Tag Archives: Australian History

The Secret of the Youngest Rebel (The Secret Histories #5) – Jackie French

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Harper Collins

Available: 21st January 2019
ISBN: 9781460754801

RRP: $14.99

 

If you have not yet set about acquiring Jackie’s enthralling Secret Histories series it is definitely time to catch up to it. As this school year peters out and we limp towards the finish line, some are already thinking about 2019 and our support of our classes.

For the past two years I have shared Birrung the Secret Friend with our Year 4 classes to build their field of knowledge before their First Contact HASS studies. In particular this first in the series addresses directly their inquiry into short- and long-term effects of European settlement on the local environment and Indigenous land and water management practices.  Not only were the students completely engaged with the narrative with much lively discussion, prediction and astonishment (“the piece of meat was HOW big?”) but were already well prepared for their unit of work and receptive to even more delving into history.

Joyfully many of them have continued on with the series and love to tell me which one they have just read and recount the highlights. They all certainly love following the continued story of Barney and Elsie.
Now the series has moved onto to the early 1800s and Sydney Town has developed into an actual town although with dubious quality and is not the only growing settlement. While Barney and Elsie have now built their farm and are happily thriving out at Parramatta things are far from stable in the colony. The recent influx of Irish rebels transported for their part (whether actual or assumed) in the Vinegar Hill uprising has added an extra layer of fomenting discontent in the new colony where poverty, cruelty and injustice abounds. One small orphan, just one of many, is caught up in this. Frog has never known a mother or father and is, instead, a pickpocket in the rather dubious care of a slatternly innkeeper. When young Frog encounters both Elsie Bean and one Phillip Cunningham, momentous events are set in place.

The Castle Hill uprising was an unsuccessful attempt to redress the balance of justice in the corrupt environment of the colony despotically ruled over by such (now) dimly viewed personalities as Governor King, Rev Marsden and the local rabble of soldiery. Betrayed by spies the convicts’ rebellion is not only thwarted but cruelly crushed with merciless reprisals.

Frog, hero worshipping Cunningham, casts the die and joins the rebels, as a small but determined supporter and is injured in the skirmish. Rescued by Barney Bean, Frog’s future unravels into something not to be dreamed of – with the littlest rebel’s deepest secret revealed.

The twist in the tale is brilliant and little Frog, unloved and unwanted, finds a family worth having and along with them moves forward to building the colony into a bigger and better place for all-comers.

This is a story long untold and Jackie French, with her passion for Australian history, has revealed it to readers through her intensive research into eyewitness accounts as well as her imagination.  I for one, cannot wait to introduce this to my students as their next foray into the troubled history of our country. Their fierce sense of justice will be inflamed by the story and they will love to hear the next episode of Barney and Elsie and their growing family.

As if you can’t tell, I cannot recommend this highly enough. Aside from its readability it is easily one of the most valuable adjuncts to teaching primary children real history.

Recommended for readers from around eight years upwards.

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Inheritance – Carole Wilkinson

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Walker Books

ISBN: 9781760650360
Imprint: Black Dog Books
Release Date: September 1, 2018
Australian RRP: $17.99
New Zealand RRP: $19.99

Carole Wilkinson has created a superbly plausible narrative which realistically weaves historic realism from Australia’s past from the perspective of both First Australians and early white settlers putting an ugly side to the beginnings of our modern nation in full view. For too long much of this history has been ignored or whitewashed (pun intended) in order to placate a national consciousness.

Fourteen year old Nic (Veronica) has been left in the care of her taciturn grandfather in the old family homestead out in the country. Her mother, whom Nic lost when she was born, grew up here and Nic longs to find out more about her. She also wonders why the once grandiose sprawling homestead has become so rundown and neglected and so finds more than one mystery to solve.  Her start at a new school is not very encouraging but she at least can assimilate into the ‘loners’ group. Most especially disturbing for her is the instant antipathy from Thor, another loner, whose grievance against her seems to be solely based upon her family name.

While Nic discovers a strange gift inherited from her Scottish female side – the ability to time travel – and begins to unravel secrets about her pioneering family, Thor is trying to find evidence of a truth he knows to be so with regards to the tragedy of his own people, the Djargurd wurrung, original occupiers of the area.

After their inauspicious start Nic and Thor end up joining forces to uncover the truth of their own family histories and a start to reconciliation though not without many disconcerting discoveries, including the real story of Nic’s mother.

