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.

July 27

Moving on – but sisters forever

protectedAlmost 12 months after her sister’s accident, and with a court case looming, Hannah is still struggling. But she is not alone – her mother drifts aimlessly about much of the time and her father has also lost his spark, sustaining both physical and emotional injuries. This is much as you might expect when a family loses a sister/daughter.

Hannah, however, must continue her journey as a school student, facing the many trials and tribulations of adolescence.

Strangely, in some ways, life is easier at school without her sister. Before the accident, Hannah was bullied at school, with little help from her older sister, Katie. In fact, Katie’s presence often made things worse, as Hannah failed to develop the same standing at school, and Katie failed to lend any sisterly support. (Should Hannah feel guilty about this?)

The enjoyable part of Claire Zorn’s writing is how she captures place and time. Set in the Blue Mountains, the school and social situations in the Protected ring true. As with the Sky So Heavy, her characters are authentic, move about in real places in the community, and some act as thoughtlessly as egocentric teenagers sometimes do.

However, Hannah doesn’t have to struggle alone all through the book, and there are ultimately different degrees of healing for the family. Quirky little inserts (lists, goals, likes and dislikes) hint at the sisters’ relationship, differences between them and add the flavour of sibling intimacy. Thus, some of the situations will make you squirm, while others will have you cheering on the efforts of those who aim to help.zorn2

So, the story probably isn’t new (reflect back to the Incredible Here and Now, a male perspective), but the way in which it unfolds is real and believeable. Since people react to loss in many different ways, it is valuable for us as readers to take the time to step into someone else’s shoes; which indeed we can do as we read the Protected.

Congratulations to Claire; just like the Sky So Heavy in 2014, the Protected has been shortlisted for the Older Readers CBCA awards in 2015. (For a little insight to the author, you can read: Claire Zorn, author of The Protected, answers Ten Terrifying Questions)

 

March 5

Movie to book? Worth a look?

As always,  over the summer break in Australia, there is a flurry of movies released to the cinemas. At the same time, there is often a hive of activity to publish (or re-publish with a movie-jacket), the associated books. This summer was no exception – though this activity included at least 2 books which were written from the movie – Paper Planes and the Water Diviner.

paper-planesThe magic of what happens in Paper Planes is well suited to a movie format. The struggles of Dylan with his father’s depressed state, alongside bullying issues at school and further afield, are clearly recognisable in the early stages of the movie.

Scenes shot in slow motion capture the drama of what is happening and of course background music enhances the flights taken. Particularly engaging is the scene where Dylan’s grandfather fires up his imagination with a flight in a vintage plane in an Aviation museum. It certainly captured the imagination of the 6 year-old I took to see it.

The book itself lacks a bit of depth – I didn’t feel the same anticipation of what was to happen, nor imagine as vividly the action taking place. The addition of photos from the movie, within the book, and instructions for making paper planes at the end, were a bonus – and certainly inspired my 6 year old companion before we saw the movie. From the photos and the movie trailer we had seen previously, he could already identify some of the themes and characters – “He’s the bully… She does lots of backflips and somersaults… He gets pushed down the stairs.”

Certainly the story has value with great themes of resilience, friendship and the value of imagination- whether consumed as a book or a movie.* (Further review to come.)

the-water-divinerOn the other hand, having just finished the Water Diviner, I am really keen to now see the movie. Andrew and Meaghan Anastasios have developed rich characters and locations in the Water Diviner, and help you see both sides of the story of our historical Anzac tragedy.

You can truly imagine the rough-tough-but-sensitive Connor in his quest to find out the fate of his three sons. Details about the battle fields, life after war in the invaded country and reflections on family life from differing cultural perspectives develop throughout the story.

Thus, the Water Diviner provides the perspective of loss from point of view of the Turkish people. Contrasts and similarities abound in this tale, there is much to ponder about the impact of war.  (Further review to come.)

*********

Anyone who has read this blog before would know that I am an advocate for read-the-book-then see-the-movie. And my bias is often towards the richness of what the book has to offer over the movie. However, I have also agreed in the past with comments from authors who point to the fact that we can appreciate both mediums equally – that it is often unfair to judge them on their differences:

I can only respect what a screenwriter has to do when trimming a sizeable novel to a 120-page script.

I feel like when you give someone a creative job, you can’t say, “Right, be creative, but do it how I want you to do it.”

Source: Marcus Zusak – How I Let Go of the Book Thief,http://www.smh.com.au/entertainment/movies/markus-zusak-how-i-let-go-of-the-book-thief-20140102-306he.html

And…

A film is a film is a film.

[On the other hand] Readers [bring a] box of effects and nuances to colour in the spaces left by the writer [of a book].

In film, the magic tends to be woven on the surface. The viewer is treated to another’s dream. In literature, the reader does the dreaming. And that, for me, remains the greatest magic of all.

