A Case of Grave Danger: The Violet Veil Mysteries #1 – Sophie Cleverly

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Harper Collins Australia

Published: 3rd February 2021
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Country of Publication: GB

ISBN: 9780008297350
ISBN-10: 0008297355

RRP: $16.99

Sophie Cleverly’s Scarlet and Ivy series is one of the most popular in my library, particularly with our Year 7 and 8 girls and they are already madly excited to hear about this new series, and counting down until they can pounce on it after the holidays.

Deliciously Gothic, spooky and full of memorable characters, this will delight all your lovers of mysteries. Violet Veil is the feisty daughter of a respected undertaker and she longs to take on more responsibility for her father’s business, particularly as she has a real (and mysterious) affinity with the dearly departed in the cemetery which backs onto their cosy home. Like many Victorian fathers however, Edgar Veil, is horrified at the thought of his daughter working for her living, let alone working in the business of taking care of the dead – though actually Violet already does so much to help.

When a young man is presented, having been struck down by a blow to the head as have been several others before him, Violet is quite sad about his youthful demise. However, her sorrow soon turns to shock when, in the middle of the night, she discovers that the young corpse is no longer in his coffin! Violet finds Oliver wandering, dazed and definitely not well, in the graveyard and so begins a mystery-adventure like no other.

The police begin to investigate the spate of fatal coshings, Violet’s father is locked up on suspicion of the murders and Violet abandons all pretense of being a demure young lady as she rallies to free her father, whom she knows has been framed, and to uncover Oliver’s attacker. Their strongest suspect is the Black Widow, a woman with a scarred face heavily veiled, who keeps appearing in the graveyard and, it would seem, responsible for the accusations against Mr Veil.

This is simply a ripping yarn and readers will thoroughly enjoy Violet’s determination to uncover the truth and restore justice – she is definitely a Mighty Girl! The charming little illustrations that head up each chapter have been done by Hannah Peck, who also illustrates the Nevermoor series and are a truly a tiny joy in themselves.

Highly recommended for your astute readers from around 9 years upwards.

Searching for Charlotte: The Fascinating Story of Australia’s First Children’s Author/s-Kate Forsyth, Belinda Murrell

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Paperback | Nov 2020 | National Library of Australia | 9780642279699

AUD$34.95, NZD$39.99

I had hoped to review this when it was released – sadly, the publicists did not get the memo and I missed out.

But it was always going to find its place in our collection given both its subject matter and the authors. After some hiccups with our suppliers this term it finally arrived and no sooner was it processed than it came home with me earlier this week!!

I may have had a wait but it was worth it – without a doubt. I had known about Australia’s first book published for children – Mother’s Offering to her Children: By a Lady, Long Resident in New South Wales – by Charlotte Atkinson for years and when I was living/teaching in Canberra a decade ago was so privileged to see this rare book in a special ‘behind the scenes’ tour of the NLA. In addition to that, I had, of course, read Belinda Murrell’s The River Charm which was largely inspired by this remarkable woman.

When I first learned that Belinda and her sister Kate were working on this joint history of their ancestor, I was tremendously keen to read and learn more.

The young Charlotte who travelled to Australia aged 15 to take up a governess’ post was a girl clearly of astonishing courage and fortitude. Her meeting with James Atkinson on that long and risky voyage, and her subsequent marriage to this impressive and energetic man is the stuff of romantic fairy tales. Their beautiful home, Oldbury, in the Southern Highlands of NSW and their growing family of lively children were highly regarded and no doubt envied by the colonial society of the times. Sadly, as so often happens, especially in the oft-perilous times of the 19th century, fairy tales can crash and Charlotte’s certainly did. The death of her beloved James and her inexplicable marriage two years later to a man of dubious character sent her entire life into a downward, dark and depressing spiral of abuse and personal danger to both herself and her children. Their escape from the increasingly manic Barton and Charlotte’s ensuing long and painful battle to retain the rights to her children and the income from the estate has every harrowing hallmark of the bleakest of melodramas – although an all too common scenario for many women, both past and present.

Travelling through their research and family – both past and present – with Belinda and Kate was the most enchanting way to spend some quality ‘me time’ at this frazzled end of term time. My admiration and awe of this family’s achievements is second only to my regard for their innate warmth and generosity of spirit. The discovery that we both have long ago connections to the Norman de Warrene family (and there’s even some Warren connection in their later history) was a bonus joyful fillip that warmed my heart.

I can certainly endorse the many glowing recommendations this book has garnered since its publication late last year. Whether as a personal read or a significant literary ‘memoir’ of real interest to readers both young and old, I would urge you to seek out a copy.

Tiger Daughter – Rebecca Lim

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Allen & Unwin

February 2021

ISBN: 9781760877644

Imprint: A & U Children

Rebecca Lim has created a powerful and highly engaging #OwnVoices novel that captures the circumstances for some children, growing up Asian in Australia.

