The Constant Rabbit – Jasper Fforde

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Hachette

JUN 30, 2020 | 9781444763638 | RRP $32.99

In my opinion there are simply not enough books with rabbits as main characters (as she looks down at her rabbit-patterned PJs and rabbit-y slippers – well, what did you expect with my surname?). Jasper Fforde has brought his amazing brand of satirical humour to this new stand-alone novel and it’s a gem. It’s quirky and highly imaginative, full of extremely funny puns/play on words (particularly love the Rabbit-y adaptations of books and movies), absurd fantasy, thoroughly engaging protagonists and satisfyingly nasty villains and all in all is the most enjoyable romp through a rather far-fetched but very allegorical sort of dystopian UK.

In a parallel Britain of 2020 there are 1.2 million human-sized rabbits walking (as well as leaping and gambolling), talking, driving cars, working (most of them in not very highly paid jobs) and mostly living in colonies which are pretty over-crowded – as one would expect – and not well supported with infrastructure. This strange circumstance was caused by an spontaneous Inexplicable Anthropomorphism event some fifty-five years previously. It wasn’t just rabbits to be fair. There were a few other similar occurrences elsewhere in the world – an elephant in Africa, a ram in Australia, but in the main it was the UK affected with the majority rabbits but also some foxes, weasels and a few singular animals such as guinea pigs involved.

Though the rabbits have attained some rights, their lot is mostly pretty dismal and heavily restricted. They are always the target of various law enforcement agencies, with one dedicated purely to their harassment, and some rather nasty vigilante-type groups.

Peter Knox lives in a quiet village with his daughter Pippa. His neighbours are pretty hard-nose leporiphobics politically speaking but Peter, who works as an official Spotter for RabCoTRabbit Compliance Taskforce, formerly known as Rabbit Crime Taskforce – has never had any real issue with them. But when Doc and Constance Rabbit move in next door, Peter and Pippa are left in no doubt that one can be a friend to humans or a friend to rabbits but not to both.

The litany of injustices, hatred, bigotry and oppression towards the rabbits will resonate with many currently, given recent global focus on similar actions towards disenfranchised sectors of society. Some of the action, promulgated by the PM and Cabinet as a ‘positive’, is chillingly like the Nazi regime’s treatment of the Jewish people with the proposed forced relocation to MegaWarren frighteningly similar to removal to ghettos.

What Peter is to find out is that he is not as tolerant as he’s always believed himself to be and that humanity, his own humanity, is in need of some gentle rabbit influence. This is marvelously wrought throughout with the reader completely engrossed in the fantastical plot and with much upon which to reflect, both within ourselves and within our society.

Although primarily a novel for adults, I would have no hesitation in recommending this highly for your senior students and believe that for studies of parallel real events and circumstances it would provide rich fodder for debate and discussion.

How can you go wrong? I mean to say, it’s rabbits. 🙂

Clementine Rose: Collection Five – Jacqueline Harvey

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Penguin Australia

  • August 2020
  • ISBN: 9781760897437
  • Imprint: Puffin
  • RRP: $19.99

Don’t wait around to get your hands on this fifth and final bind-up of stories about this delightful little girl!

This collection contains Clementine Rose and the Wedding Wobbles, Clementine Rose and the Bake-Off Dilemma and Clementine Rose and the Best News Yet.

In case you have been in iso for longer than the past few months, Clementine Rose is the cutest child ever. Rather than being delivered in a hospital, she arrrived via a baker’s van and her adoptive mother, Lady Clarissa, wouldn’t be without her. Along with her teacup pig, Lavender, Digby Pertwhistle the butler and the redoubtable, and often critical, Great Aunt Violet plus Pharoah the sphynx cat, Clementine lives in a large and somewhat ramshackle house surrounded by friends in their local village, Penberthy Floss.

These three stories follow the exciting developments around Lady Clarissa’s wedding and the extension of their happy family and naturally there are adventures, problems and satisfying outcomes along the way.

These bind-ups are a super gift idea but obviously for all your dedicated CR fans also a must-have for your collection.

I know the copies in my libraries have always been on a constant turn-around so the addition of these is a great idea. Highly recommended for your readers from around Year 1 upwards.

