Tag Archives: Australian History

The Schoolmaster’s Daughter – Jackie French

Standard

y648 (5)

The Schoolmaster’s Daughter – Jackie French

Harper Collins Australia

May 2020

ISBN: 9781460757710

ISBN 10: 1460757718

RRP: $17.99

We know so well Jackie’s passion for and skill with historical fiction and when she combines it, as she has with this new novel, with her own family history the result is even more sensational.

Australia at the point of Federation: a new century, a new nation and a new and radical shift in the traditional society and expectations – for some.

Hannah moves, with her schoolmaster father, her liberally-minded mother and her young brother from rural NSW to far north Queensland, deep in the heart of cane country where long-held prejudices and practices exist.

When their ship founders and subsequently breaks up just off the coast of its destination and the men of the party foolishly trek into the unknown, Hannah along with her mother and brother are rescued by a young Islander boy named Jamie. In spite of the evident prejudice of their fellow female travellers especially when faced with Jamie’s clearly white mother, Hannah and Mama begin the first tentative steps towards what becomes a life-long friendship. They go even further when Hannah, denied any further education by her conservative father, and Jamie, denied education by virtue of his colour and birth circumstances, begin to take lessons with Mama, who flouts the convention of being subservient to her husband.

This, however, is just the tip of the iceberg as the new century and the progress towards the women’s vote and other liberations is undermined by the short-sighted government that threatens the very existence of any Islanders indentured to the cane-barons such as the man who employs Hannah’s father.

Family drama, threats by the hardened suspicious townsfolk, secrets long-held by neighbours all impact on the family, driving Hannah and her mother further and further towards an escape from the tyranny of both husband/father and their close society. It’s not just Hannah and Jamie fighting for their right to education any more, it’s about a true equality for all and Hannah’s mother is well-placed to act with courage and determination to free herself and her children at a time when such actions were almost unheard of in ‘polite society’.  How very proud Jackie must feel to have the inspiration of the women in her family to create this fictionalised (but close to truth) narrative history.

This is fascinating and terrible, at times, as a very ugly side (yet another one) of Australia’s history unfolds and the depth of the struggles by the women who came before us is revealed.

Once more I was completely enthralled in and enriched by Jackie’s historical revelations – both the personal and the Australian aspects. In every book I learn things I’ve never known and in a way, that makes them vibrant and memorable. As always this is a superb way to introduce young (or older) readers to little-known (and very probably well-hidden) darker sides of a new nation and certainly to the very real and often tragic plight of women of the time.

As always, I cannot recommend this highly enough particularly for readers from around 13 years upwards.

 

 

Red Day – Sandy Fussell

Standard

 

1569817219332

Walker Books Australia

March 2020

ISBN: 9781760651886
Imprint: Walker Books Australia
Australian RRP: $17.99
New Zealand RRP: $19.99

It seems very apt to be reviewing Sandy Fussell’s latest book today as we commemorate ANZAC Day albeit in a very different way to the usual events.

This is a very powerful story which blends contemporary life in small town Australia with the past and at the same time explores the sometimes fragile and complicated relationships with family and other people.

Charlie (Charlotte) has synaethesia so for her everything has colour and sometimes emotions: days of the week, people, numbers and even inanimate objects. When Kenichi, a Japanese exchange student, arrives to stay with Charlie and her mother for a week, Charlie is not at all pleased at the prospect. But his arrival also sparks a strange sequences of experiences in which her synaethesia is magnified to an almost frightening extent. She begins to feel nausea and pain, has flashes of the past and hears unfamiliar voices – some of which Kenichi can also detect. As the two begin a tentative partnership to investigate the cause of this distress, a slice of history begins to reveal itself and connects with their present. The Cowra Prisoner-of-War break-out remains a significant event in Australia’s history and while essentially tragic forged a lasting and important testament to forgiveness, peace and hope for the future.

For both the solution of the mystery provides a healing for their families and their dreadful loss of loved ones so important to their lives. Readers will completely connect with the characters who are so very well executed and the peripheral characters of friends and families will provide much fodder for self-reflection on loyalty, courage and ethics.

Definitely a book that will appeal strongly to both boys and girls, from around 12 years upwards, this is another one to promote enthusiastically to readers. I can certainly see many of my keen readers being fascinated by this – not to mention learning a great deal of hitherto unknown information.

Highly recommended for Upper Primary upwards.

To the Bridge – Corinne Fenton. Illustrated by Andrew McLean

Standard

1570582164047

Walker Books Australia

April 2020

ISBN: 9781925126822
Imprint: Walker Books Australia

Australian RRP: $26.99
New Zealand RRP: $29.99

If ever there was a story to inspire kids to follow their dreams this surely has to be one that is right up there with the best. In our modern world it seems completely unbelievable that a nine-year-old boy and his pony could travel  six hundred miles unaccompanied from Victoria to Sydney but that’s how Lennie (and Ginger Mick) became an Australian legend.

