Category Archives: Childrens books

Collins Modern Classics: Thomasina (: the Cat who Thought She was a God) – Paul Gallico

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thomasina

ISBN: 9780007395187

ISBN 10: 0007395183

Imprint: HarperCollins – GB

RRP $14.99

 

When I was little and even a bit more than little my mother often took me to the movies. Usually we saw Disney films or musicals – our favourites. I’m guessing it was around 1964 and I was eight years old when we went to see The 3 Lives of Thomasina which I adored. Some others of a certain vintage may also remember it with Patrick McGoohan, Susan Hampshire and a very young Karen Dotrice. What I didn’t realise at the time was that it was also a very well known book by a very famous author (despite being a voracious reader). When I did discover the book I fell in love with the story all over again and now have had the great pleasure of receiving this new edition in the  Collins Modern Classics series.

Seven year old Mary Ruadh is motherless but has a father who loves her beyond life. Of course she loves him as well, though others find him very cold and often crochety. Alas poor Mr McDhui is the village vet, a thwarted doctor due to family pressures and really he’s not very fond of animals. Especially he is resentful of young Mary’s pet Thomasina, a cat of wisdom for whom the child holds a fierce passion.

When Thomasina falls ill, the vet is in the depths of a crisis trying to save a blind man’s dog and callously tells his assistant to put the cat down. Mary’s grief is boundless and her antagonism towards her father is vengeful and actually cruel as a result.

Yet Thomasina is not dead. She is rescued by a strange young woman who lives in the woods as a hermit and tends to the wild creatures.  Thomasina’s second life begins in Lori’s cottage and she feels her previous life as an Egyptian deity is back.

Mary’s intensity of grief is so overwhelming and leads to her falling closer and closer to death from a broken heart. Her father is beside himself and has nowhere to turn until he too discovers the compassionate power that Lori holds.

Fey Lori is the catalyst that will provide healing for father, child and cat.

This is an iconic Gallico book full of magic reality. Love, compassion, trust and faith all play their part in this strange and compelling story.

Gallico wrote over forty books (did you know he wrote The Poseidon Adventure?) and many of them feature similar themes and animals.

This is well worth a re-visit and an introduction to a new generation.

Highly recommended for readers from around ten years upwards.

 

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A Superb Surfeit of Dame Lynley Dodd

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Sometimes procrastination pays off. I have been putting off reviewing the scads of picture books I have piled up ready for the holidays. How pleased that Dame Lynley Dodd’s newest offering is one of these because this week I was thrilled to spend not one but two sessions in the presence of this living treasure – arguably New Zealand’s greatest author.

The Moreton Bay library services hosted a Dame Lynley Dodd extravaganza and I was firstly not only amazed that such a momentous occasion was to be held locally but that also there was such a minimal cost!

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First of all, Thursday afternoon was an hour’s glorious In Conversation with Dame Lynley Dodd. I am reliably informed by the lovely Zoe B from Penguin Random House that there were 400 attendees.  Interviewed by her good friend and curator of her art exhibition, Penelope Jackson (herself a well-known art historian and author) the rapt audience was treated to insights into Lynley’s early life, career and ongoing work.

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Saturday was an even greater thrill with two master classes hosted by the Redcliffe Art Gallery. First we revelled in an hour’s guided tour of the Telling a Story with Dame Lynley Dodd exhibition with Pamela Jackson describing original artworks, inspirations and works-in-progress. This was followed by a personal workshop of around twenty people all of whom were completely and utterly entranced by Lynley’s walk through of her approach to writing and illustrating. What is there to say? It was wonderful and special and truly a highlight of my year, both personal and professional.

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Taking centre stage of course (with Dame Lynley reading it to us during the Thursday session) was her newest and 34th book:

Scarface Claw, Hold Tight

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Penguin

9780143770985

October 2, 2017

Puffin

RRP $19.99

 

Using the inspiration of a local news story about a cat that was blissfully sleeping on the roof of its owner’s car (quite a common scenario) and the ensuing pandemonium when the owner takes off into town, Scarface Claw – that disreputable and ruffian-like feline – is subjected to a wild ride.

As one can imagine, the driver has no clue that he has an unintentional stowaway and is slightly bemused by all the passersby who madly wave to him in attempts to halt his progress.

Of course, after all these futile attempts the inevitable happens and the poor unknowing driver comes to a sudden stop whereupon a rather disgruntled and discombobulated Scarface unceremoniously slides to the car bonnet.

This book was referred to, as quoted in the Conversation session, as vintage Dodd and of course it is. That seemingly effortless rollicking rhyme to which every child responds recounts Scarface’s adventure with humour and spirit, while all the while we are quite sure that there will be a safe and happy outcome.

Long we may enjoy the delight of Dodd! Now that some of us are enjoying them in a third generation without them ever losing their original joy, we can only hope for many more.

