Always… (at last)

It seems it has been a long wait, but finally, we have the last book in Morris Gleitzman’s Once series. ‘Always’ completes the lifelong journey of Felix, the young boy introduced 16 years ago in ‘Once’.

Felix is now in his eighties, living in aged care in Australia. When a young boy is brought to him and left unexpectedly in his care, Felix once again embarks on a journey (with the boy, Wassim) to right wrongs built upon the prejudices and beliefs from history.

Dedicated followers will enjoy many references to characters and phrases used in past books. Some of these voices echo clearly in my mind, having listened to several of the books, particularly with Morris Gleitzman reading them. (Highly recommended audiobooks!)

Endearing, with characters like young Felix, Zelda, and the many strong people determined to fight against the tragedy of the holocaust, this final book in the epic series is gentle in its teaching for young readers. It is also compelling for older readers who are lucky to discover the series when reading alongside young readers – a chance to share and reflect together.

Always stay hopeful. That’s my motto.
You’re probably thinking … what’s he got to be hopeful about? He’s ten years old and look at his life. (Quote from Wassim in ‘Always’, p.3)

You can find a better and deeper review of Always at Kids’ Book Reviews.

And there is always the author’s own revelations and musings at Morris Gleiztman/Always.

# Have you read the whole series?

## Did you find any parts of the stories confronting?

### Are there other books of historical fiction you would recommend?


Brotherband series continues…

socorroRight from the beginning, I have to confess that I haven’t read the previous books in John Flanagan’s Brotherband series. However, this hasn’t impacted on my recent enjoyment of ‘Slaves of Socorro’ – no. 4 in the series.

After the introductory comments, explaining sailing terms, the tale begins with the fun and frolics of the seafaring community of Skandia. Bjarni is anxious about his boat rebuild, Hal is anxious about his recognition as a master boat builder and Lydia is seeking a way to flee an aspiring lover. Thus, some of the Heron Brotherband are reintroduced and the scene is set for future adventures.

Fortunately, John Flanagan’s storytelling ability enabled me to understand not only the concept of the Brotherband, but also to understand some of the quirks and talents of Hal and his intrepid crew. In this, the fourth of the series, their ship (Heron) becomes the Skandian duty ship to the Kingdom of Araluen – a ship at the disposal of King Duncan ready to move people and things quickly if necessary.

Fans of the Ranger’s Apprentice will appreciate the time and the world in which the Brotherband books are set, though these adventures take place in seafaring communities.  Flanagan brings a mixture of characters to this series, and Slaves refers seamlessly back to events from the past books, without sounding like he’s on repeat. Indeed, there is also a Ranger who joins Hal’s crew to fight a common foe.

There are many likable characters in Brotherband and plenty of action for them take on. In the video below, John Flanagan talks about some of his ‘Brotherband’ characters:

If you are already a fan of the Ranger’s Apprentice series, then you would definitely enjoy the Brotherband series – just ask the author! (This is but one of the comments he makes in  SIX THINGS YOU SHOULD KNOW ABOUT BROTHERBAND.)

If you are like me, and yet to catch up with the previous books in the series, they are: the Outcasts, the Invaders and the Hunters – and all 4 books including Slaves of Socorro are available in our library.

For those who are already fans, Brotherband no.5 Scorpion Mountain is due out in November!

Through their eyes…

shahanaShahana is the first of several books in a series Through My Eyes, with a focus on children living in conflict zones around the globe.

Life for Shanana is difficult; even more so with the death of her father, mother and older brother – victims of militant fire in the borderlands of Kashmir. With her younger brother, Tanveer, in her grandfather’s mountain village home, she ekes out a living daily by sewing and haggling for their basic necessities.

As if life isn’t hard enough already, when Shahana and her brother come across a half dead boy being attacked by wild dogs, they rescue him. Not only is he another mouth to feed, his Indian family background is in conflict with their heritage in a zone of great political conflict. Add to that the problems of a 13 year old Muslim girl living with an unrelated male in her house, and you begin to understand the complexities in the life of Shahana and her younger brother.