In the Great Depression there were few things to keep Australian spirits buoyant aside from building of the Sydney Harbour Bridge and our Don Bradman. For a young boy living in Victoria the marvel of engineering that was to be Sydney’s iconic bridge was fascinating and he longed to see it for himself. Having proven himself to be both resourceful and dependable his father agreed to his journey on his beloved pony, Ginger Mick. Averaging about twenty miles a day Lennie was feted by supporters along his route by the many who had heard of his mission and was even greeted by the Prime Minister Joseph Lyons in Canberra. Schoolchildren and adults alike were uplifted by Lennie’s determination and he was shown much welcoming warmth from families and even ‘posh’ hotels as he grew closer and closer to his destination.

What a character this boy must have been and I have often wondered about the man he became because surely a child with such sturdy determination and resilience must have become a truly worthy and dependable adult.

This is a book that will completely fascinate your readers and will provide them with an insight into a period of Australian history that was very grim but was also a time of hope with so many doing their best to rally in community spirit. They may well enjoy re-tracing Lennie’s journey and doing a virtual exploration of the towns and locales through which he passed.

Absolutely a cracking book for your collection and so highly recommended for your readers from around 7 years upwards.

Listen to ABC Conversations about Lennie’s story here.

 

 

Trouble in the Surf – Stephanie Owen Reeder and Briony Stewart

Standard

 

9780642279460National Library of Australia

October 2019

Publisher:   National Library of Australia
Edition:   1st Edition
ISBN:   9780642279460

RRP: $24.99

Stephanie Owen Reeder always excels at creating engaging narratives that are underwritten with historical facts and this picture book is no exception.

To all intents and purposes it is merely the story of two cousins who go swimming at Bondi Beach back in 1907. Charlie and Rupert have a grand time in the surf until the rip catches Charlie and there is an almost disaster. Luckily there are some stalwarts who are able to rescue Charlie and a bystander nurse is able to resuscitate him. Very much a gripping adventure but when Charlie’s full name is revealed at the end of the story, the reader is certainly bound to be surprised and also to conjecture on the ‘what if’ had that rescue not been a success.

The book concludes with some terrific information about Charlie and Rupert as adults, Nurse Sadie Sweeney, Surf Life Saving in Australia, surf safety and Bondi Surf Lifesavers as well as a very useful glossary.

The illustrations are just glorious – and the endpapers that make my heart sing! – and perfectly capture the atmosphere of the time period.

Whether as part of a unit of work focused on Australian history, surf safety, iconic figures in our nation’s heritage or just as a fabulous read-aloud, I highly recommend this for your kiddos from around 7 years upwards.

Find teaching resources here

 

The Ghost of Howler’s Beach (The Butter O’Bryan Mysteries #1)  – Jackie French

Standard

y648 (6)

Harper Collins Australia

February 2020

ISBN: 9781460757727

ISBN 10: 1460757726

List Price: 16.99 AUD

 

To most folks Butter O’Bryan would seem a lucky boy.  In a time when many people are destitute and homeless he lives in a large and comfortable house, known as the Very Small Castle, he has three eccentric but loving aunts –  known as Elephant, Peculiar and Cake – and a well-regarded and clever doctor father who has offices in Sydney’s Macquarie St. He goes to a good school where he has chums and at home there is always a veritable cornucopia of good food prepared by Cooky. But the truth is that Butter often feels lonely and sad, particularly in the school holidays with no school or mates to distract him. He misses his mother who died a year ago dreadfully and even though the aunts are so very good to him, the emotional distance between him and his father makes him even sadder.

When he wanders down to Howler’s Beach just below the Very Small Castle one morning and discovers three raggedy thin children playing a game of cricket, he’s a little hopeful of joining in the game – even though he suspects they may be from the nearby susso camp and he’s not supposed to go near to those inhabitants. This edict is not from a snobbery point of view but a health precaution imposed by his father and aunts. No fear of that though as he is resoundingly rejected by the kids who disappear as soon as his attention is diverted by their dog digging furiously in the sand.

All thoughts of disappointment and loneliness vanish as quickly as the kids when the scruffy little dog disinters a human skull from the sand! Butter quickly wraps up the skull and takes it home in a great state of agitation and with his imagination running wild. And thus begins a curious mystery/adventure that young readers will find compelling as the history of three ragged kids, a strange and pathetic old man who dies unexpectedly on the door step of the Very Small Castle, a three-legged dog and a secret cove unravels. Along the way the empathy and innate goodness of the O’Bryan family is an inspiration for all readers –  a valuable lesson in our current global situation.

So, on the surface a really well-thought out and engaging tale that will totally hook readers from mid-primary upwards. But of course, there’s more 😊 . Jackie’s setting is the Depression in the Sydney area and readers will absorb so much historical information about this period of time in our country and the impact it had on the vast majority of ordinary people. The aftermath of the Great War has already made itself felt in a multitude of ways and now unemployment, poverty, homelessness and sickness are wreaking havoc on an already disenfranchised sector of society. There are references to significant events and topics such as the polio epidemic, the susso, wireless sets, the building of the Harbour Bridge and the cricket – including the great Bradman. And just to add even more value to this, Jackie has concluded with informational pieces about many of these as well as some typical 1930s recipes even including Bread and Duck under the Table – such a well-known and still used idiom in Australia.

