The First Third – Will Kostakis



Penguin Australia


Format:Paperback, 248 pages


price:AUD $17.99



Yes, ok, I admit it. I may well be one of the last few teacher-librarians in Australia who hadn’t read The First Third – until the past couple of weeks.  I knew, from all the glowing recommendations and recognitions that it must be a brilliant read and so I knew I must put it on the Premier’s Reading Challenge list I was compiling, but I hadn’t yet read it.

And now I have. And I laughed and empathised and cringed all the way through it.  What a marvellous storyteller Kostakis is! This vibrant story of contemporary Australian family life interlaced with Greek culture is so well-written and so genuinely engaging. Throughout, I was reminded of every Greek person I have ever known from Sophie, my Community Officer at Marrickville Public Library, to my current library cleaner, Kathy, as I recognised expressions and attitudes and the warm wonderful humour.

Of course, the setting resonated with me – as a Sutherland Shire girl – suburb names like Brighton-le-Sands and Rockdale send a pang right to my heart.  But it was the people – the characters who are not really characters at all – but real people who might have been my neighbours that bring this story to life with such vivid clarity.

Billy (Bill) Tsiolkas is your pretty average 17 year old boy with a fiercely Greek yiayia (aren’t they all?) and a moderately dysfunctional family – single mum and two brothers at odds with themselves and the rest of the clan. He falls in love fairly regularly, he loves his family despite their oddities, he wants his Mum to be happy and he doesn’t want to lose his yiayia. When his grandmother gives him what is essentially her ‘bucket list’, Bill finds himself battling all the quirks of his family life to realise the list and in the process discovers much about himself, his family circle and life.

This is such a warm, funny and endearing book that it will no doubt remain on my bookshelf for re-visiting. It has such a ‘feel good’ vibe to it and as one who has often been the ‘glue’ in the family I can completely relate to it.

Of course, you already have it on your shelves but if you haven’t yet taken time to read it – YOU MUST!!!

We Are Pirates – Daniel Handler



Allen & Unwin

RRP: $29.99

Paperback – 352 pages

ISBN: 9781408821459
Australian Pub.: February 2015
Publisher: Bloomsbury
Imprint: Bloomsbury
Subject: Fiction

Lemony Snicket, this is not!  While you may well be used to the dark humour of the LS children’s novels, this newest novel from the same author, alternatively known as Daniel Handler, is a disturbing mix of fantastical realism most definitely only suited to mature readers.

Against a backdrop of contemporary San Francisco, Handler presents an interesting take on modern family dynamics as he introduces the Needles family – Phil, struggling radio producer with a condo he can’t afford and a family to which he can’t relate; Marina, bored unfulfilled wife whose painting is not enough to sustain either her married life or her relationship with her daughter; Gwen, fourteen and troubled, a shoplifter, ex-swimmer, rebel with a desire for romantic adventure.

When Gwen assumes an alter ego as Octavia and swash buckles her way through a swathe of shoplifting at her neighbourhood drugstore and is busted bigtime, she is forced to spend ‘punishment’ time as companion to Errol, an Alzheimer’s patient who imagines himself as a retired Navy veteran, who revels in piratical fiction and non-fiction.

Gwen and her newly acquired friend Amber, a strangely fierce and feisty being, take to the pirate notion with fervour and begin to plot to escape the humdrum existence of their teenaged lives and useless parents with adventure on the high seas.  It is a little difficult to imagine two 14 year olds enthusiastically embracing such offerings as Captain Blood but it is the hook for the rest of the plot.

They ‘spring’ Errol from his retirement home and almost accidentally acquire a couple of other crew members and hey ho! It’s off to sea they go – in San Francisco bay, where they create not just mayhem but murder with a very nasty edge to it.

While this is all rolling along, Phil Needles is beset with complications around a radio project he is developing, his not-very-successful production company and his attractive new assistant.  Summoned home from a conference, where he is meant to be pitching his newest idea, by news that his daughter has gone missing, Phil’s professional worries are eclipsed by Gwen’s disappearance and his wife’s manic reaction.

