Promise Me Happy

Nate wonders what really makes people who they are. Is it determined at birth, or is it a result of how you are raised? Either way, things are not looking good for him. His dad is abusive, his mother is dead and he’s just finished 18 months in juvenile detention. Now he is off to some unknown location to stay with some unknown family member – his uncle, his mother’s brother.

It’s like he has completely shut down in juvie, and can’t see anything positive ahead – especially when he first meets his uncle, Mick. Neither Nate or Mick are lovable characters when we first meet them – in many ways, they are alike.

As Nate slowly explores his uncle’s community and the people within it, he begins to recollect happier times with his mum and a personal connection with the local environment. Quirky characters like Gem and Henry cross his path, and his thoughts start to move outside himself. They are authentic characters and you will love them both for different reasons.

Nate sees Gem as unique, and more beautiful inside and out than any other girl he has known. Henry is an eccentric little 8 year-old, who provides a bit of local knowledge to Nate, and at times, some unwanted companionship – till he grows on him. Even his relationship with Mick moves well beyond its gruff beginning.

However, encounters with the local tough guys test his self-control, and he begins to wonder again, if he is destined to follow in his father’s footsteps, unable to control his anger.

‘Promise Me Happy’ by Robert Newton is a great journey which makes you wonder about the ways people deal with confrontation, being different and how people can react when someone important leaves their lives. Keep the tissues handy, but feel happy that you have been on the journey with Nate in the end.

What is it like to lose someone close to you?

In what ways can we deal with our grief and remember the important things? to keep our emotions in check?

# ‘Promise Me Happy’ is on the 2020 CBCA Longlist for Older Readers

## Robert Newton also wrote When We Were Two (which was awarded the Prime Minister’s Literary Award for Young Adult Fiction in 2012) and Mr Romanov’s Garden. His other books can be found here.

### Available as an ebook.

CBCA Notables 2020

CBCA Notables 2020 –

Once again, there is an amazing array of titles selected for this year’s CBCA Notable List. Books in the YA category range from those from well established Australian authors – like Garth Nix, Neil Grant, Robert Newton and Vikki Wakefield, alongside newly found authors like Lisa Fuller.

[Lisa has already received the David Unaipon Award for an Unpublished Indigenous Writer for Ghost Bird.]

There is also a range of genres and settings on the shortlist, including lead characters dealing with:

  • coming of age issues (It Sounded Better in My Head),
  • cross-cultural family complications (The Surprising Power of a Good Dumpling & The Honeyman and the Hunter),
  • broken families (Promise Me Happy)
  • coping with changing teen relationships (When the Ground is Hard) and challenging misfit roles (Aurora Rising)

With such a great selection of books, it is not only hard to contemplate what the shortlist will be, but also which ones to read first. It’s certainly a great collection to guide our YA readers! Some have already featured on other award longlists like the Indies and the ABIA awards for 2020.


The Man in the Water by David Burton

Devil’s Ballast by Meg Caddy

*The Surprising Power of a Good Dumpling by Wai Chim

The Boy Who Steals Houses by C.G. Drews

The Last Balfour by Cait Duggan

How It Feels to Float by Helena Fox

Ghost Bird by Lisa Fuller

The Honeyman and the Hunter by Neil Grant

*Aurora Rising by Amie Kaufman & Jay Kristoff

*It Sounded Better in My Head by Nina Kenwood

Monuments by Will Kostakis

All That Impossible Space by Anna Morgan

*Promise Me Happy by Robert Newton

Angel Mage by Garth Nix

*When the Ground is Hard by Malla Nunn

Four Dead Queens by Astrid Scholte

Invisible Boys by Holden Sheppard

*This Is How We Change the Ending by Vikki Wakefield

Take the Shot by Susan White

Impossible Music by Sean Williams

*These books have been/are being reviewed here.

# The full 2020 CBCA Longlist for all categories is worth a look for ALL reading ages.

CBCA Shortlist 2019

The Children’s Book Council of Australia recently announced the awards shortlist for 2019.

A great selection, as usual – though there remains a lot of fabulous books on the Notables list you could investigate, too.


Which of the titles do you rate as the best? Which one deserves the Book of the Year Award? Have you found them in your school or local library yet?

Note, these below are YA titles. Titles in other categories can be seen here: Shortlist for 2019.

Winner and Honour Books will be announced at noon AEST on Friday, 16 August.

In the meantime, consider which one you like best, and which one reflects the Book Week theme: “Reading is My Secret Power” – in what way can reading be YOUR secret power?