Wen Zhou is the only child of Chinese immigrants who came to Australia for a better life, only to find it not so. Her father has failed three times to secure a surgeon’s post in this country and refuses to take on anything lower, though he is a highly competent doctor who would easily find a place elsewhere in the health system. Wen and her mother live in a perpetual state of anxiety and almost fear with her father’s rigid rules and anger issues. Wen despairs of ever getting out of the rut in which she finds herself and her friend Henry is also in the same situation, though because of different circumstances. With the support of their teacher both children are preparing themselves for a scholarship exam that could help them move forward to a brighter future.

When tragedy strikes Henry’s family, Wen persuades her mother to help her support her friend and they begin a cautious campaign to do so, while hiding all evidence of their help from Wen’s father. Little by little both mother and daughter begin to find their own voices again and when Mr Zhou loses his job, they are able to manage an even greater shift in the domestic power.

The resilience and compassion demonstrated by Wen makes for marvellous reading and few readers would remain unimpressed. This is not just a novel for your Asian students (although we certainly have those in a majority at my own school) but one that will promote understanding of different cultural and family perspectives.

It was a compelling read – I binge read it in one afternoon – and I highly recommend for your readers from Upper Primary

upwards. Find teaching notes at Allen & Unwin.

Tell Me Why for Young Adults – Archie Roach

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  • Simon & Schuster Australia
  • (March 3, 2021)
  • ISBN13: 9781760858865

I can say unreservedly that this is one of the most powerful memoirs I have read in recent years and for young adults this is a book worth promoting heavily.

Archie’s life story is at times harrowing and confronting but also uplifting and inspirational. Taken away from his family at the age of 2, he was placed in foster care – initially, in a very distressing situation – but later in a family home with foster-parents who were both kind and loving. But an unexpected letter received in his teens, alerted Archie to his lost family and his search for his own people began. As it was, and has been, for many First Australians the impact of the Stolen Generation was devastating with long-term effects still being felt, Archie’s struggle to re-connect with his natural family and his culture was a roller-coaster of emotions, highlights and low periods.

Archie does not hold back on his battles with alcohol and the often tragic circumstances that punctuated his life as he endeavoured to find his place within his culture. His recollections of his life with his much-loved, and also highly acclaimed, wife Ruby Hunter are poignant and utterly heart-rending as both fought their own war against booze and depression.

His determination to rise above the often sordid events of his life was helped and accelerated by his music, something which had always sustained and nourished his spirit. As this confidence in his music grew so did his mission to awaken all Australians to the issues and tragedies of his people and culture. This career has seen Archie rise to the heights of respect not only within the industry but across the nation as more and more people develop an understanding of and empathy for our First Australians.

Archie’s ongoing goal to promote healing for his people and his personal resilience and inner strength is truly admirable and this history, both the personal and our nation’s past, is vital for all our young people at a time when society is faced with much unrest, uncertainty and division.

I cannot recommend this memoir highly enough – I was completely gripped by it (and read way past my bedtime as I was so engrossed with hit). I will certainly be promoting it actively to my young readers from Year 7 upwards.

Thank you Archie for sharing your life – the good, the bad and the ugly – with us all.

Took the Children Away – Archie Roach/Ruby Hunter

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Simon & Schuster Australia

October 2020

  • ISBN13: 9781760857219

RRP: $24.99

What a privilege to be asked to provide a review for this fabulous 30th anniversary edition of Archie’s book. This great man, 2020 Victorian Australian of the Year, member of the Order of Australia and recipient of countless other awards for his music, is one my family’s heroes, not just for his music but his tireless campaigning for First Australian people.

Archie and his soulmate, Ruby Hunter, were both stolen children, and this collaboration between them is a testament to both the talent of each and their determination to provide insight into the shame of the past. Included on his 1990 debut album, Charcoal Lane, this very personal and poignant song received the prestigious Australian Human Rights Award, the first ever to do so.

This absolutely stunning edition with its textured binding (just wonderful!) and glorious endpapers, as well as Ruby Hunter’s evocative illustrations includes historical photographs and recollections, scant as they may be, from Archie’s family. [Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander readers are warned that this book contains images of people who are deceased or who may now be deceased.]

It has been longlisted for the 2021 ABIA Book of the Year for Younger Children award which, to my mind at least, speaks volumes.

Archie’s foundation has joined with ABC Education to create the Archie Roach Stolen Generations resources which will enable all educators to to “ignite a sense of place, belonging, community and identity for all Australians.” suitable for students from Year 3-10. You can find them here and I would urge to make full use of them with your students.

Needless to say this has my highest recommendation for students from lower primary upwards and I truly thank Simon & Schuster for this opportunity – and of course, Archie Roach AM and the late Ruby Hunter for their inspiring work on behalf of First Australians.

The Thing that goes Ping! – Mark Carthew. Illustrated by Shane McG

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Ford St Publishing

February 2021

ISBN: 9781925804669

RRP: $16.95

If you are looking for a really great rhyming book for your littlies that will also engage them in a guessing game, this is going to be a real hit!!

In the faraway town of Figgy-tra-ling, you may hear the faint ring of a thing that goes ping!

What could be the mysterious thing that goes ping? Well, take your kiddos on a super quest of discovery with a bunch of wacky animals until the mystery is revealed. I’m sure the children will be super excited when they find out!