For those who have not read Bruce Pascoe’s excellent book Dark Emu there will be much to learn here about largely unknown First Australian culture, settlements and agriculture. The oft-repeated stereotyping of the ‘hunter/gatherer/nomadic’ society who did nothing to entitle them keeping their land is thoroughly de-bunked – a falsehood perpetuated as some kind of justification for the dispossession of our indigenous peoples.  For those who are not aware of the heinous actions of some early settlers, there will also be disturbing revelations about the conduct of some of those often held up as examples of founders of white settlements.

Young readers may well be dismayed to find out such history but it is important to know if we, as a nation, are to move forward with the gathering momentum towards full recognition and reconciliation. It has already taken too long and many older people would prefer to ignore the truth so it is essential that our youth know the real facts.  Historical fiction such as this, based squarely on actual events, goes a long way towards this.

I highly recommend this book to readers from Upper Primary upwards and think it is a valuable addition to a ‘read around your topic’ for students of history.

 

Digby & Claude – Emma Allen & Hannah Sommerville

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Publisher:   National Library of Australia
Edition:   1st Edition
ISBN:   9780642279279

Publication Date:   01 August 2018

RRP $24.99

When Emma Allen read an old newspaper article about ‘family friendly’ flats being built in Erskineville back in the 1930s she was inspired to create a picture book which reflected not only a child’s appreciation of their own place but also a time line of housing in Australia. Ably illustrated by Hannah Sommerville readers are invited to join Digby and Claude as they create their own refuge as a bulwark against the changes in their street.

With their imaginations soaring and their plans expanding daily the two boys build a cubby that is more worthy of the nomenclature ‘palace’. Through a long cold winter the pair keep their dream growing and give each other comfort and company.  When Claude’s father forbids his boy to play in such a dangerous place it seems that the vision of their special place has come to an end. But with the cessation of the redevelopment and the subsequent influx of new children in the neighbourhood Digby finds himself the newly appointed ‘king’ of a kingdom where all the children can play and imagine and dream.

The narrative concludes with two double spreads of photographic images explaining a wide variety of Australian homes over time, plus some background from the author and a reproduction of the newspaper clipping which prompted the story.

This is not only a lovely story about friendship, imagination and creativity but an extremely valuable addition to a classroom unit on the topic of houses/housing.

I highly recommend it for little people from around Year 1 or 2 upwards.

Hear Emma talk about the story behind the story here.

Barney and the Secret of the French Spies – Jackie French

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Harper Collins Australia

ISBN: 9781460751305

ISBN 10: 1460751302

On Sale: 22/01/2018

List Price: 14.99 AUD

Another gripping episode in the story of Barney and Elsie, providing readers with more insight into the early days of the European colony in Sydney and NSW and I’m so excited that next term I’m using Birrung the Secret Friend with my Year 4s in preparation for their ‘First Contact’ unit. My experience from last year informs me that the children love this as a read-aloud and are intrigued and stirred to discussion and debate on its themes.  I love knowing that those who are ‘ hooked’ will continue to read in the series and now that there are four will be able to satisfy their curiosity on a number of points.

This narrative takes up Barney’s story now that he is grown and becoming a successful farmer and still in love with Elsie. But who is Elsie really? How is it that this girl neither a convict nor daughter of a soldier came to be in the colony?

When Elsie becomes ill with a fever, her delirium reveals her native tongue of French and speculation becomes even more urgent as a war half a world away rages between the British and Napoleon’s France.  The true reason for Elsie not speaking all the previous years since Barney found her starving and cold is out in the open. Will it make any difference to Barney? More urgently will it put Elsie in danger with the authorities?

Once again Jackie French has uncovered history long ignored or forgotten including that of the first female botanist to sail around the world and achieve great things.

As usual the research is impeccable and the writing accessible even for children as young as 7 or 8.  Barney’s story has become special for many readers and I dare to hope this is not the last of history’s secrets Jackie will share with us.

Highly recommended for readers from around Year 3 upwards.

Sweet Adversity – Sheryl Gwyther

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Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers (Australia) Pty Ltd

ISBN: 9781460755105
ISBN-10: 1460755103
RRP : $17.99

 

In her new historical novel Sheryl Gwyther takes  readers on a dramatic, sometimes tense and often poignant adventure to a grim time in Australia’s past – the Great Depression. While the Wall St collapse impacted all around the world, Australia suffered terribly because of a variety of factors; huge loans from England, over-supply of our trade goods and the sponsorship of both returned soldiers and immigrants among them. For many it was a precarious time of minimal survival.