With an ending that is bleak and, frankly, creepy this is not a novel for the faint-hearted.  I found the plot somewhat uneven and the characters are at times more caricatures but it was nonetheless intriguing and often very humorous, albeit also somewhat repugnant at times.

With a dose of very explicit language and sexual references, this would only be suitable for your Senior students if you chose to add it to your library collection (the publisher’s comment is that it is an adult novel). On a personal note, you may like to try it out yourself, to see another side to Lemony Snicket.

Listen to Daniel Handler talk about the book here.

Queensland Premier’s Reading Challenge 2015


The 2015 Queensland Premier’s Reading Challenge was launched on Monday and for the first time is extended down to daycare/kindy children as well as up to Years 8 & 9 students.

I was extremely pleased to be invited by DET to compile the list for the 7s and 9s and included many books I have personally reviewed during the past year and highly recommend. You may like to have some ideas or suggestions for your middle year students, particularly as many of you will be looking at developing your collection in this area.

I particularly would like to thank my many publishing contacts for their superb support as I pursued titles which I had not yet encountered to add to this list.

Love and Other Perishable Items – Laura Buzo



ISBN: 9781760112424
Australian Pub.: January 2015
Publisher: Allen & Unwin
Imprint: A & U Children
Subject: Young adult fiction
Suitable for ages: 14-18

Originally this debut novel from Laura Buzo was published as ‘Good Oil’ and commended in the CBC Older Readers offerings of 2011.  It was further shortlisted in the 2011 Prime Minister’s Literary Awards.

Now re-issued with a new title, this is a wonderfully funny, tender and compellingly engaging read. Buzo has a marvellous knack of writing real-life with a completely authentic and convincing voice which resonates strongly throughout her novels.

When 16 year old Amelia lands herself her first job – part-time at her local Woolies – as so many young people do, she meets 21 year old Chris, final year uni student. Outwardly a gauche awkward teen and an extroverted ‘class clown’ with a six-year age gap that seems an insurmountable chasm, these two ‘click’ with immediacy as they discuss every conceivable topic from quality literature to feminism to pulp movies with gusto and passion. And of course, fall in love – though not without obstacles.

Amelia is smitten from the start but despairs of Chris ever regarding her as more than the quirky ‘young ‘un’, while Chris stumbles from fantasy perfect woman to unsuccessful pursuit, all the while falling more and more convincingly for Amelia.

Not only the main characters but those secondary and even on the periphery of this story are drawn so utterly real and the plot unravels with warmth and wit, absorbing the reader who is drawn into this melee of personalities with ease.

There is an intriguing and subtle comparison of the two personalities revealed through their alternate narrations. Apparently ‘uncool’ Amelia has in fact developed far more sophisticated coping mechanisms to deal with her stresses with family life and school than the generally perceived ‘cool’ Chris, who resorts to over-indulgence in alcohol and recreational drugs to escape from his own troubles.

The parallels which can be drawn between Amelia’s English reading list (and frustrations with the curriculum and her teacher) and the gradually evolving relationship between herself and Chris are also delightful, as the reader is invited to predict the eventual outcome between these two distinctly likeable characters.

Highly recommended for mature readers of around 15 and up, you won’t go wrong with this one.

Holier than Thou – Laura Buzo


Before I started this blog, I wrote this review of Laura Buzo’s second novel. I am reposting here as I’m about to review another of this terrific author’s books. Stay posted!