In this tale, Rosanne Hawke cleverly reveals ways in which life unfolds for many young girls like Shahana; when they are orphaned, or their families face the challenges of poverty in a land of war and strife. Each day is a test of survival. Each day also brings the challenges of testing friendships and relationships – determining who one can trust, and which people you should rely on.

Shahana is a strong character, bound however by the traditions of her sex. Many of her decisions are taken in the light of this, as we see her modify her choices because she has to ‘take her place’ and be wary of overstepping her role. However, her fate is to challenge the idea of being submissive – to avoid suffering at the hands of others just because she is orphaned and female.

There is lot to be learned about Shahana’s Kashmiri culture, and the story is sprinkled with the language and traditions of her family and those around her.

Tragically, there is also truth in the fictional lives of the people who populate Shahana’s world:

  • Zahid, the child soldier
  • Mr Nadid, the opportunistic carpet-maker
  • Amaan, the Indian militant
  • Rabia, the half-widow – mother of Ayesha, Shahana’s best friend

In many ways, these are the critical elements of the tale – revealing as they do a world apart from our own western experience. A world in which a 13 year old girl has to feed and care for her younger brother, and keep him from the clutches of a greedy businessman. A world in which unknown people are feared, and known people change according to their unfortunate circumstances. A world where a young girl has great responsibilities, beyond her tender years. A world all too common in many parts of the world today.

In this clip, Rosanne Hawke talks about how and why she wrote Shahana, and what she hopes readers take from the story:

Shahana is the first book to be published in this series; with others by renowned authors (including zones of ongoing conflict such as Somalia, Afghanistan and Mexico) to be published soon. For future details see:

A portion of the proceeds from the sale of the series will be donated to UNICEF.

Andy and Terry’s treehouse grows…


Every kid in the world would love to live in the places Andy Griffiths creates. Especially in his multi-storey treehouse! And especially as it has grown from 13 to 26 storeys since his last book, the 13-Storey Treehouse.

Not only does it have its own dodgem car rink, a skate ramp and an anti-gravity chamber, but you can choose from 78 different flavours of icecream and have them served to you by Edward Scooperhand! You just need to be careful when you do it, and in whose company.

Andy lives in the treehouse, we are told, with Terry. Cleverly, the story of how they met is interwoven in the tale – just be sure you look carefully at all the illustrations, so you get Terry’s point of view also.

When it comes to dealing with sick sharks (because they ate Terry’s underpants), they have to rely on Jill who seems to love all animals – well, almost all of them. Using her charms, and the help of Andy and Terry, she is able to conduct ‘open shark’ surgery. As they do this, they empty all sorts of things out of the shark, and the complications of the tale develop further.

There are lots of fun characters and events in the 26-Storey Treehouse; starting with Andy and Terry, the main characters from the The 13-Storey Treehouse. You will love all the improbable things that happen, and laugh out loud as Andy plays with words, and Terry adds punch with his drawings. You have to take the time to view both carefully together – and then go back again to see what you missed.

For more value, you can watch as Andy reads the first chapter of the 26-Storey Treehouse to a couple of children. See if you can catch things he adds along the way:

For lots more information about the series, and advice from Andy about the way he writes, go to:

Keep an eye out for the next instalment, the 39 Storey Treehouse, and Once Upon a Slime, which is “designed for teachers, students and young aspiring writers; it contains 52 fun writing and storytelling activities, such as lists, instructions, cartoons, letters, personal stories, poems and pocket books”.

‘Is your name Parvana?’

She is only 15, but American authorities suspect she may be more than she first appears – but is Parvana really a terrorist?

Parvana’ Promise is the sequel to Deborah’s Ellis’s Parvana and Parvana’s Journey; books which were inspired by the author’s visit to Pakistan to help at an Afghan refugee camp. They focus on the life struggles of Parvana and her friends and family, as they face the turmoils of daily life under Taliban rule in Afghanistan.

