Author Archives: Sue Warren

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The Travelling Bookshop #1: Mim and the Baffling Bully – Katrina Nannestad

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Harper Collins Australia

July 2021

  • ISBN: 9781460713662
  • ISBN 10: 1460713664
  • Imprint: ABC Books
  • List Price: 8.99 AUD

I absolutely love this return to her whimsical, feel-good style from Katrina Nannestad, in this new and thoroughly delightful series. Although pitched at younger readers, I can absolutely see my older readers, who are keen fans of The Girl, the Dog, the Writer…taking this up with glee and loving it.

Mim Cohen travels with her father, little brother, a horse called Flossy and a cockatoo called Coco in their travelling bookshop caravan. Where ever Flossy leads them is where they are meant to be and when they arrive in a small Dutch village, it is clear that they are here for a reason and when Mim meets Willemina, a kind girl who is being horribly bullied, it seems to her that she needs to help. But is it just Willemina who needs help?

The travelling bookshop is a magical entity and visitors are always completely surprised when they first enter it to find how mysteriously capacious it is. After all it’s not every old wooden caravan that contains a basement is it? One of it’s greatest mysteries – or perhaps the mystery of Mim’s dad, sometimes known as Dreadful Zeddy – is the fact that the bookshop provides exactly the right book for the right customer, despite any thoughts to the contrary by either customer or Mim. So the woman who is looking for a crime novel but takes a book about termites, or the man who searched for a tome on tractors but ends up with Knitted Tea Cosies may be initially rather baffled but as it unfolds, have exactly what was needed.

Their sojourn in the pretty little Dutch village and their interactions with the inhabitants is heart-warming and joyous, full of imagination and wonder which will enchant readers from around 7 years upwards. I for one can’t wait to read more adventures of Mim and the travelling bookshop and look forward to the next instalment with great anticipation. And I certainly want to know more about Mim’s mother, the world-travelling civil engineer.

I’m going to really enjoy promoting this one to my middle/upper primary kiddos as well as my younger secondary ones who are already great fans of Katrina’s work.

Very heartily recommended for readers from around 7 years upwards.

The Countess from Kirribilli – Joyce Morgan

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Allen & Unwin

ISBN: 9781760875176

Imprint: Allen & Unwin

RRP: $32.99

I was born and bred in Sydney and, though no expert or fount of all knowledge, not such a slouch when it comes to the history of my home town and yet I had never heard of Elizabeth von Armin. This vivacious, talented and popular woman forged a literary career that earned her worldwide acclaim, and led an extraordinary life and yet, in the city of her birth, there is no mention of her nor her success. Sydney has a Writers Walk, installed in 1991, which acknowledges many leading authors, not only Australian, but those who visited our country and yet there is no mention of this woman whose books were runaway successes and whose career spanned decades. After reading her story, I find that completely unfathomable.

Mary Annette Beauchamp, known as May, was born in 1866 at Kirribilli Point in Sydney to quite wealthy parents and was part of a very large extended family. Her father re-located the entire family to England when May was young and so most of her formative years were spent there. Her first marriage made her a Countess and the mother of five children and was not particularly happy but did provide her with the fodder for her first highly entertaining and witty books, which became instant bestsellers. Following the death of husband #1 she had a lengthy and tempestuous affair with H. G. Wells, which was followed by a very disastrous second marriage to Bertrand Russell’s brother, Frank, 2nd Earl Russell, which lasted a mere three years. Then followed another affair this time with a man half her age, Alexander Frere, who went on to become the chairman of publishing house Heinneman.

Following the ups and downs of Elizabeth’s life (she adopted this name early in her professional career) has been fascinating reading for me the past week or so. Her observations on society of the time in that late Victorian/early Edwardian period in particular and the insights into other famous writers, whom she collected as friends wherever she went, are both enlightening and entertaining.

Her personal life was often marred by tragedy and at times hardship, despite her status, money and success, but she triumphed over this with grace and dignity until her death in 1941. All of her works are available via Project Gutenberg but there have also been some reprinted and certainly my interest in reading at least some of them has been piqued.