Allen and Unwin, 2012. ISBN 9781741759983.
Recommended for Year 11/12 students. Wonderfully funny, heartbreakingly poignant, undeniably bursting with life, Laura Buzo’s second novel Holier than Thou is contemporary fiction that crackles with emotion and energy.
Holly Yarkov is 24, a social worker in the toughest neighbourhood of the city. The tragic death of her beloved father during her high school years propels Holly not only towards her chosen, and difficult, career but also to a rollercoaster ride of relationships – with friends, family and lovers.
Set in a gritty but very vibrant area of Sydney, well known to this reader, Buzo’s true-to-life portrait of the Inner West captures its very essence.
With an intuitive insight into the different ways the human psyche deals with the tremendous impact of grief and the ensuing, and often enduring, emotions it engenders, Buzo peels back layers of Holly’s struggle to hold fast to a status quo which relentlessly continues to slide out of her grasp and strikes a resounding chord with the reader. The irony of her Woman-of-Steel nickname, bestowed upon her by her peers, coupled with her drive for perfection and her ‘compulsive volunteer[ing]’ cannot fail to move even the most cynical audience.
It is impossible to follow Holly’s journey without a true empathy and involvement with her compassionate character. This novel comes recommended highly by this reader, but with caution, as suitable for mature young adult readers – there is a very liberal application of strong language, drug references and sexual situations. The completely authentic voice of this outstanding novel is no doubt, directly attributable to Buzo’s own intimate knowledge and experiences as a real-life social worker in Sydney. This reader freely confesses a habitual antipathy towards this genre but can honestly say without hesitation this is a cracker of a novel. Loved it!

Apologies for lack of posts.


With my heart breaking I must say that my youngest daughter Jennifer passed away last Wednesday and naturally, other things are keeping me from this blog at present – particularly, as I have the care of her little daughter, who turns 10 next Tuesday.

Jennifer Louise Usher

22/7/80 – 11/3/15


A Celebration of Life for Jennifer will be held at Arthur Davis Park, Sandgate

On Friday 20th March at midday

Please feel welcome to join myself and Kysha,

Jen’s sisters – Bronwyn and Kim, our family and friends to say our goodbyes to a beautiful spirit with music, photos, balloons, butterflies, colours and sharing memories.

A dear friend has set up a special fund for Kysha to have the trip to Kakadu her Mummy always wanted to take her on so if you would like to contribute to this, details are: Teachers Mutual Bank

BSB: 812 170 A/c #: 100703660 A/c name: B. H. Braxton


Library Displays


Even though we are a secondary school library, we think displays are important! I should have taken a photo of our Chinese New Year display as it looked very effective once I had found some cool stuff at the local cheap shop – beautiful red and gold ‘triple’ hanging lantern, a gorgeous silk fan, a lucky cat etc – oh well!

Now we have displays for forthcoming Harmony Day,  and St Patrick’s Day (always fun) which features Irish authors and quotes…..and my lovely library aide also did a great ‘quickie’ for International Women’s Day.

Always looking for great ideas and have found some useful blogs in particular to find some inspiration.




Six lessons on young adults’ literature from a 13-year-old


An interesting article brought to my attention by friend and colleague, Barbara Braxton The Bottom Shelf and 500 Hats – thank you for sharing BB!

To publishers, there are two kinds of young readers: children, and young adults. But in that extremely fluid period between 12 and 18, it is probably necessary to further separate young young adult readers from the the now-legendary YA segment.

Welcome, then, to YYA readers. Whose brains and bodies are both changing furiously almost by the day, to whom the age of 16 represents a sort of adult stasis standing at the edge of their current existence of mental and physical turmoil.

What do they read? More important, what would they like to read? Are publishers right in assuming that 13-year-olds want to read about other 13-year-olds? That stories should be set in schools and homes? That adventure and fantasy are hot buttons to success?

Here are six conclusions drawn from an avid reader who happens to be closing in on his thirteenth birthday.

The people, not the story
The most important thing is to have complex, three-dimensional characters. At least, the kids must be that way. Each of them must have a distinct, unique back story, specific characteristics and inclinations, and unusual quirks that make them stand out. Twists and turns in the plot, breathless storytelling, laugh-out-loud humour – all of these are welcome, but they’re worthless without characters that readers can relate to. That doesn’t mean they have to be like their readers – it only implies authenticity of personality, thoughts, emotions and situations.