Mark Carthew’s lively text is superbly accompanied by Shane McGowan’s quirky illustrations and I would certainly be capitalising on both to create some shared illustrated writing, as I’m sure the kids would have loads of ideas of their own. And to top off all this fun, Ford St has a wonderful stash of activities as a bonus including song lyrics, card games and teaching notes.

I’m giving this a high recommendation for your small peeps from around Prep upwards and think you will all greatly enjoy a sustained mileage from the reading.

Main Abija My Grandad – Karen Rogers

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Allen & Unwin

16 March 2021

ISBN:9781760526030

Publisher: A&U Children’s

Imprint: A & U Children

RRP: $24.99

‘Dijan buk gada ola memri ai bin abum gada main abija from wen ai bin lilgel til imin libu wi. Imin titjim mi loda tings bla koltja en bla kantri. Mi hepi ba pasim det stori la main femili en bla pudum la dis buk.’

‘This book has the memories I had of my grandfather from when I was small until he left us. He taught me many things about culture and country. I’m happy to pass this story on to my family and to put it in this book.’

Celebrated artist, Karen Rogers, comes from the Ngukurr Community in South East Arnhem Land and this is her absolutely amazing tribute to her grandfather and is the epitome of the First Australian tradition of passing down knowledge and culture through generations. It is not only a beautiful acknowledgement of the influence her grandfather had on her life but also provides insight for readers into life in remote communities. Rogers’ skill in her art is evident in this, her first picture book, with the illustrations a riot of colour and bursting with life – oh those sumptuous endpapers!

Written in both Kriol and English the learning opportunities are so rich, and not confined to just the cross-cultural perspective. A shared reading will easily springboard into geography, discussion of family dynamics, memories, grandparents and more.

Rogers’ grandfather was a significant figure in her life as she was largely raised by him, after her mother became ill, and the learning she had from him and the memories created with him are now passed down to her own grandchildren and great-grandchildren. What a beautiful legacy and how very special this celebration of the circle of life is for young readers!

Teaching Tips are available as is a free audio reading by the author/illustrator at Allen & Unwin.

Highly recommended for your young readers from Prep upwards, particularly with Harmony Day approaching fast.

https://www.allenandunwin.com/documents/teachers-resources/2005-main-abija9781760526030tt

Hello and Welcome – Gregg Dreise

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Penguin Australia

  • March 2021
  • ISBN: 9781760898328
  • Imprint: Puffin
  • RRP: $24.99

With absolutely spot-on timing for Harmony Day 2021, multi-talented Gregg Dreise’s new book – which is a stunning companion to My Culture and Me – once again celebrates our First Australian people. In joyful celebration, as all are welcomed to corroboree, this gorgeous book provides insight and understanding into Welcome to Country acknowledgements, incorporating  traditional Gamilaraay language of the Kamilaroi people. No matter which country you and your readers are in, this is a universal celebration of Indigenous culture and tradition.

Gregg is one of the most well-received presenters I’ve ever enjoyed in my library as he told stories, played, sang, and drew for our younger students – not to mention making us all laugh a lot! Aside from that, he’s a great guy with a passion for sharing understanding and stories to strengthen our recognition of both ancient and contemporary Indigenous culture – oh! and he’s a Queenslander – yayy! – with both Kamilaroi and Euahlayi heritage.

These delightful Indigenous students welcome visitors to their gathering, acknowledge their Elders – past, present and emerging – with verve and vivacity that is both engaging and exciting. So many of our own students will delight in recognising themselves, as they too will have represented their beautiful culture in their respective school settings – including, of course, my gorgeous Wiradjuri grandies.

You can watch Gregg’s own lively reading of Hello and Welcome via Storytime, Better Reading Kids – and it would be a fabulous share for your kiddos and the perfect addition to your Harmony Day celebrations. Better Reading also has a wonderful activity pack you can share. Learn more about Gregg on his website.

Hello and welcome to our corroboree.
Hello and welcome to our gathering.
Father Sky, Mother Earth, together here with me.
Different colours, different people, together in harmony.

My highest recommendation of course for this new one – thank you Gregg for another superb book!

Early One Morning – Mem Fox. Illustrated by Christine Davenier

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Penguin Australia

  • March 2021
  • ISBN: 9781761040030
  • Imprint: Puffin
  • RRP: $19.99

It’s always a delight to see a new Mem Fox book and this one for very little people is no exception. Your littlest humans will thoroughly enjoy this little boy’s mission to collect his breakfast, as he walks around the farm in search of the source. There is no doubt that they will giggle along with the reading and guessing, and no doubt feel very superior that they know very well that it won’t be the tractor or the pony or the cow or the haystack that provides that elusive breakfast goodie.

The simple text perfectly underlines the ‘rambling’ nature of the little boy’s walk around his patch but these absolutely beautiful illustrations are killer. With wonderfully, almost retro, gentle and evocative illustrations completing this excursion into an enviable rural idyll, this will be such a huge hit with readers from toddlers upwards.

One never needs much of a hard sell for Mem’s books but needless to say it has a high recommendation from me – for either your personal shelves or in your collection.