In the meantime, this is a wonderfully written biography from Joyce Morgan and provides this largely ignored Australian literary figure with some long-overdue recognition for her contribution to writing.

I would urge you to pick this up for a thoroughly engaging and absorbing read- whether you are interested in writers or Australian literary figures, you will find it fascinating.

Elizabeth von Arnim monument, Buk, Poland

Term 3 Displays

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We’ve really been upping our game with displays this year in my library we believe. But this term we’re really having some fun. As soon as I was aware of Josh Langley’s latest book in his Being You is Enough series (reviewed yesterday here) Being Wildly Kind and certainly seeing his bee accoutrements as he launched it – I had the germ of an idea to do a ‘Bee your best self’ display for my big kiddos (who are gradually getting more and more attuned to my love of displays). So the past month or so a few purchases: bee string lights (Oh I love lights !), tiny wooden painted bees and some of the prettiest ‘feel good/positive’ books around, today it went up………..on the two bay end panels that face our Circ desk and front of library – so a prime ‘in your face’ spot. Happy enough with this result – as usual with this location, the display is passive interactive with a pack of post-it notes for the kids to add their own ideas.

Then, last term I successfully negotiated a bit more ‘wriggle’ room with our gender diverse fiction. Previously anything with a gender diverse character (even secondary or mentioned in passing) had to be put in Senior Fiction (NB: I don’t necessarily believe this was a systemic decision, more likely a personal prejudice). Now I don’t know about you but our SF gets very infrequent traffic (not least of all because there is a lot of dross in there – haven’t got to that slash’and’burn yet. So with that news and so many fab displays coming through our feeds for Pride Month my terrific assistant felt inspired so I asked her to take on a display around Diversity – of all types. The result is simply stunning and very effective.

Then of course, it’s Book Week this term and that theme for 2021 is so inane I felt I just wanted to scream but our huge and awkwardly shaped front window demands dressing and is such a chore that whatever goes in there stays all term. So I did a cheat with a big photo backdrop (one of my new best friends) and kept it simple but it is certainly attracting loads of positive attention.

We have one more to do – on our big slat wall upstairs where we had the fab Battle of the Books last term (such a success) but I’m waiting on a vital component to complete it! Will post pics when it’s done…

Oh and just as an aside – last term the front window was a celebration of our First Australian culture….

Being You is Enough series- Josh Langley

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Big Sky Publishing

RRP: $14.99

It was such a joy to become connected with the uber-talented Josh Langley online earlier this year and to discover his own magical brand of positivity, particularly as it applies to children. It’s taken a while but this week I received the four books in his amazingly successful series and have fallen in love with them all. After a rather fraught couple of months with the Kid who was struggling with some serious anxiety and other mental health issues, and the frightening stats coming out about the escalating numbers of children and young people presenting with such problems, I can only say that this series could not be more timely. While I know my personal philosophy has always been to encourage self-confidence and self-awareness in children and, in particular, this young woman it is my privilege to be raising, how much more effective is the sharing of such vibrant and entertaining ‘lessons’ via books that make a child laugh as well as think and reflect. Even said Kid laughed when I showed her some of the spreads – and commented ‘Point taken, Gran!’.

Starting early with these vital lessons in being confident, courageous and compassionate, resilience, self-regulation and growth mindset can only prove beneficial for our kiddos. Whether you hold these in your collection (which I plan to do) or share them with your guidance counsellors (which I also plan to do) or if you simply acquire them for use with the small people in your life, Josh’s simple but quirky text in each book accompanied by his joyous cartoon-style illustrations will engage your young readers from the start. And as we all know that hook from the start is the most important part of any learning experience. In fact, seeing these books in person for the first time, I immediately busted out a grin and thought ‘Wow, our very own Todd Parr!’.

The latest in the series was launched a few weeks back and takes as its focus what might just prove to be the most important quality of the decade going forward. The world is in dire need of more kindness. With so much suffering, worry and despair, taking some time to be kind to each other and the Earth itself is vital – for our own mental well-being as much as anything else.

