the Midnight Zoo – Sonya Hartnett

midnightIn ‘the Midnight Zoo’, Andrej and Tomas are wandering through a war torn countryside, alone, with a precious bundle. They have witnessed some tragic events and struggle to comprehend their significance as battle to find food, shelter and safety.

When they come across a forsaken zoo, it is the animals that help them make some sense of their predicament, and the ways of man.

The animals too are victims of the human battle. Left behind, caged and longing for freedom, their voices encourage the boys (and the reader) to contemplate big issues of life, family and survival.

Sonya Hartnett has again produced a moving story, with a combination unusual characters in an unfortunately recognizable situation – experienced by many survivors of war worldwide. There is much food for thought within this tale, as a worthy nominee for this year’s CBCA awards for Older Readers.

Hear a review from the ABC Bookshow at:

CBCA Shortlist announced

cbcaI’ve been caught out with the Children’s Book Council of Australia Shortlist for 2011 being released in the holidays!

The details can be viewed at:

In the Older reader category, it seems to be an interesting mix of mainly recognised authors and a new author, Fiona Woods – whose book has, in fact, been commended by one of the other nominees, Cath Crowley!

A stand out in the Picture Book category would have to be ‘Mirror’ by Jeannie Baker – but then who knows the attractions of the other worthy nominees?

I came across an interesting insight into the power of the CBCA awards tonight, when reading a post from James Roy, who has formerly been a CBCA nominee:

…when you’re just getting established (as I was when Captain Mack was shortlisted for the CBCA in 2000) it does put you on the map.

Congratulations to those nominated. (Have a look at the notables for 2011, who just missed out!) Get ready for the debates. Read as many as you can, and in your mind, cast your personal vote for the best of 2011. And, keep those names in mind as authors, from both the shortlist and the notables, grow and develop in the future!

Which books get your vote?

Fumbles, football and friends…

jarvisMarc E. Jarvis is a likeable, perhaps clumsy, but ‘typical’ 15 year old boy. While he is good at football, he appears to bumble along in life a bit: constantly losing things, feeling awkward with girls, and dreaming of how his life should work out. And he puts things off – like organising work experience, which he chooses, based on a glimpse of ‘the Girl’ coming out of a car yard.

Work experience at the car yard proves interesting. In a new situation, Marc learns to deal with several different personalities. An absent boss, a single mother/receptionist and a model-like car saleman create a curious mix for Marc to learn the trade from. In the process, he actually succeeds in selling several cars!

Meanwhile, Marc also dreams of finding ‘the Girl’ yet again, and meeting her to make a good impression. Since the story is told from his perspective, we feel his angst, know about his preparations for a ‘chance’ meeting, and experience his doubts. His best friend, Trav, also provides a good sounding board for him, as he offers advice and comments that allow us to identify well with Marc’s journey.

Jarvis 24 by David Metzenthen is this year’s Young Adult winner in the CBCA awards. In it, we have believeable characters, dealing with issues within friendships, family relationships and the struggleto know oneself. Marc is an affable youth, learning more about himself as he ventures outside the school environment. Chasing the friendship of the elusive and talented, Electra, he experiences the highs and lows of young love.

davidmetWhat impacts does his time at the car sales yard have on his life? Does his crazy football coach recognise his talents? And importantly, does the boy get the girl in the end?

To hear David speak about writing for young adults, click here, as he talks about why he demands his characters are authentic and real. As a successful writer, there is much to learn from him.

For another interview with David Metzenthen see Writer in Residence: Inside a dog, and details of his other books at Focus on Fiction , many well recognised and awarded titles.

Leave any comments you have, if you too have read this latest or found the interviews thought provoking too. (Click on comments top right.)

YA CBCA awards 2010

jarvisThe Children’s Book Council award winners for 2010 were announced on Friday, and among these were the following awards for the Young Adult Readers category:

Winner Jarvis 24 by David Metzenthen

Honour Book Winds of Heaven by Judith Clarke

Honour Book  A Small Free Kiss in the Dark by Glenda Millard

For reviews of these, and other Shortlisted titles, follow the links from the CMIS Focus on Fiction page – select the CMIS Review for each title. This blog has reviews for the other shortlisted titles, Stolen and Loving Richard Feynman.