Source: The Weight of Expectations for Lloyd Jones,http://www.smh.com.au/entertainment/movies/the-weight-of-expectations-for-lloyd-jones-20131031-2whz8.html

 

So now it is over to you to judge – which way are you going to find a story? Will you always “read the book, then see the movie”? or does a movie sometimes inspire you to go back to discover the delicacies and intricacies of the book? 

* I do have one alteration that I would make to Paper Planes, and that is that I would at least infer that he had adult company to and within Japan – perhaps with Maureen?

 

March 9

Before and After – ‘After’ by Sue Lawson

afterCJ is sent to stay with his grandparents in the countryside. It is in the middle of the school year. He is not happy. Neither are they.

Life in the country is also quite different from the city life he is used to. There’s a lot of different jobs to do on the farm. Many different animals to get used to. And then, there’s a whole lot of new ‘animals’ and other stuff to adapt to at a new school.

The trouble for CJ (Callum) is that the town of Winter Creek knows more about him than he does. Nobody has told him anything about his background. What is worse is that Jack Frewen knows a whole lot more about him than he would like him to know. On top of this, Callum also has aspects about his recent past that he would like to forget – if only his nightmares and daytime flashbacks would allow him.

Sue Lawson has packaged some great characters into ‘After’. Why? Because they are realistic and believable. They could be your best mate, your worst (bullying) enemy, or your long lost grandparent. Look left or right, Jack or Ella or Tim may be one of your schoolmates. Nic or Benny may be much like your best friend. Or least, someone you know at school.

Since Callum strives to be a loner at his new school – private and solitary, it is interesting that along the way, he buddies up with Luke; a ‘special’ boy at school, victim of taunts and teasing. Someone who used to be someone great until….

Callum’s quiet acceptance of all that is dished out to him at school, bubbles under the surface through most of the story, at a time when he is struggling with why his mother has sent him away. He doesn’t dob on those who bully him. He doesn’t want to talk about his past. He doesn’t want to sort things out with his mother or his grandmother. How many of the people you know at school and work might be feeling much the same? [Quietly troubled.]

Events traipse along in ‘After’, loosely connected along a line of sporting and school activities. Favours and favouritism raise their heads, as old alliances are paid out with blind acceptance of the way things just play out in a country town. But Callum’s arrival begins to challenge the old order. And some, like Jack Frewen, aren’t happy about that.

Old hurts, anger, blocked memories and misinterpretations are some of the key things Callum has to deal with – which becomes clear to us as we move between the ‘Before’ and ‘After’ elements of this story.  Little by little, bits of Callum’s past are revealed – many of which are new to Callum himself. When some are revealed in an antagonistic manner, how will he react?

‘After’ is a story of hurt, rejection and reconciliation. A story of contrasts and differences.  A story of acceptance and friendship.

What do you think?

Young_adult

See: http://www.suelawson.com.au/books/young-adult/ for more.

* For more great books by Sue Lawson see: http://www.suelawson.com.au/books/young-adult/ – including ‘Finding Darcy’, ‘Allie McGregor’s True Colours’ and ‘Pan’s Whisper’.

May 8

Face value? ‘Wonder’ by R.J.Palacio

After many years of home schooling, August Pullman is facing his first year at school. Like any new student, he is not sure what to expect and how he will fit in. His parents are unsure whether it is the right time for him to start school – they have protected him from the cruelty of the outside world up until now. All of them have been to the school before it starts in order to prepare him for this next step in his life, and buddies have been set up to help out.

The trouble is, August will stand out, due to a facial deformity he was born with. In spite of many operations, he has faced many years of taunts and stares from strangers, and he now faces exposure to a much bigger group of people on a daily basis. Students who don’t ven know him will judge him harshly, call him names and some, even bully him.

The story is told from a number of different points of view – that of August; his sister, Olivia; her boyfriend, Justin; and a school friend, Jack. This helps to show the struggles of people who care for August, along with the joys they have of knowing the boy behind the face. August’s thoughts and reactions in the story are the ones that really make you think.

Problems of fitting in, and the bullying associated with being different in a new situation, are among the issues to be dealt with in ‘Wonder’. The impact on others around Auggie is also one of the key elements of the story. His sister, school mates and others all reflect their position in his life – what they see and how they act to the way others treat Auggie.

Though ‘Wonder’ is probably written for a younger age group (set in grade 5, and with an 11 year old protagonist), there is great value in older students reading this tale. With the different perspectives shared, and the simple way which August expresses his point of view, there are lots of things to wonder about. Do we treat others fairly? Do we too often judge others based on their appearance? How many people are handicapped, not by their own physical disabilities, but instead by the way others label them?

