopher. It will grip you from beginning to end. Written from the perspective of teenaged Gemma, the story is told as she recounts her journey to her captor – Ty, a complex young man who has been stalking her for many years. It is a well paced tale which you will find hard to put down, though one that will also get you thinking and trying to predicting the ending.

Throughout the novel, there is much to be learnt about life in outback Australia, as Gemma details the intricate planning Ty has completed to prepare for her stay. Little by little, his bushcraft is revealed, as well as the dangers to be faced in the harsh environment to which he has taken them both. While Gemma learns from Ty, she comes to know more about him, though it takes a long time as she wrestles with what has happened to her life.

We begin to know each of the characters more fully, as Gemma writes to her captor, vividly describing her feelings and the extreme situation she finds herself in. There are many questions to ponder as the story unfolds. Will Gemma escape? Will Ty let her go? Or will they develop the close friendship that Ty hopes for?

‘Stolen’ has already received lots of acclaim – with many positive reviews at: the author’s website and LibraryThing, among others. What did you think of ‘Stolen’? and where does it stand among the CBCA Shortlisted books for 2010?

July 19

Loving Richard Feyman by Penny Tangey

lovingrfCatherine claims she isn’t your average teenager – after all, she’s not shy about stating her love for science and her abilities in maths. And her favourite pinup poster is of a Nobel Prize winning physicist, Richard Feyman. In fact, she is one of those students who actually chooses to wear her school uniform on a mufti-day! She doesn’t care – or does she?

So begins the story, centring on the school life of 15 year old Catherine, as she negotiates the trials and tribulations of year 10 at Kyneton Secondary College. Written as a daily letter to her scientist hero, Loving Richard Feynman is a clever blend of historic fact and adolescent musings. The facts are about Richard Feynman’s scientific life and the musings are all about friendship, family and managing day-to-day relationships. Catherine uses her writing to Richard to make sense of her experiences, and to think ‘out loud’ about her feelings – even though they are expressed to a dead physicist.

Though the novel focuses on only a few months, it is a critical time for Catherine.  We get a sense that she does have the normal angst and worries of a teenager which most high school students (and those who remember high school) can identify with; things like being socially awkward, being picked on or snubbed by the ‘in’ group, insecurity in your own abilities and dealing with those changing hormones.

How she copes with these things and new friendships is told in an easy-going manner, making this a great story to recommend to a wide audience. (One reveiwer on Penny Tangey’s home page actually said: As a female physicist, I want to urge Physics teachers everywhere to read this book and then lend it to their English teacher colleagues.)

I agree because Loving Richard Feyman does provide a realistic story and an entertaining read, while it has us questioning Catherine’s (and our own) expectations of life in a perfect world.

July 7

Beautiful Malice by Rebecca James

maliceCan you imagine how good it would be to have a bidding war over the release of your first novel, (which had previously been rejected by several publishing houses), and to have advances on your manuscript past $1 million? Well, this has been the case for Rebecca James, author of  ‘Beautiful Malice’ – a gritty psychological thriller ready for the YA market, and a good read for adults too.

The story revolves around Katherine/Katie, and the friendships which evolve since her move to Sydney, after tragic circumstances impact her ‘perfect family life’ in Melbourne. In a time-slip tale, we gradually learn about the events which have lead to the move – events which still play on the conscience of Katherine, as the older sister surviving the situation which claimed her sister’s life.

Katherine’s insular existence is challenged when Alice befriends her at her new school. Gradually, Alice’s charms win Katherine over in an unlikely friendship, and Katherine lives, almost vicariously for a while, through Alice’s bold, random and narcissistic ways. As Alice’s actions become bolder and crueller, Katherine questions her friendship and begins to form alliances with victims of Alice’s taunts instead. And this builds to a vicious, though predictable, finale.

The hype surrounding this publication may make us extra critical and expect lots from the book – but it is a good read and has received lots of good reviews (http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/7720252-beautiful-malice).

It would be interesting to hear from teen readers – especially when one considers the amount of time Katherine doesn’t spend in school (though she is an HSC student). And some of the things she does would, hopefully, be atypical for the average student. (Would you leave a party in a car full of strangers, when your sister has clearly been drugged by the car’s occupants (4 males)? Are parents really that hard to call?)

Perhaps these are the reservations for including this thriller in the school library? I do like the style, and the story is quite clever. Should tales like this be included in school libraries? Do we censor too much? Comments welcome.