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.

CBCA 2015 – Shortlist announced

With the 2015 theme ‘Books light up our world’, the Children’s Book Council of Australia have just announced the Shortlists for this year’s book awards which include:


Older Readers Shortlist

Older Readers

Nona & Me by Clare Atkins

Intruder by Christine Bongers

Are You Seeing Me? by Darren Groth

The Incredible Adventures of Cinnamon Girl by Melissa Keil

The Protected by Claire Zorn

The Minnow by Diana Sweeney

A more extensive list (the Notables) is also worth viewing, as are the Shortlists/Notables for other categoories such as Younger Readers and Picture Books – see the CBCA site for more fabulous recommendations!

CBCA 2014 – announcement today…

The winner is announced Friday August 15 in the ‘Older Readers’ category, which includes the following books:

cbca2014_2Shortlisted Older Readers Titles 2014

The Incredible Here and Now, Felicity Castagna

The First Third, Will Kostakis

Life in Outer Space, Melissa Keil

Fairytales for Wilde Girls, Allyse Near #HONOUR BOOK

Wildlife, Fiona Wood #WINNER 2014

The Sky so Heavy, Claire Zorn #HONOUR BOOK

Each of these titles is available from the Senior School Library for you to judge yourself.

Of course, you may not agree with the judges’ selections, or even wish to pick up any of these titles. There are many other worthy titles included in this year’s CBCA selection of notable books by Australian authors for Australian children. These can be viewed at the Children’s Book Council of Australia’s website in each of the following categories:

There should be many great choices available in these lists to inspire readers of all ages! To find out the eventual award winners see the CBCA website, after noon on Friday.

the Wrong Boy by Suzie Zail

13338887“The point is to stay human.” Erika bent over a bowl of brown water and splashed her face. “We musn’t become animals, Hanna. That’s what they want.”

“It’s the only way to beat them, ” Erika said… “Survive, and when you do, tell everyone what you saw – “

If life in Budapest in 1944 had been difficult before, it was only going to get worse for Hanna’s family – they are moved out of the Jewish ghetto that had been their home. Uprooted from their modest home and sent packing with few belongings, they are transported by rail to an uncertain future in Birkenau – a place we now know as a Nazi concentration / extermination camp.

Since the story is told from the point of view of a young (15 year old) girl, the reader is not exposed to the whole extent of the Jewish holocaust. Initially, Hanna and her family naively anticipate that they are simply being relocated temporarily. Hanna’s dreams of becoming a famous concert pianist linger for a while, and she clings to the hope of her family staying together.

The reality of their eventual separations dawns slowly, as Hanna’s mother loses her sanity and her will to survive. Her older sister, Erika, begins as the stronger one, but as their dismal living conditions impact on her health, it is Hanna who looks after them. Hanna’s saving grace is her ability to play the piano and the opportunity to escape Birkenau daily, gives her a marginally better existence than the others detained there.

Music gives Hanna an escape route – both physically (since she leaves the camp to play for the Commandant) and mentally (as she loses herself in her music as she plays). It is also how she connects little by little with the Commandant’s son, Karl – a music student and a Jewish sympathiser. But we do not escape the grim and devastating situation that millions of Jews faced during WWII – the desperation and suffering faced before atrocious deaths.

For Suzy Zail, this children’s book follows on from her father-daughter memoir The Tattooed Flower, published in May 2006. Both tackle a hard subject, about which many tales have already been written. Her own personal connections (her father being a survivor of Auschwitz) have enabled an authentic voice to come through in ‘the Wrong Boy’, as we see things from the point of view of a displaced young teen facing a future far removed from her dreams.

When asked about her book, Suzy made the following comments:

“Writing this book allowed me to revisit my father’s story and remember him and the millions of other children and teenagers who didn’t survive”, Suzy says.

“It was also the perfect way to pass on [my father’s] warning, because only by remembering can we prevent the past from fading. By reading about the Holocaust and trying to understand it we can make sure it never happens again.”

Let’s hope that we do learn.

# Selected for CBCA awards 2013 – see previous post on CBCA awards 2013

CBCA Shortlist 2013

Each year there are many wonderful books written for Australian children by Australian authors. In recognition of this, the Children’s Book Council of Australia creates a list of titles which is ‘notable’, and from this list, a shortlist of those considered ‘best’ is compiled.