Adversity McAllister, only child of theatrical parents, is among those for whom this was a heart-breaking and dangerous time. Her parents know that their livelihood is in jeopardy as travelling thespians so think their best action for their beloved daughter, along with her clever cockatiel, is to have her in a home where she will be well-cared for and protected. Little do they know that the vile Matron in charge is not only far from the kindly woman she presents to outsiders but a ‘crook’ who skims off the government funding and worse, has an arrangement to sell useful or promising children off as nothing more than indentured slaves to an extremely odious co-conspirator.

Addie is not a docile child by any means (love her Mighty Girl sassy attitude) and when she believes that her parents have perished in a drowning accident in their travels and then Macbeth, her Shakespeare quoting bird, is likely to be killed, she takes action. Escaping the Emu Swamp Children’s Home with Macbeth via a borrowed gypsy caravan Addie first lands with a camp of ‘lost children’ all of whom are fending for themselves.  At least Addie makes one true friend here who proves to be a lifesaver.  But this respite doesn’t last long as the vile Matron and villainous Scrimshaw catch up with her and she is dragged back to the home. Aided by an unlikely ally she and little Jack, whom she has protected during her time at the home, are bundled off to Sydney where Addie is to be sold to a theatre where her acting and singing talents will bolster the failing performances. Addie has discovered the perfidy of Matron Maddock and she is determined not only to extricate herself and Jack from their predicament but to find the pair of them a safe haven.

Depression times Sydney is a dangerous place for many but especially vulnerable children but Adversity demonstrates her intellect and spirit as she contrives a safe escape for herself, Macbeth and little Jack.

This is a tale of courage and resilience set against a backdrop of extraordinarily difficult times and seemingly insurmountable odds. Addie is an impressive hero. Despite her youth and her troubles, she refuses to bow to the immense pressures and evil predation put upon her.

A narrative which explores a seamy side of our history but celebrates the triumph of one young girl, this is a must for your shelves and your avid historical fiction readers.

Highly recommended for readers from around 11 years upwards.

Read the story behind the story here. Thank you Sheryl for sharing this!

 

Marvellous Miss May: Queen of the Circus – Stephanie Owen Reeder

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Publisher:   National Library of Australia
Edition:   1st Edition
ISBN:   9780642279156
Publication Date:   01 February 2018

RRP $24.99

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What is not to love about this wonderful Heritage Heroes series?  Stephanie Owen Reeder introduces readers to a cast of significant Australians with whom many of us are unaware (myself included).

This new volume continues the high standard set by the previous books with not only the fictionalised story of the person, May Wirth, but also the inclusion of relevant information around the circus both historical and current, the period, day to day life and more with the illustrations vividly enhancing these. These include, as in previous titles, advertisements, banners, newspaper clippings, ephemera and more which all add to the overall beauty of the presentation.

After sharing the 2016 Eve Pownall shortlist with my Year 5s, Lennie the Legend was our hot favourite as a winner and we were all very well pleased when our prediction became actualised.

I cannot help but feel that this new volume will also be shortlisted at least and stands a good chance of winning again.

For me it was a fascinating read. To start with this is a Queenslander who began life as a neglected, impoverished and abused child and was ‘given away’ at the tender age of seven. Fortunately for May she was taken in by the Wirths and became an integral part of their circus family. As she grew older little Miss May proved she was tenacious and talented and eventually reached the dizzy heights of performing with the legendary Barnum & Bailey circus in the United States as well as performing for royalty in England. With such an illustrious and long-lived career as May had it is indeed a shame her name is so little known in the common lore of our country. This book will be pivotal in changing that as it introduces the present generation to one of our first Mighty Girls – one who refused to give up, and who stood up for equal rights her whole life.

Well done to the author for this superb account of the indomitable Miss May.

Highly recommended for readers from around ten years upwards.

 

 

Amazing Australians in Their Flying Machines

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By Prue Mason and Kerry Mason
Illustrated by Tom Jellett

ISBN: 9781922244635
Imprint: Walker Books Australia
April 1, 2017

Australian RRP: $24.99

Daughter of an RAF Lancaster WO/AG and with a dear friend who was a Squadron Leader, then a commercial pilot (RIP Dad and Wal), you might think I’d be across most of Australia’s aviation history.  Instead, I find that I’ve missed quite a significant chunk of it!

This is just fabulous and one of the best information books I’ve reviewed for a while (surely a contender for the next CBC list?).

Looking at the history of ten leading aviators of Australian history from Dr William Bland in the 1850’s (who knew?) through icons such as Bert Hinkler and Nancy Bird Walton this is a fascinating time line. It includes technical information about flying in easy to understand terms, fun facts and an update on modern aviation.

The format is super. Each double spread features an imagined piece from the actual person, then a summary of their achievements with a side panel giving some other techno information.  With illustrations plus photographic it is also a visual delight.