You could also consider reading the books and offering reviews or comments here – at least till I catch up with my reading of them myself!

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?

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.

And the winner is…

CBCA Awards for 2009 have just been announced and the winner in the Older Readers category is Shaun Tan, Tales From Outer Suburbia. Jackie French and Anthony Eaton were awarded the Honour Book award for A Rose for the Anzac Boys, and Into White Silence, respectively.

Now might be the time to reread our reviews and each of the Shortlisted books once more.

Do you agree with the judges choices? How do you think they made their choices between the nominated books this year?

See: for details of all categories in this year’s awards.

A Rose for the Anzac Boys

rose‘A Rose for the Anzac Boys’ is an extraordinarily well researched book by Jackie French about the experience of World War I from the viewpoint of three young teenage girls.  Midge Macpherson is a 16 year old New Zealander studying at an exclusive private school in England, when she becomes friends with two English girls, Ethel and Anne.  They are mildly engaged in the war effort at the school, rolling bandages, but things become more urgent when Midge’s twin, Tim, is listed as “missing” from the Gallipoli campaign.

The three girls are desperate to give more practical help to the men fighting on the Western Front.   They decide they can organise a canteen providing tea, soup and sandwiches for the soldiers returning from the front.  This catapults the girls into the shocking experience of seeing the horrific war wounds, and even more difficult to deal with, the mental effects of war trauma, on the young soldiers.  The girls often work almost 24 hour shifts, catching a few hours sleep here and there, as they try to bring a little warmth and humanity into the traumatised men’s lives.

Things become even more perilous for Midge, as she is co-opted into the ambulance service, transporting men directly from the front to the make-shift medical tents. She dodges shells as she struggles to manipulate the heavy gears of the ambulance truck.  She is also called on to prep the men for surgery, and has to deal with sights, sounds and smells she finds it hard to comprehend.  Here again, Midge and the other assistants and nurses bring hope and light into a very dark world.

Jackie French tells this story compellingly.  The book never drags, and the characters are well realised.  ‘A Rose for the Anzac Boys’ is bookended by more modern sections, which fill in the story of the generations to follow some of the protagonists.  The final section, set in 2007 is a poignant reminder that the women who helped in World War I, the “roses”, will never be forgotten.

Jackie French’s thorough research is seen not only in the story telling of this book, but in all the historical notes at the end of ‘A Rose for the Anzac Boys’.  It also would not be a genuine ‘Jackie French’ without the obligatory recipe, which in this case is one for “Soldier’s biscuits”.

This book has been written with passion, and it is clear it is a topic dear to the author’s heart.  It is a helpful balance to all the books written from the perspective of the men involved in “the war to end all wars”.  Highly recommended.

Jane Crew

Monster Blood Tattoo: Book Two: Lamplighter

‘Lamplighter’ is the sequel to the first book in the Monster Blood Tattoo trilogy. ‘Foundling’, the first book, introduced the reader to the highly original world of the Half-Continent, where there reigns a continual battle for supremacy between monsters and humans. Monsters are seen as an evil scourge and to be killed as quickly as possible. Those who are experts in killing have the monster’s blood they killed tattooed into their skin.

Our hero is called Rossamund, an unfortunate name, which he has to carry along with a lonely and difficult life as an apprentice lamplighter. Lamplighters have an important job, going out each day to light the roads so they are safe to travel. In this second book the Half-Continent is becoming even more dangerous, with monster attacks on the rise. Far flung and remote villages are in severe danger of being overrun.

‘Lamplighter’ begins two months into Rossamund’s apprenticeship with the lamplighters of Winstermill. He develops a friendship with a “Wit”, a girl who has mind talents to hurt monsters, but her powers are barely controlled. Threnody has come from an upper class background and is haughty and arrogant. However, she wants to go against her parent’s wishes and become a lamplighter. Threnody and Rossamund become reluctant allies against the monsters. While at Winstermill, Rossamund becomes aware that there is something sinister going on. He investigates this but is not believed and for punishment Rossamund and Threnody are banished to a distant “Cothouse”. This is a savage and frightening place on the very fringes of civilisation. Monsters are visible from time to time from the top of the Cothouse’s tower.