Highly recommended for all little and larger readers from toddler age upwards.

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Binge Reading Jackie French

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The upside of injuring both your legs badly at the same time is that you have a very legitimate excuse to stay in bed reading a lot. And fortunately my lovely friends at Harper Collins must have had some kind of premonition because the day before my accident I had received a plethora amazing books to review including the three here. Fortunately (with hindsight) I had not yet read Miss Lily’s Lovely Ladies which meant I had the double delight of reading both the first and second in the series back to back (over the course of two days). The latest in the Matilda series Facing the Flame was consumed in one evening.  Aside from anything else I think the rate at which I devoured these speaks volumes for the sheer pleasure of them.

Miss Lily’s Lovely Ladies

ISBN: 9781460753583

ISBN 10: 1460753585

Imprint: HarperCollins – AU

 27/03/2017

RRP $29.99 AUD

misslily
A tale of espionage, love and passionate heroism.

Inspired by true events, this is the story of how society’s ‘lovely ladies’ won a war.

Young Sophie Higgs has grown up a privileged girl being the only child of the wealthiest man in NSW, Jeremiah Higgs the king of canned corned beef. But in the rigid society of Sydney, as in England, ‘trade’ is scorned and so despite her wealth, intelligence and beauty it would seem Sophie will always be second-class by the established standards. Until that is, in order to deflect Sophie from an unsuitable love affair, she is sent to England to the home of her father’s old army friend Earl of Shillings to be coached by his cousin Miss Lily and eventually be presented at court.

In England Sophie’s world is wonderfully and gloriously opened wide as she becomes the prized ‘pupil’ of the enigmatic Miss Lily and makes new friends, is sought after by new lovers and particularly held in esteem for her wit, courage and compassion. But the glittering world of the debutante is quickly extinguished by the outbreak of war and it is here that Sophie demonstrates her real abilities and character.

As with all of Jackie’s historical novels a completely captivating and richly detailed narrative is interwoven with actual historical fact to create a mesmerising offering.  I was hooked from the very first page and would have been extremely sorry to reach the end except for the fact that I had the next volume with which to continue. How fortunate are we to have such an exceptional writer to claim as our own? The breadth of her talents seems endless.

Highly recommended for readers of around mid-teens upwards. Find teaching notes here.

The Lily and the Rose

ISBN: 9781460753590

ISBN 10: 1460753593

Imprint: HarperCollins – AU

19/03/2018

RRP 29.99 AUD

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The Great War is over but that doesn’t necessarily equate to peace. Sophie Higgs is soon to come to this realisation as she re-establishes her life in Australia, taking over her late father’s business empire as an independent confident young woman. Alongside her, the circle of women who have become her ongoing support network in a society that is no longer defined by the old norms.

It is not only politics and world affairs that are clouded for Sophie. She is still torn between her love for Nigel, Earl of Shillings, the strange attraction of Dolphie the German aristocrat and in a new twist a stranger, John, who is trying to expiate his own war by carving crosses into rocks until he feels at peace.

A call for help from her old friend Hannelore sees Sophie becoming even more daring as she goes to wartorn Germany on a rescue mission from which she returns even more confused in her emotions.

Those thoughts remain until a crisis with Nigel’s health sees her racing to England via the unheard of method of flying with female pilots around the world to reach her beloved and at last the two are married with their whole future ahead of them. Or is it?

Jackie has left this tapestry with some small waving threads that will have every reader hanging out for the next instalment.  Again a superlative storyteller takes us on a magical, romantic and adventurous journey and my recommendations remain glowing for the mid-teens upwards.

 

 

Facing the Flame – #7 The Matilda Saga

ISBN: 9781460753200

ISBN 10: 1460753208

Imprint: HarperCollins – AU

20/11/2017

$29.99 AUD

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I didn’t need to re-read the last in the series to be utterly enthralled by this latest right from the get-go. In fact, this was a complete binge, read in one night because it was just too good and too gripping to put down.

Jed Kelly is the happiest she has ever been. She’s married to Sam, and pregnant with their first child. Her hearth and home are a haven. Young Scarlett is doing well at uni and carving out a newly independent life.

Then cracks start to appear. The dry weather is worsening with many old-timers predicting the worst of fires ever. The man she fears most re-appears in Jed’s life, intent with malice and revenge. A young girl blinded in an accident is creating issues at the River View facility. But Gibbers Creek is one tough and tight community where there is immense support for each and every one of their whole.

When the tiny spark finally escalates into the worst imaginable fire, the community is galvanised into action and though Jed passes through a frightening and dangerous episode and one could say her baby almost has a baptism of fire, the loyalty, intuition and the indomitable spirit of old Matilda resonates through the township and surrounds.

This is a cracking story filled with rich characters both old and new and imbued with all that we hold dear about Australian love of country and mateship.