This is a winner-winner for either boys or girls I would guess around ten years upwards.

Australia Illustrated – Tania McCartney

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Exisle Publishing

November 2016

ISBN 9781925335217

RRP $29.99

 

Five years ago while the teacher-librarian at Red Hill Primary, Canberra, I invited a local author about whom I had heard good things to come on an author visit to talk about her popular ‘Riley’ picture books.  Elegant Tania McCartney walked into my library and we were instantly friends. The children were entranced by her presentation (one little boy wrote and illustrated his own Riley book the next day) and all of us looked forward to seeing more from this talented woman.

In the last few years I have watched with great pleasure as Tania’s work has grown and blossomed into books in which her creativity has gone to greater and greater heights.

During the process of this latest (and greatest) of her books it has been such a pleasure for so many of us to feel as though we had something to contribute as Tania sought opinions and feedback on ideas she was developing. Little did I know that my own granddaughters were going to provide inspiration for some of her illustrations!

Australia Illustrated takes readers – both children and adults – on a virtual trip around Australia to examine the beauties, nature, culture, icons and quirks of each of our states.

With a glorious binding to complete it, the book begins with some pages of general information about Australia as a whole. The double page spread underlining our diversity is marvellous but each page is a revelation and a delight. Tania’s sense of fun comes through in each new vista. The double page ‘café style blackboard menu’ that details so many of our iconic favourite foods is just one example and one of my personal favourites.

After this overview of our country we move from state to state seeing children from all over with their own unique local flavours and settings. Each new state’s pages is heralded with a detailed and stylistically fun map and already I have had children (and grown ups) delightedly pointing out places they have been or know.

The virtual trip takes in all that is special, unique or iconic of the individual states illustrated in such a glorious fashion that this will prove a book to which to return over and over to continually discover new details.

The overriding emotion evoked by this armchair travelogue of our great country is one of joy in all that we, as Australians one and all, and our beautiful land have to offer. I have already sent off two copies to my Welsh friends, who recently visited and were entranced by the very small snippet they saw, for their grandchildren to savour. The appeal to adults is validated by the fact that Tim, Welsh grandad, had to have it prised out of his hands to be put away for the children!

In a social climate when we are eager to encourage our young readers to embrace all that is good about our nation – the people, the diversity, the beauty and the traditions – this is a book which resonates with a patriotic pride in its purest sense.

This is a definite ‘must have’ for your library collection indeed but also for your personal bookshelves and for you to share with your friends overseas. I know ours will be treasured and enjoyed for years to come.

Australians all, let us rejoice! That we have author/illustrators of Tania’s calibre is indicative of what we have to offer to a world too often troubled with negative and destructive images.

Congratulations Tania on a simply superb creation. Roll on the lavish praise and recognition for a truly remarkable book!

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 Riley’s red planes flying over Red Hill library!

 

Postscript from Tim: As the Welsh grandad referred to, but not because I’m he, I would endorse the review wholeheartedly. As a visitor, it gives a bite-sized introduction to Australia that informs but doesn’t overwhelm. I loved it and look forward eagerly to being able to share with my grandies!

 

 

On the River – Roland Harvey

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Allen & Unwin

ISBN: 9781760112455

Imprint: A & U Children

 July 2016

RRP $24.99

 

“The book is about the Murray River, from top to bottom. The system is vitally important to graziers, food growers, communities for drinking and domestic use, for irrigation, for hydro power, for recreation and for the health of the environment wildlife and habitat. I thought there was a great opportunity to reveal the history and some of the secrets of the Murray. Most people cross the Murray, see little bits of it, fly over it, visit a few tourist spots but seldom see the system as a whole, or appreciate its complexity or the role it plays in our cultural environment, economy and lives.”

Roland Harvey (@ Allen & Unwin)

Not only is this a fabulous picture book with a wealth of discoveries to be made in each illustration as we are well used to with Roland’s books but it is a superb teaching resource. What better way to teach geography, ecology, historical and cultural importance than through a gift of a book such as this.

Beginning with the fantastic annotated maps on the endpapers readers can journey through the entire Murray River system learning about the many aspects that make this river such a significant part of our country.

They will also find out why the Murray was threatened and the steps that have been taken to restore it to its former health and beauty.

This is a must have for any school library as it will become an important resource for many units of work as well as providing great pleasure for any children who closely examine its delights.

With some very useful teaching notes and a fun activity sheet as added value, this has to be on your shelves.

Highly recommended for children aged around 8 and upwards and teachers as an amazing teaching resource.

