Monthly Archives: October 2015

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This year, rather than Halloween, I wanted to create a Day of the Dead feature. Of course,traditionally one would have photos of loved ones on the ofrenda but instead we have characters who have died in books. I found a fun free program which created ‘photo frames’ around each picture. They were laminated and a folded heavy cardboard stand added. Candles and flowers (traditionally marigolds) have been added and closer to the day we will have a bowl of Mexican lollies for the students to enjoy (bought from Chile Mojo). I’m deciding whether to buy one actual sugar skull as well :-). The traditional tissue paper banner is from the same supplier. In the meantime the display is proving very popular with students. In the background (board with red slips) is our question of the moment “Which dead book character would you bring back to life?”. Harry Potter characters are definitely leading the field in the answers!

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The Singing Bones – Shaun Tan

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Allen & Unwin

Imprint; Allen & Unwin Children

October 2015

ISBN 9781760111038

RRP $35.00

Along with many others a new work from Shaun Tan sends a frisson of expectation and the promise of delighted awe through me and The Singing Bones is no disappointment. From the first ‘picking up’, feeling the sleekness of the stylish binding to the leisurely inspection of each sumptuous spread, this is a volume that can be described without hesitation as a visual and tactile feast for any reader.

A foreword from Philip Pullman and introduction by Jack Zipes, leading scholar of fairy tales, herald page after page of a book inspired by the work of legendary story collectors – and librarians! – Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm (the Brothers Grimm).

Rather than simply retelling the stories Shaun Tan has chosen to focus on what might be described as the ‘kernel’ of each tale; seventy-five of the Grimm’s collected folk stories in all are included. An annotated index summarises the plot of each. Stories familiar to us all such as Rapunzel, The Sleeping Beauty and Red Riding Hood are joined by far less well known tales, allowing readers to more fully appreciate the immense body of work undertaken by the two German brothers in their lifetimes.

To accompany each tale, Tan has created the most amazing sculptures of small figures which Pullman describes as “perfect realisations of the strangeness of the characters they represent”.

In an explanation at the end of the book, Tan relates how this project evolved and provides more details on his webpage (link above).  When the book was launched earlier this month, it was accompanied by an exhibition of the sculptures – cue envy of Melburnians at this point!  I think those of us in other states would like to hope we might also have the opportunity at some stage to see this stunning display of artwork.  Apparently attendees were invited to create their own little figures in clay – a super idea for your library! I recall doing this same thing with Shaun’s little white creature from The Arrival with some brilliant results from students.

I have shown this book to several colleagues today and all have exclaimed over the ‘beauty’ of it – both presentation and contents. We are already discussing adding this to our Readers Circles titles for 2016 as it is such a unique work. With amazing synchronicity it also arrived in our box of standing orders this morning, so will shortly be prominently displayed in our library.

I know this will need no recommendation to you all but regardless; I cannot endorse it more fulsomely. It is truly special and a book to be treasured!  While I do believe fairy tales are for everybody, your teenies might find these a bit sophisticated so probably around Middle Primary and up would be my recommendation.

(Watch out for this to be an award winner!)

Friday Barnes #3: Big Trouble – R. A. Spratt

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ISBN: 9780857986993

Published: 03/08/2015

Imprint: Random House Australia Children’s

Extent: 272 pages

RRP $15.99

Ace amateur super sleuth Friday Barnes just gets busier and busier! In the third of the series, young Friday finds a perfect swarm of mysterious goings on at Highcrest Academy. Firstly, there is the unexpected visit from her absentminded father when he brings the dreadful news of the disappearance of Friday’s mum. Has she been kidnapped? Has there been some kind of terrible accident? Friday’s mood is not helped by having her father installed at her school until things have been sorted out. This is particularly so because the Headmaster also needs her help. Not only is there a huge kerfuffle with the arrival of new student, Princess Ingrid of Norway but it seems a thief is at large. The elusive Pimpernel is leaving calling cards everywhere and personal items are disappearing at rapid rate.

Friday’s relationship with her nemesis Ian Wainscott seems poised on the edge of a change after she helps Ian’s mum thwart her ex-husband’s attempt to leave her in financial ruin.  Certainly some of her classmates are eagerly awaiting a shift in the dynamic!

Friday’s giftedness is never grating, probably because it is balanced so delightfully with her social ineptitude. Her gauche geekiness is really very endearing and Spratt’s characterisations are always a triumph.

Another very positive aspect to Spratt’s writing is her ability to weave a more sophisticated vocabulary into the text with a full expectation that her tween readers will correctly interpret it. And they do! These books are proving very popular in our library with our new-to-high-school Year 7 girls.  For that reason it is just wonderful to see that the next volume will be published in early 2016.

Find a fun Friday Barnes Scavenger Hunt kit for libraries here and don’t forget that previous books had teaching notes provided.

Highly recommended for your budding detectives from around 9 years upwards.

The Taming of the Queen – Philippa Gregory

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  • Simon & Schuster UK |
  • 448 pages |
  • ISBN 9781471132971 |
  • August 2015

List Price

AU$ 45.00

NZ$ 49.99

Why would a woman marry a serial killer?
Because she cannot refuse…

Every now and again I lash out and actually read a ‘grown up’ book and being a very genuine admirer of Philippa Gregory’s historical fiction was most excited to be able to review her latest book.

Kateryn (also known as Catherine) Parr was the last and surviving wife of the infamous Tudor monarch, Henry VIII. She is also arguably the least known of his wives in a sense – even the rather innocuous Anne of Cleves had some more notoriety if only because the marriage was so short-lived without the grisly end of other less fortunate of Henry’s spouses.

For those who have watched that excellent BBC series The Tudors or studied some medieval history there will be some background knowledge of the main facts. Philippa Gregory’s talent lies in bringing history to life by building on the facts through deeper research not only of the direct subject but also the prevailing attitudes, customs and daily lives of the period in question.

Kateryn was a beautiful 30 year old married to a much older husband when Henry Tudor first decided to make her his wife. When her husband died, the aging King Henry wasted no time in proposing to Kateryn, insisting she come immediately to court, despite her still being in mourning; and so began Henry’s last marriage and his first to a queen who despite her personal preferences, devoted herself to his well-being and also to the task of reuniting father and royal children thus ensuring those children were recognised and respected.

Kateryn had already secretly been planning to marry Sir Thomas Seymour, and indeed following Henry’s death in 1547, finally did so. Despite her disappointment in not being able to pursue her true love yearning, she proved a loyal and diplomatic wife to an increasingly despotic and erratic Henry.

She raised many eyebrows and incurred some real wrath for what was perceived (but never proven) as Protestant heresy, but was able to avoid the dire persecution inflicted on others, innocent or guilty, by engaging the king’s support and rekindling his loyalty to her.  She was perhaps the most scholarly woman of her times and demonstrated this through her writing and published works as well as her ability to match wits with the men surrounding her.

As always for these complicated times, plots and twists of fortune abound and provide fascinating indeed compelling reading offering real insight to the Tudor court and its significant players.

For lovers of historical fiction and particularly Medieval history, I believe, Philippa Gregory is top of the tree. If you have not yet tried out her books, I urge you to do so – you will not be disappointed.

There is a great reading group guide here.

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Not Your Usual Bushrangers – Peter Macinnis

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Five Mile Press
ISBN: 9781760065690
Published: July 2015
Imprint: Echo Publishing

RRP: $34.95
Many years ago my dad handed me a copy of Frank Clune’s ‘The Wild Colonial Boys’ saying “You should read this.” – a common occurrence as we shared both a literary taste and an interest in colonial history. From that moment I was hooked well and truly on the exploits of the Australian bushrangers.
I never imagined that I would have the privilege of reviewing the latest book from super-clever-clogs and fascinating writer/historian/scientist Peter Macinnis. And yes, I would describe him as such even if he wasn’t a friend of mine!
Peter takes us on a journey through the entire span of Australia’s bushranging history, rather than the focus being on just a few well- known names. While I have been to Ben Hall’s grave and to Melbourne Gaol where Ned Kelly was hung and Thunderbolt’s Rock, amongst other significant sites, I have never heard of most of the rogues and scallywags Peter writes about in this entertaining account. And that of course, is the entire point.
Beginning with those early convict ‘bolters’ (who perhaps aren’t how we would now define bushrangers) right up to some youths in the post Great War years trying their hand at the ‘game’, Peter traces the development of the Antipodean highwaymen (and women!) with an engaging and often humorous slant.
As always, his work is meticulously researched and in his searching he has uncovered many interesting original documents and reports which examine the contemporary records, attitudes and consequences of all stakeholders.
And naturally, although the bushrangers are the focus of the book, the reader also gains a real insight into colonial Australia from the time of European invasion to the early 20th century.
While primarily aimed at an adult audience, this is a book which would sit easily in a school library as a reference point for those units dealing with Australia’s history since the White colonisation as it is written in a very accessible style.
I can highly recommend this history for both your school library and for your own personal reading. Definitely a winner and worth bailing up your local bookseller!

Download an extract here.