The kids must be older
Nobody under 18 likes to read about people their own age. The present has problems enough of its own – only the future, when they will be independent of the tyranny of grown-ups, holds any promise. So, the books have to be about older kids, bringing in a taste of what it’s like to be 16 if you’re 14, or 15 if you’re 13. The corollary of marketing YYA books: target books about 13-year-olds to 11-year-olds, and so on.

Where’s the dark guy?
At least one of the kids in there has to have a dark side to them. If anything, this is what YYA readers identify with – that delicious streak of devilry which will forever elude them in real life. It’s almost normal for a 13-year-old to secretly imagine herself or himself as having a natural penchant for doing bad things. Such a character in a book immediately captures their interest. The character had better be pivotal, though, and not just thrown in for the sake of moral diversity.

Sarcasm is mandatory
No boy or girl is worth reading about unless their tongue is razor-sharp. Politeness is for nerds. Kids want to read about kids who can put people in their place with in-your-face sarcasm. Preferably older people, but definitely everyone who’s not a friend. The whole idea is to have the characters in the book do the things that the kids themselves know they can’t. Because parents. And cutting-edge comebacks to adults lie at the core of many YYA fantasies.

Lifehacks are cool, lessons are not
YYA readers are very interested in the outcomes of their own lives. They may prefer reading about older kids, but it is in order to understand where their own existences might be headed. Real-life problems that authority figures find difficult to touch on – ethics (rather than morals), sexuality, emotional choices, for instance, all underlined by the bewildering confusion in teenage brains – are great things to read about, especially if the characters in the story can come up with smart ways of dealing with them rather than following their parents’ or teachers’ dictats.

Past, present or future; real or fantasy
The actual setting and nature of the story doesn’t matter. It’s a myth that YYA readers only want to read about contemporary kids in a contemporary, urbanised and globalised world, or fantasies involving those same kids in a world populated with strange creatures, magic, gods, and other fantastic elements. Just about any situation is fine, so long as the rules set out above are met.’-literature-from-a-13-year-old

Zafir [Through My Eyes] – Prue Mason



ISBN: 9781743312544
Australian Pub.: February 2015
Publisher: Allen & Unwin
Imprint: A & U Children
Subject: Children’s fiction
Suitable for ages: 11-14

RRP $15.99

A carefree happy boy in Syria, on the cusp of becoming a young man, finds himself and his family caught up in the tragedy of Syria’s civil war.

Prue Mason has lived in the Middle East and has already an understanding of many issues of that region. In this book, she wanted to try to explain how the violence in Syria began and of course, how it affected the ordinary people.  She comments that… Doing the research for this story has been harrowing. I’ve been in tears many times as I’ve viewed YouTube clips and read the blogs of people who are seeing their country torn apart from within. 

A recent statement from the United Nations (UNICEF)underlined the fact that Syria is one of the most dangerous places on Earth for a child – with an estimated 5.5 million affected by the country’s ongoing conflict (Time, March 2014).

When Zafir, his doctor father and equally well-educated mother, relocate from Damascus to Homs, they have no idea of the impending doom which is hurtling towards their everyday lives. As revolt and bloodshed become commonplace and the city of Homs is targeted by gunfire and shelling, Zafir’s family is torn apart and this 13 year old boy, like so many other Syrian children, is forced to grow up fast and fight to survive.

As with the other titles in this series, readers are placed in a position of understanding the uncertain and often tragic circumstances of their international counterparts and are encouraged to exercise their compassion and sense of justice.  Through My Eyes represents an important initiative in Australian children’s publishing offering both the opportunity to examine and deepen knowledge of these world affairs and also to contribute to UNICEF through the sales of the books.

Highly recommended for all Upper Primary/Lower Secondary readers – the whole series should be on your shelves. Teaching notes for this latest title will soon be available at Through My Eyes, others are already in place.