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On the River Activity Sheet

The Hero Maker: A Biography of Paul Brickhill

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The Hero Maker: A Biography of Paul Brickhill

The Australian behind the legendary stories The Dam Busters, The Great Escape and Reach for the Sky

By Stephen Dando-Collins

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Penguin Random House

ISBN 9780857988126

August 29, 2016

Imprint : Vintage Australia

RRP: $34.99

 

As the daughter of a Lancaster wireless operator/air gunner growing up in the Sydney suburbs one of my favourite spots in our house was in front of our fireplace which had built in bookshelves on either side. My father was a voracious reader and Paul Brickhill’s books were among his favourites. I had also consumed them all by the time I was 12 and returned to them many times over the years. Now those same copies reside on my own bookshelf.

Having been raised on such a steady diet of Brickhill and knowing that my father had (at some stage) been acquainted with him (who knows where?), it would be reasonable to expect that I might have had some knowledge of the man’s life. The only thing I’ve ever known was that he was a journalist.

Thanks to this wonderful biography, which I have also devoured as greedily as I did the man’s books, I now have a much greater awareness of this hugely successful writer and his often troubled life.

Because I urge you to read this for yourself (I could almost impatiently stamp my foot and say ‘you must’!) there is no need for much detail regarding the content. Dando-Collins takes us on the full journey of Brickhill’s life including some background history regarding his family’s involvement with newspapers. He describes the young Paul’s childhood on the North Shore of Sydney and his meeting with a solitary unkempt boy of similar age named Peter Finch who became a lifelong friend. An uninspired school experience led to some unfulfilling jobs until Brickhill gained a foothold in the newspaper business which was his heritage, rising quickly through the ranks from copyboy to journalist. Despite enjoying some accolades for his work Paul felt in need of a new challenge and adventure and decided to realise his childhood dream of flying by joining the RAAF (despite initial disdain of enlisting). Before too long he was a fully-fledged Spitfire pilot and on combat missions but was shot down near Tunis narrowly escaping death as he abandoned his ‘kite’ and was captured by Italians who of course promptly handed him over to the Germans. There followed a long stint in Stalag 3 which Paul was later to make famous – or infamous – as the setting for The Great Escape (RIP The Fifty). Although an integral member of the X Organisation Brickhill was not among the escapees and at the close of war was force marched across Germany with other POWs along with retreating German troops and refugees. Returning to civilian life after the trauma and privations of POW existence was not easy for many survivors, Paul among them but his determination to tell the story of the Great Escape and honour his comrades drove him to complete his first ‘escape’ book. Almost ten years later, with other escape books,  The Dam Busters and (what I still regard as) his ‘tour de force’ Reach for the Sky, the biography of Douglas Bader, Brickhill was celebrated around the world for both books and screen adaptations as well as journalistic pieces.

The rigours of the war were not the stuff of easy and calm futures and Paul’s tempestuous and tumultuous marriage to young model Margot eventually collapsed into catastrophe. This is no kid gloves account of Brickhill’s personal life. His unpredictable moods and tempers (including striking his wife on a number of occasions), the depression, mental illness, heavy drinking and reclusiveness are all revealed.  When his marriage finally faltered it seemed that so did Paul’s creativity and though he ‘worked’ on several projects over the next two decades, he more or less lived rather like a hermit in his small top floor unit in Balmoral, Sydney, without ever publishing again.

Some critics have dismissed Brickhill’s work as being too ‘journalistic’ but I will say I have never enjoyed reading newspapers and the like, but I love reading Brickhill. If their comments refer to the fact that he employs his skills of journalistic details and observation, yes he does. But he also has a deft touch for laconic humour and the ability to weave facts into a cracking yarn. For me the absolute joy of this book was that Dando-Collin’s literary style appears to echo the very essence of the subject’s own work and at times I could ‘hear’ Brickhill’s voice telling his own story in his own words.

I am so grateful to Random House Australia for allowing me the privilege of reading and reviewing this volume. I am also grateful to Stephen Dando-Collins who has breathed life again into one of the integral storytellers in my life. How fitting in 2016, the 100th anniversary of his birth and 25th anniversary of his death that Paul Brickhill’s skill and story can be brought to a new generation of readers and this tribute which is a testament to his global acclaim is both perfect and poignant.

If you have secondary students who are keen on biographies I suggest this would be a valuable addition to your collection but above all, as an Australian reader, I highly recommend it to you to celebrate the life of one of our most widely recognised writers.

 

A blog Q&A with Stephen is being organised now so stay tuned for more!

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Flt-Lt Paul Brickhill

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Kevin Albert Warren – this one is for you Father Bear x

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