Kitty is not a Cat – Jess Black/Bogan Entertainment Solutions

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Hachette

Lights Out

JUL 28, 2020 | 9780734419750 | RRP $9.99

Teddy’s Bear

JUL 28, 2020 | 9780734419774 | RRP $9.99

I no longer have a little person to watch such shows but by all accounts Kitty is not a Cat is a hugely successful animated series. A rather motley clowder of cats live together in a ramshackle old mansion, left to them by an eccentric benefactress. Their free-spirited antics ensure that life is always a party where anything goes but when there is an unexpected knock at the door one night and Kitty arrives, their wild ways are in for a disruption. Kitty is not a cat but she wants to be one and though the cats try very hard to re-home her it seems she is going to be a permanent fixture.

Now fans of the show can read about their favourite glaring of cats – and one non-cat – in a delightful new junior reader series written by Jess Black.

When Kitty’s night light mysteriously disappears her sleep is very much disturbed and of course, in turn, the cat’s routine TV viewing of their favourite Purr-anormal programs. Of course cats are not familiar with the concept of being afraid of the dark but they do their very best to sort Kitty’s problem with some very creative, though not necessarily, successful solutions. Finally Kitty’s night fright is sorted – and so is the mystery of the disappearing night light!

The cat gang decide that Kitty needs a new toy for the coming winter months and what could be better than a cuddly teddy bear? The problem is that the felines are really not across exactly what a teddy bear is so once more hilarity ensues as each attempts to satisfy the issue. Cheeta thinks he’s solved the problem when he brings home a real-life grizzly bear and for a while it seems that rather than being gobbled up they can all have some fun together. But when the bear starts his hibernation the original problem is still – well, a problem Luckily Mr Clean has saved the day with his ingenuity – and love.

This is just fabulous on a lot of levels – full of great humour, unconditional love and the certainty that one can be anything one wants – even a cat!!

Goes without saying that it appeals to us – being pretty much solid cat people – but I highly recommend it for your newly independent readers who will love being able to make connections between the show and the books.

Real Me. Real You? – Glenn Manton

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Glenn Manton

May 2020

RRP: $17.99

Glenn Manton is not afraid to tackle big questions for young people and in the past twenty years he has done so as a well-known speaker. Those of us in secondary schools, in particular, have observed first-hand the confusion and misinformation that many of our students hold and in the past few months, I think it would be fair to say, that this has escalated.

I know that my Senior school coordinators have been keen to acquire resources to support their pastoral care program and I will have no hesitation in recommending this one to them.

Glenn poses questions and pairs these with anecdotes and links to articles, social media, films, song lyrics – all is grist to his mill as he explores the topics that most consume our youth.

50 gritty and sometimes confronting questions will provide provocations for any group of students (or indeed adults) and spur on deep and meaningful conversations, reflections and actions – and certainly without doubt vigorous discussions.

I’d have to say he pretty much had me when I saw the suggestion to watch Eddie Izzard’s Death Star Canteen clip (Can People Choose their Sexuality?) :-).

All in all this is a winner – I would suggest that if you intend to use it with middle school students (depending on your school’s ethos) you will want to select your topics but for senior students I think this is a fabulous resource that will resonate with all – even the most reluctant, resistant or recalcitrant. Highly recommended as a valuable addition to your pastoral care suite.

Where’s Spot? 40th Anniversary edition – Eric Hill

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Penguin Australia

ISBN: 9780241446850

May 2020

$16.99

The cover image does not do this beauty justice – you need to see it for yourself in all its shiny ruby glory!!

It’s almost my Jen’s birthday – she would have been turning 40 on 22nd of this month and how apt it is to be able to review this as it was the first book I ever bought her (and later on all the subsequent titles).

Spot’s charm is timeless and all little people love to follow the playful pup as they search through the ‘lift-the-flaps’. It is arguably the favourite of its kind for all little readers over so many years.

Perfect for sharing and encouraging curiosity and imagination it will be the seed of a whole Spot collection for many of a new generation.

I don’t have any little ones in the family any more but not surprisingly I’m pretty sure for special reasons this one will stay on my own shelf – perhaps our girl will grow up and have a little one of her own and she can give her Mum’s favourite to her own child.

It doesn’t need any recommendation from me but of course you must have it in your collection – your littlest readers will love to get their hands on it!