Highly recommended for readers of around 14 upwards.  If you don’t have the complete series yet, this is one worth investing in for your collection particularly for Middle/Upper school and wide reading of Australian spirit/identity.

 

Mr Bambuckle’s Remarkables – Tim Harris….and Mr Bambuckle himself!!!

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Tim Harris, illus by James Hart
Random House
Released September 2017
Paperback
ISBN 9780143785859
RRP $14.99

Tim Harris exploded onto the children’s literature scene quite literally with his Exploding Endings books. Now he brings us a true hero of the classroom, Mr Bambuckle. The children of Room 12 B are wary of their expected new teacher, given their previous one was a po-faced relic who stood no nonsense. Their astonishment when they enter the classroom to find Mr Bambuckle balancing on the teacher’s desk on a unicycle is off the radar. And that’s just the start!

What other teacher do you know can produce soup from their pockets or cook bacon in the classroom? Indeed, is there one you can think of who provides Himalayan tea to anyone in need?

Or even more importantly, a teacher who realises their kids’ insecurities such as killer washing machines and builds a scaffold to overcome these?

Of course, not everyone appreciates Mr Bambuckle’s unique talents e.g. Principal Sternblast (thank goodness, I’ve only known one of those!) but the kids in 12B know that nothing will ever be the same and that Mr Bambuckle must stay despite all obstacles being presented!

This is a tremendously fun read and is chockfull of memorable characters aside from Mr B. Readers from around 8 years upwards will fall in love with this teacher and want to be in his class forever!

Check out a teaser here.

 

And now, the moment you’ve all been waiting for – Q&A with Mr Bambuckle himself! – oh and Tim Harris. Ta dah!!!!

Q&A with Mr Bambuckle and Tim Harris

 

How excited am I to welcome to Just So Stories Mr Bambuckle himself! And of course, Tim Harris.

Mr Bambuckle, I am SO excited to have the opportunity to speak with you – I feel a little flustered really! – but let’s get started.

Q1: Mr Bambuckle, I’d love for you to give my readers a little insight into the young you – the baby, the kid, what sort of student were you, hobbies, family – well you get the picture! We want to hear about the making of Mr Bambuckle!

Did you know that Himalayan tea is a most wonderful calmer if you’re feeling flustered? Dear Sue, please take this cup and let me know what you think. I brewed it myself.

Ah, yes, my parents … Well, it’s difficult to know where to start with such remarkable people. Put it this way – I learned to abseil before I could walk. I learned to use chopsticks before I could hold a fork. I learned how to scuba dive before I could say the word ‘fish’. My childhood was saturated with rich learning experiences and, being mostly home-schooled, I was able to enjoy it with those I loved best. I suppose my love of learning directed me into teaching.

Q2:  Mr Bambuckle, can you expand a little on your philosophy when it comes to teaching/pedagogy? Children are remarkable little people.

Life would certainly be dull without remarkable little people. I have fifteen of them in my current class in room 12B. We have an awful lot of fun together. Of course, the children themselves often don’t know they’re learning. It’s amazing what can be achieved with a sense of excitement. My philosophy is simple: children will learn a great deal if want to be taught.

Q3: What was it that brought you to the children in 12B?

I’m beginning to learn it was fate. Well, that and a gut feeling when I stumbled across the ad online. There’s something about the children in room 12B that not many others I’ve taught have possessed. I’m yet to work out exactly what it is, but I sense they’re building up to something extraordinary.

Q4: Just excuse me a moment Mr Bambuckle, we’ll be right back with you ……this question is for your friend Tim. Tim, I understand that you have also taught. Perhaps you can tell us a little about your experiences in classrooms as the ‘man in charge’?

Hi there, Sue! Thanks for having me. I’ll pass on the Himalayan tea though, Mr B. Yes, I taught for fifteen years and loved it. I used to play the drums for my first class. If they worked quietly, we’d let out all the noise on the drum kit! I worked with some amazing teachers and taught a bunch of awesome little people.

Q5: And Tim, to continue – leading on from that – what sort of student were you at school? Were you the class clown or the geek or the nerdy suck up?

I was mostly quiet and well-mannered. However, I did have my quirks. A couple of friends and I would write silly skits at lunch and then beg our teacher to let us perform them to the class. I loved the thrill of drawing a laugh from a crowd. I rarely got in trouble, but if I did, it was usually for trying to make someone laugh.

Q6: Now Mr Bambuckle, you brought some interesting strategies to the classroom of 12B, where did you gain your training in these or what prompted you to create them?

Would you like more tea, Sue? You have certainly relaxed a lot during the interview. Though I suggest you stop belly dancing on the table. Now, to your question, I picked up most of my strategies through living life both inside and out of the classroom. If you allow yourself to experience much, eventually you’ll pick up some useful ideas and strategies.