I no longer teach the littlies but even with my older kiddos, I am planning a ‘Being Wildly Kind’ challenge for this term *grin*. My strings of little ‘bee’ lights are ready to go up as are my challenges for them and I believe I will have many of my ‘too cool’ teens rise to the occasion when I ask them the question ‘What kind of person do you want to bee?’.

Josh does not confine himself to his popular books (for children and adults). He also has an online presence with videos and online chats, one of which I joined during the past week to my utter delight. This is a man who not only talks the talk but has walked the walk, his sensitivity and commitment to young people’s mental health being inspired by his own struggles as a child.

I truly cannot recommend these highly enough for your kids – either the ones in your classes or the ones in your family.

Be sure to check out Josh’s website for more resources and inspiration or for information around his school visits and more.

Oddity – Eli Brown

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Walker Books

May 2021

ISBN: 9781406389272
Imprint: Walker
Distributor: Walker Australia-HEDS

Australian RRP: $18.99
New Zealand RRP: $21.99

I read this well over a month ago and have been talking it up big time to my readers, especially my ChocLit group but hadn’t yet written the review. Not because I didn’t absolutely love it but because, really, it is so completely unique in my experience that I have struggled to know exactly how to describe it.

It is a thrilling mixture of gothic fantasy, adventure, thriller, and supernatural (so try putting it into a ‘genre’ – arggghhh!) with characters the like of which you have never yet encountered and a plot that is utterly original, quirky and gripping.

Clover Elkin has been raised by her father, a gentle physician originally from Prague, following the loss of her mother in a freak accident when Clover was just a baby. When her beloved father is murdered by ruthless and cruel bandits, he charges Clover with the protection of the most magical Oddity of all. Clover knows a little about Oddities. She knows her mother studied these strange objects and has read some of the few journals about them that she has come across. Oddities are seemingly everyday objects but have mysterious powers of their own, almost impossible to control or direct: an ice hook that when thrown into a lake has kept that body of water frozen for decades, a teapot that, when tipped, keeps pouring endlessly, a rag doll that is animated when roused and has the strength and fury of a titan. All of these are objects which have been highly sought after by collectors and their powers used or abused over eons.

In this alternate 19th century history the Unified States still suffers from the horror of the Louisiana Wars and Napoleon’s enchanted army, and, in many ways, is as lawless as any old West frontier town of long-ago matinee movies. Clover must make her own way to find the answers she needs about her parents, her own history but also this one special Oddity in particular. Along the way she encounters some of the strangest (and frankly, at times, creepiest) characters some of whom prove to be allies and others unscrupulous enemies including a young girl who travels with a deadly snake and her medicine show, a talking rooster who is a decorated army general, a sinister man with a hat that collects secrets, and the nightmarish ‘Seamstress’.

This is dark and scary but at times also funny and warm. I read it eagerly, eating up every word, adventure and character in what is one of my best reads so far this year. I feel I cannot do it justice by merely writing this small account so I urge you most strongly to pick it up and read it. You will not be disappointed I promise.

I am giving it my highest recommendation for discerning readers from around 12 years upwards. I have readers of my own lining up to read it and predict it will be in high demand in our library.

Heroes, Rebels and Innovators – Karen Wyld. Illustrated by Jaelyn Biumaiwai.

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Hachette

July 2021

ISBN: 9780734419835

RRP: $26.99

As NAIDOC 2021 draws to a close, this is such an important book to share with you, examining as it does the lives and incredible actions of seven inspirational First Australian heroes. Each of these amazing Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander figures contributed in immensely important ways to their people and to our nation, though some have been sadly overlooked in the general terms of history. How fitting it is that this book sheds light on not only some whose names are known to contemporary society but also some whose stories have been side-lined.

As far back as the arrival of the Europeans comes the first of these inspiring stories with the account of Patyegarang, the Darug woman who worked closely with Lt Dawes, officer and scientist with the First Fleet. These two worked together each learning the language of the other and compiling a list of Aboriginal words. The discovery of Dawe’s writings in 1972 has helped to revive the Darug language and, though we have no knowledge of Patyegarang after Dawe’s departure back to England, her legacy lives on with this important record.

The stories of the remaining six icons are just as fascinating: Bungaree, whose efforts were of such great aid to Matthew Flinders; Taronorerer, who rebelled against the white blackbirders and led her people in battle; Yarri and Jacky Jacky, rescuers of 69 people in the Gundagai floods of 1852; Mohara Wacando Lifu, first Indigenous woman to receive the Royal Humane Society’s Gold Medal for bravery; David Unaipon, known by many as the Black da Vinci and Fanny Balbuk Yooreel, resistance fighter and fierce protector of the environment.

Make no mistake each of these makes for compelling reading and the colourful spreads will engage readers’ interest in the text and give rise to much fruitful discussion.

Perfectly suited to classroom units of work exploring cross-cultural perspectives but also so very much worthwhile promoting as independent reading for readers from around year 3 upwards.

Highly recommended for your readers and your teachers alike..

The Shadow Arts – Damien Love

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Bloomsbury

July 2021

Imprint: Rock the Boat

ISBN: 9780861540860

RRP: $14.99

A few months ago, Alex’s world changed forever. Now, just when it seems life is almost getting back to normal, his grandfather crashes back into the picture with grave news…Innocent lives –  even history itself – could be at stake.

Monstrous Devices was one of the most gripping and splendid debut novels I have ever read and I have been eagerly awaiting the next instalment. Let me say right now, it did not disappoint, and I have no qualms that any readers who have so far become engrossed in Alex’ adventures and the mystery of his grandfather, the tall man and the little girl and the battered tin robot will feel the same.

Like the first book this is a thrilling fantasy/adventure that is edgy and dark with some very unsettling evil villains and seriously creepy machines. I included the first in my pre-holiday book talking ‘best holiday reading picks’ to the Year 6 cohort and made sure I underlined that this is not a series for the faint-hearted or squeamish! Needless to say there was a clamour to be the one to borrow it – especially when I told them I had started this sequel and it was just as exciting. It is going to be such a pleasure to give this one a book talk when the new term starts.

Alex has been struggling to get back to ‘normal’ since the whirlwind adventure that blended ancient magical powers with chancy mechanized killing machines. His brief taste of the power that the mysterious tablet commands has taken hold of his thoughts and he has tried to learn to manipulate it. In a moment of danger, Alex’ grandfather re-appears, dapper and suave as ever, and once again the pair are off on a breakneck trip across Europe, this time to rescue their friend, Harry, unravel the mystery of the disappearing paintings and uncover the tall man’s plot to resurrect an ancient evil force. Their travels lead them to the depths of the Black Forest on the very eve of Walpurgis, and along the way Alex begins to piece together his family history, the true identity of the tall man, the connection of the little girl and most of all some of the strange and unfathomable secrets about his grandfather.

When his grandfather becomes unable to carry on, it is up to Alex to put together all the missing pieces, and harness all his powers to ensure the tall man’s plans, which could signal the end of the world as we know it, come to naught. In the process, he learns much about himself and his own resilience, not to mention empathy and intuition.

Beyond the reckless chases, the nimble escapes and the humorous interludes there is a deep theme throughout of the light and dark of human nature, the power of creation for good and evil and the wants and desires of those who seek power, of whatever kind.

Once again this is a triumph of well-crafted writing which will thoroughly captivate your readers from upper primary onwards. It will certainly be a book that your kiddos will want to debate and discuss post-reading so make sure you set time aside for that.

Highly recommended for readers from around 11/12 years upwards – but possibly not ones easily scared by flying sharp mechanical objects that are programmed to attack no matter what. I suggest you issue all loans with a sachet of table salt – just for good measure!