Living on Stolen Land – Ambelin Kwaymullina

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Magabala Books

July 2020

ISBN 9781925936247

RRP: $22.99

In any other year we would be in the midst of NAIDOC celebrations but this has been no ordinary year for any of us. And given the global swell of awareness around the circumstances, past and present, of people of colour this is a most timely and resonating book.

One of my mantra words at present is manifesto. For me it epitomises passion, commitment, truth and transparency and it is the best fit word in my opinion to describe this powerful sharing from Ambelin.

Written prose/free verse style each section unpacks the words used for generations to mask the truth of our dispossessed First Australian peoples and provides a blueprint for all who are prepared to stand as one and support new understandings and pathways.

Each section deals with another aspect of the painful history of our present day nation and the way forward through understanding and action.

There is no part of this place
that was not
is not
cared for
loved
by an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander nation
There are no trees
rivers
hills
stars
that were not
are not
someone’s kin

This is not a huge book but it is, without doubt, an important one to read, share, reflect upon and most importantly take to heart. For anyone seeking a clearer understanding of the need for ‘de-colonisation’ of Australia, empowering true cross-cultural perspectives and the achieving of a real and positive future for all Australians.

I cannot recommend it highly enough as an addition either to your own personal shelves or your library collection – I would suggest for secondary students as it does require a maturity of language and comprehension. If you seek to empower your young students in particular this is a ‘must have’.

The Unadoptables

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Penguin Australia

July 2020

  • ISBN: 9780241453612
  • Imprint: Puffin
  • RRP $16.99

There is something about stories set in Holland that I find particularly appealing. Perhaps it is just the vicarious sight-seeing but for some reason they are always engaging and often quirky. This one is no exception. Combining adventure and mystery, family life, loyalty and very unusual entrepreneurship this will find an enthusiastic audience with readers from around ten years upwards.

Five babies were left at Little Tulip orphanage each one in direct contravention of the ‘baby abandonment rules’… one in a tin toolbox, one in a coal bucket, one in a picnic hamper, one in a wheat sack, and finally, one in a coffin-shaped basket. Twelve years after the shocking flouting of the conventions, Milou, Sem, Fenna, Lotta and Egg are known as the ‘unadoptables’ but they have an unbreakable bond with each other. Though each yearns for a conventional family their more unusual bond surpasses this desire in each as they remain determined to stay together, even when that means having to stay in the orphanage under the tyrannical rule of Matron Gassbeek.

When a sinister stranger appears late one night and decides to adopt all five it can only mean one thing – something particularly nasty is in store for the children. This in turn means another one thing – they must escape from the home and find their own place in the world.

The amazing adventure of the Unadoptables as they flee Amsterdam and follow some sketchy clues to what they believe might be Milou’s original home and what follows is a roller-coaster ride filled with puppets and abandoned windmills, pirate ships, clockwork mechanics and suspicious locals not to mention the pursuit of one very dogmatic Kinderbureau representative.

This is at times hilarious and at others poignant with a very hefty dose of creepiness and suspense included. In other words, kids will lap it up!

If you are looking for something refreshingly different to tempt your lovers of such writers as Jessica Townsend, Neil Gaiman or Katherine Rundell, look no further. Highly recommended for middle primary to lower secondary readers.

Happy Birthday Tashi!

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Allen & Unwin

July 2020

The very fact that over the past twenty-five years Tashi books have sold well over a million copies is testament to the love that so many have for this very special boy. While magic and fun abound the Tashi stories also have a lot for children to absorb and learn about life and now even the very youngest readers can be introduced to the joy with these special new My First Tashi books. How simply beautiful that even though the hugely talented Kim Gamble is no longer with us his legacy lives on through his equally talented daughters and of course the magical boy who is everyone’s favourite.

1 2 3: My First Tashi – Anna Fienberg and Barbara Fienberg, illustrated by Kim Gamble, Arielle Gamble and Greer Gamble

ISBN:9781760525286

Publisher:A&U Children’s

Imprint:A & U Children

RRP : $14.99

Little ones can count dragons and ogres, tigers and demons and adults will revel in the absolutely glorious illustrations in this very different counting book.

When they have finished counting to ten they can try to spot the many other delightful objects in the double spread of a community fair, Tashi-style. The book concludes with a lovely letter from Anna Fienberg telling us the story of how Tashi came to be via two extremely talented families.