Disaster strikes one day when Threnody and Rossamund are out on routine duties. They return to the Cothouse to find that there is a full-scale monster attack going on and all of their lighter friends are horribly massacred.

During all of this second part of the series, Rossamund is becoming aware that he is rather different to those around him. Unlike others, he finds he can’t hate the monsters, in fact he feels sympathy for their difficult lives. His enemies see this in him also and he is called in to stand trial for allegedly collaborating with monsters. Was he really partly responsible for the massacre at the Cothouse? As Rossamund tries to defend himself some shocking revelations are made.

D.M. Cornish has created a unique world in the Half-Continent. It is stunning in scope and rich in imagination. It has its own language, somewhat Dickensian, and its own science and technology. The illustrations are vivid brilliant black and white drawings and bear witness to the skills of the author who completed a Bachelor of Design, majoring in Illustration. The book also has extensive glossaries, maps and charts at the end of the book, called an “Explicarium”.

This sequel is one of the rare ones that is even better than the first book. The characterisations have greater depth, and moral issues – especially the ones about what it is to be truly human – are examined in a complex way. This book is highly recommended to those that love a good fantasy book, but it is far more than simply a well plotted narrative. Although it is directed to the young adult, adult readers will find many pleasures in it’. – Jane Crew

Finnikin of the Rock

Previously, Marchetta has been famous for her realistic fiction such as ‘Looking for Alibrandi’ and ‘Saving Francesca’. However, this time she is writing in the fantasy genre, with an authority and creative breadth that shows she is master of this genre also.

‘Finnikin of the Rock’ is epic in its scope, with action, romance and complex characters, and a well visualised sub-creation of the land of Lumatere and its surrounding kingdoms.We find out at the opening of the book that our hero, Finnikin has been warned by the gods that he must sacrifice a pound of flesh in order to save the royal house of Lumatere, his homeland. Together with his childhood friend, Prince Balthazar, and the Prince’s cousin, Lucian, they mix their blood to ensure the safety of Lumatere.

All continues in peace until the five days of “The Unspeakable”. During this dark time, the entire royal family are massacred in the palace. An imposter king takes the throne and a curse is placed on the land of Lumatere. This curse traps those inside the land and forces those outside to become exiles, living in refugee camps all over the surrounding kingdoms.

Finnikin and his mentor, Sir Topher, the King’s First Man, are part of the diaspora, or displaced people, kept out of their homeland. Finnikin and Sir Topher take it upon themselves to visit all the refugee camps, recording the dead and negotiating for their people’s welfare with foreign courts.

The future seems hopeless when Finnikin receives a summons to the temple of The Goddess of Lagrami for a meeting with the head priestess. They are introduced to a strange young novice called Evanjelin. She claims to “walk the sleep” of the heir to Lumatere and others trapped inside Lumatere. She proclaims that the heir to the throne lives, and the rest of the book is the journey back to Lumatere, leading all of the scattered peoples home.

Evanjelin is the most fascinating character in this book. She is complex, mysterious, arrogant and contradictory. Finnikin is both attracted and repelled by her, and at times feels totally betrayed by her. The relationship between Finnikin and Evanjelin is central to this book. It becomes clear that ‘Finnikin of the Rock’ is a character-driven fantasy; setting and action are subservient to this. For this reason readers who don’t usually like fantasy may well be attracted to this book.

One of the unique features of ‘Finnikin of the Rock’ as a fantasy is its themes of diaspora and dislocation of peoples. Marchetta is from an immigrant family and often writes about the struggles of the immigrant to integrate into a society which is culturally different from their own. In this book, she vividly portrays the struggles of the Lumatere people as they live in refugee camps, poverty stricken and losing hope. She points out how hard it is to communicate with the people around you when you don’t have their language, or when you realise your own language and culture is being lost forever.

Marchetta’s brilliant characterisations and imagination, along with her interest in the struggles of the immigrant, make ‘Finnikin of the Rock’ a very special fantasy novel. Highly recommended for young adults, and all readers of fantasy. – Jane Crew