Q7: Mr Bambuckle, you have a real knack, and I would judge a passion, for bringing out the best in a child – for giving a child with perhaps some low self confidence the boost they need to blossom.  Can you elaborate on that aspect?

You simply must have a chat to dear Evie Nightingale. It’s children like her who make me look good. I suppose all it takes to boost confidence is giving each student the voice or platform they require to flourish. That, and a touch of bacon and eggs.

Q8: We have been left in somewhat of a limbo regarding Mr Bambuckle’s future as the continuing teacher for 12B – what can we expect in the near future? And as a rider to that, do you think that that dim-witted apoplectic principal is jealous of your success?

I was deeply saddened after my conversation with Mr Sternblast, as there is much work to be done in room 12B.The dear principal simply needs to drink more Himalayan tea. As you can tell, lovely Sue – and I would suggest climbing down from the bookcase – the tea is a wonderful relaxant. Mr Sternblast has other things on his mind, and I suspect that brings out the worst in him.

Q9: Back to you Tim, what principles do you hold dear in the teaching of our youngsters? How much of your philosophy is based on your real life experience? And how does that translate into bringing us the stories of Mr Bambuckle (*Swoon*)?

The relationships in a classroom were always at the centre of what I tried to do. Healthy relationships tend to remove other stresses, and a stress-free environment is supportive of good learning. I also tried to genuinely value every child I taught and would always look for the positive in them. This, combined with a strong understanding of the content and how to teach it, can make for some excellent learning.

Q10: This question is for both of you. As a teacher-librarian, there are times when I am so dismayed by  the casual attitudes demonstrated by administrative types and also the dive in reading for pleasure that regularly occurs in middle school, I’m interested to hear your thoughts on ways you both think we might tackle this problem?

Tim: Shared reading was highly-prized time in my classroom. I tried to make it so much fun that it eventually become a reward. I remember sitting down with a book in my last class and the students rushed to the floor, cheering. Much depends on the teacher and how they portray what reading time can and should look like. I meet some amazing teacher-librarians and teachers when I visit schools, who celebrate books in their learning spaces. It’s encouraging to know that others are making a literary impact in their rooms. But it has to start at the top.

Mr Bambuckle: Blue Valley School’s teacher-librarian, Mrs Paige, is an excellent example of how we can tackle the problem. She always knows how to get the right book into the right hands, and she even lets some students borrow more than the allowed amount to satisfy their hunger for words. Put simply, her enthusiasm for books is contagious.

Q11: There are many readers keen to find out what next is in store for the excitement generated by you both. What can we share here on Just So Stories to give these kids a ‘teaser’?

Mr Bambuckle: Would you like another top up of tea, dear Sue? I daresay you’ve become quite fond of Himalayan brew during our interview. As a teaser, I can certainly reveal that remarkable things will continue happening in room 12B. Also, if you look closely at the cover of Book 2, you may just notice something on my shoulder – a bird! I can’t wait for you to meet him!

Tim: Lots is planned for 2018. The year kicks off with the release of Book 2 in the series in late January. I’ll be getting out and about, visiting lots of remarkable schools around Australia to chat all things bookish and creative. Book 3 is also underway, and we expect it will be released in September. There are a couple of other exciting things in the pipeline that will be revealed shortly.

Thank you both so much for your time. It has been such a huge pleasure to meet you both! I’d love to host you in my library at any time! Good luck with the next instalment in this wonderful insight into teaching and learning!

Mr Bambuckle: Thank you, lovely Sue. I think you’d rather enjoy the Himalayas.

Tim: Thanks, Sue! We look forward to visiting your library soon!

 

 

The Getaway : Diary of a Wimpy Kid #12 – Jeff Kinney

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Penguin Australia

9780143782797

November 7, 2017

Puffin

224 pages

RRP $14.99

 

Well as if there isn’t always enough going on for the Heffleys on a regular day-to-day basis their holiday plans go completely awry and full on pandemonium ensues!

 

The Heffley parentals have decided that they are going to completely avoid the stress of the approaching festive season along with the miserable weather and book a special family trip. Their choice is the same resort at which they spent their honeymoon and of which they have such fond memories. But as we know things never run smoothly for this family and from lost luggage to invasive giant spiders to sunburn this was never going to be the stuff of which dreams are made.

 

And as usual from Greg’s point of view, he is the most put upon out of the entire family. While his folks can escape and big brother Rodrick dodges any form of restriction, Greg is left holding the baby so to speak and spends more time chasing little Manny than enjoying any kind of resort action.

 

The format of this series never grows tired and this one has already been snapped up by one of my eager readers. Those who want a light read and lots of laughs will get much enjoyment from it.

Highly recommended for readers from around eight years upwards.

 

Take a peek inside here.

 

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.

 

The Explorer – Katherine Rundell

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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.

 

To Siri, with Love – Judith Newman

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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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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.