Colours: My First Tashi – Anna Fienberg and Barbara Fienberg, illustrated by Kim Gamble, Arielle Gamble and Greer Gamble

ISBN:9781760877323

Publisher:A&U Children’s

Imprint:A & U Children

$14.99

I do love the counting book but this one has to be my first pick because really who doesn’t want to see the colours of dragons, genies, tigers and Baba Yagas as well as pigs, horses and buses?! 🙂

I particularly love that the large block letters of each colour word reflect the patterns or features of the illustrated object so the GREEN for a dragon has spotty scales, the WHITE for the tiger is striped and BROWN for the horse has tufts of hair! So fun!!

Go to the Tashi website for more fun after reading as well as teaching ideas.

Check out the free activities download for more Tashi fun.

Family – Aunty Fay Muir & Sue Lawson. Illustrated by Jasmine Seymour

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Magabala Books

July 2020

ISBN 9781925936285

RRP: $24.99

This is the second in the beautiful and enlightening Our Place series and continues the sharing of cultural identity and perspective in a way that is easily accessible by even the youngest of readers.

This relatively simple story accompanied by its stunning illustrations eloquently defines the meaning of family in the Indigenous Australian context and the ways in which family, in the whole sense regardless of size or shape, connects us all.

The importance of songs and stories from elders, learning to care for mob and country and the special connection to ancestors “to who we are, to who we will be” are all entwined with the concept that family is heart and home to everyone.

Once again the superlative illustrations add so much depth and richness to the prose and young readers will delight in recognising familiar scenes with which they can relate even though the setting is likely very much different to their own.

I cannot recommend this series highly enough to you for your collection whether it is for use in your cross-cultural programs or simply as a joyful addition to your personal collection.

The Mummy Smugglers of Crumblin Castle – Pamela Rushby

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Walker Books Australia

July 2020

Illustrated by Nelle May Pierce

ISBN: 9781760651930
Imprint: Walker Books Australia
Australian RRP: $17.99
New Zealand RRP: $19.99

When I mentioned that I was reading this Pamela Rushby commented that she had written the sort of book she would have liked to read when she was eleven. She’s also written the sort of book that I would have liked to read when I was eleven! I’ve mentioned here before my somewhat non-fiction nerdiness as a child and reading about ancient civilisations, particularly Egypt, was one of my ongoing passions – so much so that I kept my (much older) brother’s ancient history textbooks when he finished school (and still have a couple of them) and often requested such titles from my mother who loved to buy me books.

This delicious story is really historical fiction doubled as it is set in Victorian times when the fascination with Egyptology was at it’s zenith. Young orphan Hattie/Hatshepsut Lambton has led a lonely life in the care of an always absent guardian uncle and when he is regrettably eaten by a crocodile she is sent to her great-uncle and great-aunt, relatives she’s never known before, who live in a very peculiar and ramshackle old castle. Hattie finds herself within a loving family circle at last with some quirky strangeness which young readers will find absolutely entrancing.

Of course there would be no adventure without some dark deeds and the Ravens, brother and sister, who are assistants to her great-aunt (who specialises in mummy unwrappings for fashionable society parties) are clearly up to no good.

Hattie is intrigued by her relatives’ passion for and knowledge of the ancient Egyptians but finds herself increasingly distressed by the whole concept of destroying the mummies. When the Egyptian authorities ban the export of ancient artefacts Hattie thinks perhaps the whole mummy unwrapping might come to a natural end but the Ravens are determined to keep Great-Aunt Iphigenia undertaking her career, as it serves their nefarious financial ends well.

An expedition to Egypt itself in search of mummies to smuggle is a revelation to Hattie and she encounters many new experiences and unexpected friends and allies.

Pamela Rushby has created a wonderful adventure weaving many fascinating facts about both these historical periods with characters both intriguing and likable as well as those repellent and villainous. The touch of fantasy throughout is a bonus which will appeal to all young readers who will long to meet the mysterious Sekhmet and her lively kittens (resident housekeepers at Crumblin Castle) for themselves and they will enthusiastically embrace Hattie’s determination to protect her new-found family.

This is an absolutely super story which blends fantasy and fact beautifully. The publishers recommend it for 8 years upwards. I am going to keep it in my secondary library where I know I will have many Year 7 and 8 readers who will love it. It will certainly feature in my next book promotions to these students as well as my book club kiddos.

Highly recommended for avid readers from around middle primary upwards.

Classroom activities available here