Life as a girl in Afghanistan is particularly challenging. In past books, Parvana disguised herself as a boy in order to support her family, since the Taliban forbids girls working. Education of girls is another forbidden, as highlighted recently in real life, by the shooting of a 14-year-old schoolgirl, Malala Yousafzai, in Pakistan (for daring to oppose its rule and advocating for the right of girls to go to school).

In Parvana’s Promise, Parvana and her mother run a school for girls, and they face lots of dangerous opposition to this. This school is where she is found and apprehended by the US Military, when they bomb the school. From here, Paravana is imprisoned and questioned constantly – but she refuses to utter a word, much to the frustration of her captors.

Parvana’s story moves from the present to the past and back again, as we try to understand why she is remaining totally silent. Her strengths and loyalties shine through, though it is sometimes hard to comprehend that life could really be like this for children around the world. However, through her tale, we catch glimpses of life under Taliban rule which are realistic, given Ellis’s own experiences among Afghan refugees.

Interestingly, Deborah donated the royalties for both Parvana’s Journey and Parvana to ‘Women for Women’ in Afghanistan. A recent interview with Deborah  Ellis  gives an insight into how her books have come about and how she thinks as she writes. It highlights so much how good writing comes from writing about things you really know.

Parvana’s Promise has been criticised for its negative portrayal of both the US military and the Taliban, but Ellis simply wants to focus on the child’s perspective in a dangerous land. What do you think?

Sensing an audiobook – Linger by Maggie Stiefvater

‘Linger’ continues the Mercy Falls trilogy, and this time I’m “reading” it as an audiobook – and this is probably one of the best series to have as an audiobook. I am currently loving the change of voices as the story continues, introducing new characters and complications, emphasised even more by different voices.

Just as in ‘Shiver’, there is a fabulous awareness of senses as the story continues. I can smell the musky odour of the wolves, feel the heat and contortions as wolves and humans ‘shift’, and sense the anxieties of everyone as they try to understand the nature of what is happening to them all.

With the introductions of new characters, and in this audio verision, new voices, new tensions and new problems arise. Passing the reins to a younger wolf, Beck has passed on great responsibility to Sam, with new wolves being created and needing some guidance. The tensions of young love also add to to the problems to be resolved in ‘Linger’.

Throughout, there is the awakening of the senses of Grace – is she the next to be shifted to wolverine form?

Maggie Stiefvater uses words perfectly and accurately to portray this tale – and the readers of the audiobook greatly enhance this… (Though not sure whether I dislike Cole because of his voice or what he says.)

To be continued…

For love & justice – Prized by Caragh M. O’Brien

I found myself enjoying the challenges of ‘Prized‘ before realizing it was the second book of a series. Can I say, it wasn’t a problem to read alone, though I will probably venture back to ‘Birthmarked’ at some stage…

‘Prized’ opens with a young girl, Gaia, struggling across the desert with her baby sister bundled close to her. The baby is close to death when the are ‘rescued’ and taken to a gated community on horseback. In the days to follow, though Gaia and her sister recover, their lives are changed completely as they are separated and come under the laws of the land.

Gaia has to submit to the dystopian order of Sylum, where the minority female community rule, and baby girls are highly prized. Her skills as a midwife are valued, in many different ways, and she challenges the rules of the society with some dire consequences for herself and others.

Will she finally submit to the autocratic control of Matrarc Olivia, as she lives under her close and demanding supervision? Can she adapt to the harsh social rules and regulations in a society where a kiss can have tragic implications?

‘Prized’ brought forward some interesting ideas – some, like the ruling (female) class being the smaller portion of the society, were a bit curious, I thought. But I gave in to the laws of Sylum, accepting the way things were much more than Gaia ever would, because I was captured by the tale Caragh O’Brien tells.

For more on the series, see: