Monthly Archives: October 2017

La Belle Sauvage : The Book of Dust #1 – Phillip Pullman

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Dust

Penguin Random House

9780857561084

October 19, 2017

David Fickling Books

 

RRP $32.99

 

Dear Philip Pullman

It is magnificent! How long must I wait for volume 2?

Yours Sincerely

Me

 

I don’t think I would have been alone when, upon finding out earlier this year that Philip Pullman was publishing a new ‘prequel’ trilogy, I wondered whether it could possibly match the beauty, skill and intensity of His Dark Materials.

Why worry? This is coming from one of the most masterful storytellers of our time and is every bit as fabulous as its counterpart. I should have known.

Young Malcolm Polstead (with his daemon Asta) appears an average boy living with his innkeeper parents at The Trout. Yet he is far more than that; an enquiring mind, a sharp eye for detail, a sensitivity and an uncanny intuition all combine to raise him above his peers. Living directly across the river from the Priory Malcolm is a regular visitor to the nuns where he helps with all manner of odd jobs and enjoys talking particularly with the ancient Sister who prepares the meals.  His other chief occupation is taking his canoe, Le Belle Sauvage, out and about on the waterways round Oxford where he quietly observes much, mostly nature.

One day however he observes something quite strange.  When an unknown man appears to have lost a small object and then is rudely apprehended by some sinister looking individuals Malcolm is intrigued. Strange things have been afoot. At schools, including Malcolm’s, a fanatical sect has turned children against teachers and even parents and most suspect it is the work of the feared CCD.  The boy has also learned that his loved nuns at Godstow Priory are taking care of a small and seemingly special baby, one Lyra Belacqua. Is it possible such things could be intertwined somehow?

A new friend comes about as a result of Malcolm’s observation, and retrieval, of the lost object. A young scholar with an extensive knowledge of the strange instruments called alethiometers.  Together with Dr Hannah, Malcolm begins to seek out and deliver important tidbits of information which they both store away like squirrels hoarding nuts.

Then an unexpected weather event creates a huge flood across the whole of the countryside causing houses, bridges and the priory to collapse. Malcolm and his acquaintance Alice, a kitchen maid, take charge of the baby Lyra and an adventure like no other follows.

This is a gripping tale of courage and selflessness. Pullman’s ability to paint pictures with his words pulls the reader right into the book so that one feels one is in Le Belle Sauvage, along with the children,  battling the elements and desperately avoiding the pursuers who want baby Lyra for their own nefarious ends. The main characters become our allies and we fear for them and rejoice in their triumphs.  For those who have often wondered about Lyra’s history before the prophecy was revealed and the narrative that followed her throughout His Dark Materials this is a must read.

I’ve read some wonderful books this year but this has to be the best yet. I cannot wait for the next volume to be ready so we can continue the saga.

Find some input from the master himself here.

 

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The Explorer – Katherine Rundell

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explorer

Bloomsbury

September 2017

ISBN 9781408885284

RRP $16.99

We all know some young explorers; the ones who love adventure, the ones who watch Bear Grylls for the survival tips, the ones who pore over atlases and illustrated books of exotic places.  These are the ones who will adore this new book from Katherine Rundell with its adventure, courage, resilience and spirit.

Four children are in a plane crash and find themselves stranded alone in the depths of the Amazon rainforest. Fred, Constantia along with brother and sister, Lila and Max are not the stuff of which the usual jungle survivors are made but as the plot moves along each has a different strength to bring to their joint survival. Of course being so young their chances would be slim no matter how great their competence were it not for the fact that they stumble upon evidence of another earlier person who had lived in the spot in which they find themselves.

Fred, who has always devoured the accounts of the great explorers, is wildly excited about the meagre finds which indicate an explorer has pass this way before and the children collectively are reassured when they find a map. So begins their adventure proper with the building of a raft, scrounging for food and water and setting off down the Amazon following the directions.

To their immense surprise they find themselves in a lost city of stone where indeed an old irascible explorer is in residence. His reluctance to accept them into his space or help them mellows over the ensuing days and eventually when things go terribly wrong he comes to their rescue with a self-sacrifice that is immeasurable.

All in all this was a thrilling adventure, well-paced and with echoes of earlier grand novels for children. Indeed, Rundell says she was inspired not just by her own trip to the Amazon but Eve Ibbotson’s hugely popular  Journey to the River Sea.

This is a fabulous read for both boys and girls from around eight years upwards and for those who might be looking for a class read-aloud or group reading it would be an excellent choice indeed.

Highly recommended for your middle to upper primary readers.

Download a teacher pack here.

 

Laughter, Tears & Coffee – Hélène Jermolajew

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Balboa Press

ISBN 9781504309363

RRP $14.99

helene

Yes, you already know it if you have read this blog before. I am a self-confessed nerd and was as a child as well. I didn’t just love reading as in stories, I revelled in information books and I LOVED poetry. I still have two poetry books my Mum included in birthday presents; I usurped my older brother’s poetry text books the minute he was done with them. I’ve written it, I won a prize in high school for it and I love teaching it.

So when my friend Hélène recently published her book of poetry I was dead keen to read it. As luck would have it there was an afternoon this week when I was far from feeling 100%, it was rainy and I went to bed like a diva to recover and began to read. Is there anything quite as soothing as poetry for an aching soul? Contrary to Hélène I have no aversion to free verse, indeed it is often my preference but I could certainly well appreciate the rhythm and cadence of Hélène’s verse.

She began writing as a child, has always written and has honed her craft as a member of various groups, as well as performing/presenting in various venues.  She brings the wealth of her life experience to her work. Child of immigrant parents, challenges, highs and lows, family, children, travel and more are reflected in her writing.

This volume of eclectic pieces is categorised by themes such as Nature, Inspired by Beach and Farewells & Memories. Throughout we can share Hélène’s emotions and relate these to our own experiences, although not all.

I think of all that I enjoyed in this, one particular poem stood alone for me in it’s simple poignancy but depths of ‘story’.

Buttons

War came to her door in Belgrade;

She refused

To clean snow-laden streees;

Driven away

In German trucks

Leaving her half-eaten chocolate bar

On the table;

Interned,

Slave labour,

Punching out unknown metal objects,

Moved,

Un-asked;

Another camp,

Sewing,

Buttons, buttons, buttons

On German uniform trousers,

Fifty-two buttons on each pair,

Every day,

Every night;

 

For the rest of her life my mother hated buttons.

 

Well done  Hélène and thank you for allowing me the privilege!

 

To Siri, with Love – Judith Newman

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siri

Hachette

AUG 29, 2017 | 9781784298319 | RRP $32.99

Subtitled: A mother, her autistic son and the kindness of machines, when I first looked at this I felt confronted because of the subject matter. For those who know, my Small has various issues some of which closely align to children on the spectrum.

This was hilarious and poignant, lively and serious and above all is saturated with the immensity of a mother’s love and protection of a vulnerable child.

The author is by no means conventional. A successful New York journalist who keeps a separate apartment to her retired opera singer husband and conceived her twins late in life, Judith has two teenage boys – Henry and Gus. Gus is autistic and there are few things in his life which resonate quite so significantly as Siri, the Apple personal assistant. Siri is always ready to answer Gus’ endless questions or remind him to speak clearly or to simply respond to him with a different kind of human-ness to which his autism can relate.

Throughout, as well as the ups and downs of just one year in their lives, Judith shares valuable information about the latest research and most recent developments in supporting children and adults with autism.

There were moments I felt myself laughing with the recognition of similar incidents or conversations and then there were moments when I was teary understanding all too well Judith’s concerns for  Gus’ future.

I cannot recommend this highly enough to you particularly if you have a family relationship with a similar child or are an educator or simply would like to understand more about this very pervasive and often isolating disorder. To my mind, it is a ‘must read’.

The City of Secret Rivers – Jacob Sager Weinstein

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secretrivers.jpg

Walker Books Australia

August 2017

ISBN: 9781406368857

RRP $19.99

For children who are keen on fantastical adventures this first volume in a new trilogy will provide a thrilling subterranean ride through the underbelly of London.

Hyacinth Hayward and her mother have just arrived to live in the country of their forebears and Hyacinth hates it already. One of the most annoying and stupid things to her mind is the fact that there is no mixer tap on the bathroom basin so using her practical plumbing skills she fixes that up in a pet of temper. Unwittingly she unleashes a random but significant drop of water, is grabbed by an eccentric neighbour, Lady Roslyn, and whirled down into the sewers of London.

There she encounters the history of the hidden rivers and their magical properties, a vast array of odd, scary, helpful and villainous characters (gotta love a huge pig in a swimsuit who converses via notes!)  and a plot to harness the ancient powers that have long been guarded.

At times hilarious and always thrilling this is an adventure for children who not only enjoy the dash of magic but have an interest in history.  Certainly I enjoyed finding out more about what exactly lies underneath this sprawling city and the author’s end-notes and photographs are equally fascinating.

Highly recommended for readers from around eight years up.