For some, the ending will be wrapped up too warmly – the years of staring and laughing that August has faced being swept under the carpet. However, some of the precepts in the final ‘Appendix’ chapter are worth dwelling on. And if a book like ‘Wonder’ can make people think about life from a different perspective, then that makes it a worthwhile tale to recommend!

For an insight to what inspired the author to write ‘Wonder’, her debut novel, see: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/books/authorinterviews/9086974/Interview-with-RJ-Palacio-author-of-Wonder.html

August 11

Ishmael and the Hoops of Steel

It’s time for Ishmael’s last two years of school. He has actually survived years of bullying and teasing, due to the ‘loser’ tag his surname Leseur has blessed him with, and now, even has a small band of buddies to see him through the tough times.

‘Ishmael and the Hoops of Steel’ is the final of the Ishmael books written by Michael Gerard Bauer. And it’s probably one of the funniest. It is easy to empathise with Ishmael and his friends as they negotiate the problems faced in the final years of their schooling – the things they do and say are totally believeable and easily recognisable. Even if you haven’t read the earlier books, it’s a tale that’s easy for the reader to follow and to yearn to support Ishmael’s honest endeavours to survive.

The ups and downs of normal teenage life and strife are woven through Ishmael’s senior school story. His newfound love, extracted to New Zealand by her father’s work (just after their first kiss), troubles Ishmael. The loss of his dream girl haunts Ishmael for some time. But then there are other things he needs to worry about; as school demands, high teacher expectations and the needs of his friends claim his attention.

Through it all, Ishmael is lovable and laughable – so much, that my family wondered what I was chuckling about as I eagerly turned each page. Probably not a book to read on the train – perhaps I recognise too many students’ ways in these characters?

Gerard Bauer has captured much of the essence of the last years at school – trying to balance school, friendship and the ‘finessing’ of your own self esteem. Though Ishmael and his friends, (Razzman, Ignatius, Scobie and Bill) sometimes negotiate their final years with the skill of a sumo wrestler in a fine ballet performance, they triumph in so many other ways – just as many senior students surprise both themselves and their teachers in the final resolution of their school years. (Well, if the Razzman can get a handle on Hamlet, then there’s hope for everyone, right?)

Michael Gerard Bauer also has lots to share with his readers and those who aspire to write successfully, as he certainly models what he says:

‘Write for yourself first and foremost rather than an audience. Write the story you are passionate about – the one that makes you laugh, or cry or moves you in some way, not the one you think you should write just to get published…Your task is to make your reader feel that anytime they are reading your story, it is the only one that matters. ‘ (Part of an interview with Michael Gerard Bauer on We Love YA blog – read the whole interview here )

Much of Ishmael is a reflection either from his own personal experiences, or as a former teacher, those observed at school. Maybe that’s what makes it all so good? I suggest hooking up with ‘Ishmael and the Hoops of Steel’ soon to judge for yourself… (And if you haven’t read the previous books, try them out too!) 

## Whether Ishmael  and the Hoops of Steel takes out the CBCA Older Readers Category will be announced in the coming weeks. What do you think? 

N.B. If you haven’t read the previous Ishmael books, check out this video where Michael Gerard Bauer explains how some of his characters come about, and ways the distinctive voices of his characters develop:

February 20

Perspectives – ‘Shooting Kabul’

There’s a lot to be learnt from putting oneself in someone else’s shoes. Immersed in a book, you can experience many different situations, and, depending on how it’s told, you can learn lots about different cultures, lifestyles and perspectives – and ‘Shooting Kabul’ is such a story.

Fadi’s family lived in America while his father, Habib, completed his PhD in Agriculture. Returning to Afghanistan, Habib’s dreams of improving things for his country’s farmers failed, as the Taliban imposed harsh rules and restrictions. Under threats from this ruling regime, the family finally takes action to flee from an increasingly difficult situation, before their life is torn apart.

The struggles they face include losing track of Fadi’s younger sister during their escape; an event which haunts him continually. Family support in America eases the transition into his new life; but as a refugee, there are issues for Fadi, which are heightened when the events of 9/11 unfold.

‘Shooting Kabul’ is told in an easy fashion, though the story is not easy to contemplate. Since it is based on the author’s husband’s  own experience of fleeing Soviet-controlled Afghanistan in 1979, there is a lot the reader can take from the story about what life is like for many refugee families.

Throughout the story, Fadi remains guilt-laden for not adequately looking after his younger sister. Thankfully, there are supportive and understanding people in his new life – when he decides to share his burden. His display of determination and youthful hope tug at your heart strings, as he endeavours to make plans to return to search for his lost sister. How his plans unfold, and what he learns of himself and others, fill out the pages with an interesting insight of hope, love and perserverance.

A realistic introduction for yrs 6-9 to the immigrant experience and refugee life.

Category: Reviews | LEAVE A COMMENT