Monthly Archives: April 2015

Clementine Rose and the Movie Magic – Jacqueline Harvey

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Random House Australia

ISBN: 9780857985187

Published: 01/04/2015

Imprint: Random House Australia Children’s

Extent: 160 pages

RRP: $12.99

The avid Clementine Rose fans in your library crowd will eagerly pounce on No #9 in this sweet series.

This latest adventure sees the beginning of next door neighbour Basil’s film documentary about Penberthy House – of course, starring Clementine Rose!  This excitement is tempered however by Lady Clarissa’s worries about some strange occurrences at the quaint hotel which are exacerbated by the arrival of two unexpected guests – one hotel inspector and one very well groomed but snooty woman. Both have a pivotal role in the latest drama to occupy Clementine’s family. With the hotel’s future – indeed the very house’s future- at stake, it’s a lucky thing indeed when a very sneaky sabotage plot is revealed.

Parallel to these story threads is the promise of a budding romance as Basil’s assistant Drew and his 7 year old son Will develop an immediate rapport with both Lady Clarissa and Clemmie.  Now we all be awaiting the next instalment very impatiently to see how this progresses!

Jacqueline Harvey continually strikes just the right note with her books for younger girls. The mix of adventure, mischief, humour and excitement has great appeal for the intended age group and each book contains much with which these readers can easily identify – even though they don’t live in a big old house or own a teacup pig!

Find teaching notes here or visit Jacqueline’s website here.

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The Boy on the Wooden Box – Leon Leyson

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  • Simon & Schuster Children’s UK |
  • 256 pages |
  • ISBN 9781471119682 |
  • May 2014 |
  • Grades 4 – 9

List Price

AU$ 9.99

– See more here

Subtitled ‘How the Impossible became Possible…on Schindler’s List’ which says it all, this is an amazing read. Most of us are no doubt familiar with the history of Oskar Schindler and his extraordinary efforts in saving his Jewish workers from certain extermination in wartime Poland, largely due to the publication of Tom Kenneally’s Schindler’s Ark (inspired by the retelling of the heroic rescue by Poldek Pfefferberg) and the subsequent Spielberg movie, Schindler’s List.

Leyson (born Leib Lezjon) was a mere ten years old when his world imploded following the Nazi invasion of Poland and his family’s forced relocation to the Krakow ghetto. The overcrowded urban concentration camp was tyrannised by a vile despotic commandant, Amon Goeth, whose complete indifference to suffering and amoral and inhuman treatment of the Polish Jews, resolved Schindler to take action. Outwardly a staunch Nazi supporter, a womanizer, a black marketer and a capitalist, Schindler set about to protect some 1 200 Jews becoming a rather unlikely hero by continually ‘flying under the radar’ of the SS, using his own funds to bribe officials and subvert the Nazi war effort through his factory’s production of imperfect ammunitions.

Leyson’s memoir is the only one from a Schindler’s child and as one of the very youngest saved by that man, is a story of immense despair told without bitterness, and at the same time, a story of limitless hope – when one man’s refusal to stand by and do nothing resulted in the saving of many lives.

Seemingly a quiet and modest man, Leyson had not told his story until the book and subsequent film brought Schindler’s name to the wider public. After his first telling of his personal history he was asked many times to speak to groups and organisations which he did willingly to share his recollections and to honour both Schindler and the many victims of the Holocaust.

After providing his testimony verbally for many years, we are fortunate indeed to be able to read it as well and while there are certainly literary aspects to this book, for a large part Leyson’s voice as he recounts the often chilling evidence lends gravity to the telling.

Leyson died almost two years ago but in this book he has left a real legacy to young readers (as well as older ones). For your readers who have already seized on other Holocaust histories, whether factual or fictional, this will be an admirable addition to your library shelves.

Highly recommended for readers aged around 9-15.

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The First Third – Will Kostakis

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Penguin Australia

Published:24/07/2013

Format:Paperback, 248 pages

RRP:$17.99

price:AUD $17.99

ISBN-13:9780143568179

ISBN-10:0143568175

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

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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

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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

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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

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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!

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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!