Shockingly Good Stories – R. A. Spratt

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Penguin Australia

  • ISBN: 9781761043376
  • Imprint: Puffin
  • RRP: $19.99

The hilarious author, R. A. Spratt, knows well that her stories make me snort laugh in an extremely undignified manner. I do my utmost to keep these moments private as I have noted that when reading hilarious stories from what is obviously a kids’ book on a train full of commuters and laughing uproariously, one gets looks from fellow travelers that imply more suspicion than a cough in a crowded supermarket (these days). However, I am instructed that I must now do my reading of all new Spratt stories in full view of any unsuspecting members of public in the name of shameless publicity for the aforementioned author.

Well I’ve saved the last couple of stories for an upcoming train journey but the rest were mirthfully devoured over the past week or so and I have to say, that your young funsters are going to lose their tiny minds over this collection. R. A. Spratt has shared the love around between her two outstanding characters, Nanny Piggins and Friday Barnes, with a few well-chosen random fractured fairytales thrown in, all of which will send readers into paroxysms of laughter.

From the get-go I was completely onside with Nanny Piggins’ rendition of Rapunzel Bacon-Hair and the ensuing Piggins tales, oddly all centred on foodstuffs equally reduced me to a gibbering mess. Then there are the always entertaining sleuthings of Friday – which are (for me at least) more subtle in their laughter-provoking moments.

Interspersed with the stories are some fabulous story-telling tips for your budding writers and humorists. Here’s one I particularly enjoyed:

Storytelling Tip #4

Don’t be afraid to yell. Children love yelling. If they didn’t, they wouldn’t be as provoking. If your child’s attention is drifting away throw in a KAPOW! or a BOOOM!!! David Walliams does this all the time. If you do it loud enough, it’s an excellent way to startle your child, raising their heart rate so they don’t fall asleep before the end.

Thanks awfully for that one R. A.! I humbly request some sage advice for startling teens into behaviour that resembles an actual human…………….sorry, I digress.

I never have any hesitation in recommending Rachel’s books with my greatest endorsement. I have seen for myself the mad scramble for kids to get their hands on the newest ones – and seen my kiddos literally weep when a series has finished.

Happy book birthday to Shockingly Good Stories today! Get thee to thy online ordering to have your copy ready to go immediately after the holidays!!

Who Fed Zed? – Amelia McInerney. Illustrated by Adam Nickel

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Allen & Unwin

July 2021

ISBN: 9781760524432

Publisher: A&U Children’s

Imprint: A & U Children

RRP: $24.99

For my library event of last week, I was required, of course, to complete the paperwork to tick all the boxes and of the 50 children attending, ten had dietary requirements – with nine of those being medical conditions not just a choice. Of those nine, four had anaphylaxis alerts and so we needed to have EpiPens at the ready. Those of us in schools have long realised that the growing numbers of children with food or other allergies, many of them severe, are reaching unprecedented figures.

So, this lively and highly amusing picture book, which very cleverly and subtly reinforces the message that food allergy/intolerance is a real issue for many children, and that reading food labels carefully is important for everyone.

The narrator explains through rhyme that friends Ted, Ned and Fred normally play with Fred’s dog, Jed, but sadly Jed has a very bad case of fleas, and for some reason, the flea power treatment has not worked. So instead of Jed, they watch Zed, the fish. Now Zed has already had a narrow escape after being fed bread at one point, so everyone knows not to make that same mistake but what happens when you don’t read packaging carefully? Oh oh – well it is quite a calamitous chain of events but very fortunately all turns out and once again Zed escapes unscathed, and Jed is finally freed of fleas.

Your little ones will absolutely love the rhyming thread throughout and this is a story that begs to be read aloud – with, I have no doubt, many requests for repeat performances.  Amelia McInerney has taken the situation of her own child as inspiration for this extremely important book which will promote healthy discussion about food allergies and intolerances but also, I would hope, lead to a general understanding of food choices for some – all of which leads children to a more considered acceptance of differences.

Naturally, it would work particularly well within a unit of work focused on nutrition or health but as a stand-alone, particularly if your class or group is welcoming a child with food allergies, it is also highly valuable.

I recommend this highly for little ones from Prep upwards – and even your tiniest humans in childcare/kindergarten settings will benefit from its message that for some children, certain food/s can be dangerous.