In the ‘Older Readers’ category, the shortlist for 2013’s Children’s Book Council of Australia awards (announced in April) included the following books:

Source: Ink Bridge, Neil Grant

Sea Hearts, Margot Lanagan

The Shiny Guys, Doug McLeod

Creepy & Maud, Dianne Touchell

Friday Brown, Vicky Wakefield

The Wrong Boy, Suzi Zail

These books are always popular additions to school and public libraries, so there will be much discussion and debate before the Book of the Year and Honour books are announced in August.

Reviews of the above titles will appear graduually on this blog also.

Till then, read on – form your own opinions and make any comment about why you would nominate a particular title above others.

## Thanks to for the borrowed image above.

Six Impossible Things – Fiona Wood

” ‘ We have a new student starting today. Are you here…’ he consults a note, ‘ Dan Cereal?’

Some snigger at the name.

‘Cereill.’ I say. ‘It’s pronounced “surreal” ‘.

He touches his tongue to the trim under-edge of this moustache and sizes me up. Am I a troublemaker? Am I ridiculing him? He can’t decide.

‘If you prefer,’ he says. ‘Cereill it is.’

Thus begins Daniel’s first day at a new school. No longer at a private school, no longer amongst his friends, and no longer in a home with two loving parents. Now, his mum struggles to makes end meet – by making wedding cakes, and his dad lives elsewhere, since announcing his status as a gay man. Daniel plans to lay low and not draw attention to himself at his new school – a hard task for someone as bright as he is (nerd-boy), and one who is immediately targetted by one of the school bullies.

Dan’s a likeable and believeable character, reflecting many of the torments faced by teenagers adapting to change in their lives and in the first throes of love. Estelle is the one positive he finds when he and his mother move to her great-aunt Adelaide’s house (a smelly abode bequested in her will) – she lives next-door and he has an impossible crush on her from the very first sighting.

Author Fiona Wood has added some interesting elements to Dan’s story – an ‘attic connection’ crucial to the unwinding of the story; an inherited but soulful dog (or is he an intuitive guardian angel?); along with peripheral characters who come to the rescue at just the right moments. Thus, she has artfully placed historic momentos, gifts from the past and even plants and animals in the right locations and times in Dan’s new life. But not always…

There are of course, times when he goes from one embarrassing moment straight to another. Times when he simply can’t understand the way his mother is functioning (or not), and times when he really needs to scream at his father (though he hasn’t spoken to him since he left). Throughout, Dan updates his list of six impossible things. He’s quite perceptive for a 14 year old boy – but he doesn’t get everything right – or does he?

“Dan Cereill is an odd sock and an absolute sweetheart.” Simmone Howell

To read more about the book from the author herself, go to:

What do you think of Dan and how he copes with the teen years at a new school?

The Life of a Teenage Body-snatcher

life of a teenage body-snatcherThomas wants to grant his grandfather’s last wishes – those which none of his family agreed to. Thus he finds himself in the dark of night, at his grandfather’s newly turned grave… to dig up his body and deliver him to help advances in medical science .

But he is not alone. He is watched, critiqued and finally assisted by a strange man, known as Plenitude.

Doug Macleod’s latest young adult novel is a black comedy set in England in 1828. It is filled with interesting and amusing characters. There is the mad gypsy who follows Thomas around to display her body of tattoos at the strangest moments. Mrs Timewell, Thomas’ mother, floats through the day on a cloud of laudnum, while haranguing their poor Scottish maid mercilessly. At school, Mr Atkins makes life miserable for his mathematics class, and especially for Charles, Thomas’ best friend, for whom he stand up against Mr Atkins.

By night, due to his reluctant involvement in more grave-robbing adventures, Thomas meets even more gruesome characters – none of whom he feels he can trust. He even comes to doubt the things that Plenitude shares with him – so he is always on the defensive, ready to spring from one misadventure, in this dark world, to the next.

Born a gentleman, with a potential for intelligence and quick thinking, Thomas navigates the daytime troubles of home-life with a befuddled mother, along with the nighttime adventures of macabre mysteries and back-stabbings. Thrown into this mix is an infatuation with a young girl, who is also not what she seems to be at first glance.

In a tale filled with meat cleavers, decapitated bodies, engulfing fires and visits by the Grim Reaper, Thomas survives. As the unlikely hero, he uncovers much of his family history, and at the same time, learns some intriguing information about medical sciences in this dark period of time.

The Life of a Teenage Body-snatcher‘ is also strangely funny at times – or is it a wicked sense of humour that the author has? You be the judge.

Nominated for the CBCA awards for Young Adult Readers this year (2011). What do you think?

Other reviews available at:

The Gathering

Kids Book Review