Once again, I cannot recommend this highly enough. I think any reader from around ten years upwards will enjoy it very much on all levels.

Will the Wonderkid: Treasure Hunter of the Australian Outback – Stephanie Owen Reeder

Standard

 

9780642279521

National Library of  Australia

February 2020

ISBN:   9780642279521

RRP: $24.99

I adore this series! In Heritage Heroes, Reeder not only takes her readers on adventures but provides rich fodder for hunters of history. Each volume has explored the (often unknown) achievements of young Australian people of the past in a fictionalised narrative which is lavishly interspersed with reproduced primary documents and photographs, ephemera, information on related topics such as animals, significant events and people and more.

Each volume is so sublimely presented that it becomes a tactile delight and the joy is not just in the reading but in the holding in one’s hands.

In this latest, the fifth, we are treated to the discovery of opals at what is now Coober Pedy by 14 year old Will Hutchison who accompanied his father, two other men and six camels on an expedition into outback South Australia in a time of pretty basic equipment and the dangers of extreme drought.

When Will decides to go with his father on the trip for the New Colorado Prospecting Syndicate he has no idea what dangers and hardships lay ahead. Their determination to find gold is undaunted by these although Will struggles to stay positive. Just when the situation appears to be at its most dire and unsuccessful with the company resolved to return to Adelaide, it is Will who literally stumbles onto the Stuart Range opal field which remains one of the most valuable in Australia and certainly  a location which is totally unique with so many of the dwellings being underground.

With the addition of ‘what happened next’ information, biographical notes, glossary and references for exploring further some of the many related topics this is treasure worth the delving.

What a marvellous new addition to this award-winning series this is. Highly recommended for readers from Upper Primary to Secondary not to mention any adults interested in Australian history.

Clancy of the Overflow (The Matilda Saga #9) – Jackie French

Standard

y648 (2)

Harper Collins

October 2019

ISBN: 9781460754771

ISBN 10: 1460754778

Imprint: HarperCollins – AU

List Price: 29.99 AUD

This little hobby of mine has brought me so much richness. I’m able to read the newest titles from so many fabulous creators. But as you probably have realised I stand in complete awe of our maven of literature for children, teens and adults, Jackie French, and what a privilege for me to have the opportunity to read the last of the Matilda saga well before its release date.

So many of us have followed the travails of Jackie’s characters both historical and fictional, spanning a century, and now the narrative comes full circle encompassing both the past and the contemporary. The characters with which we have engaged and loved have made the past come alive and the present realised in a sweeping story of strong women particularly and vivid history.

Those readers who are familiar with the series (who isn’t?) will expect that this last volume will continue our connection with Jed and Sam, Scarlett and William plus Alex, as well as Nancy so I don’t really feel the need to expand on the plot – because clearly you will want to read it for yourself. What I want to focus on is the scope of this body of work – as Charlotte would say, arguably Jackie’s ‘magnum opus’. By saying that I would not imply that Jackie has reached her peak or we can expect any less in the future but to my mind this series represents and encapsulates so much of what Jackie strives to achieve and bring to her audience as well as embodying so much of herself in so many ways.

Jackie’s unequalled ability to place her readers firmly in the period of which she writes and the skill with which she connects us to the characters is unparalleled. But even more so is her deftness with interweaving so many threads of historical narrative throughout her work: to do so over a series of nine books is to my mind a superb accomplishment. This final volume of the series not only continues the narrative but expertly brings in the references to earlier books and the exquisite blending of fact and fiction is enthralling. Of course, as readers we hang on waiting to know the fate of Jed and Sam, as well as Scarlett, but now we are also privy to the amazing love story of Clancy and Rose – as well as the unfulfilled connection between Clancy and Matilda. As a long time devotee of Banjo Paterson (thanks Dad!) this blending of history and imagination just delights me so much and Jackie has the innate skill of making the events and circumstances so utterly believable.

My regard for Jackie goes well beyond her unerring skill as a storyteller, a diligent researcher and an accurate historian. I know her to be a warm, generous and caring human with a drive that is enviable and a nature that is beautiful. She is truly an admirable Australian whose passion for our history – whether good or bad – and our unique culture is to be celebrated.

In case you haven’t picked up on it – I cannot recommend this highly enough – and all I can say is if you haven’t read the first eight books – shame on you

Pirate Boy of Sydney Town – Jackie French

Standard

Harper Collins

ISBN: 9781460754795

ISBN 10: 1460754794

Imprint: HarperCollins – AU

May 2019

RRP: 16.99 AUD

pirateboy

Just a few weeks ago I reviewed the third in Jackie’s Miss Lily series and now it’s another superb historical fiction, plus I have two others on my review shelf. I begin to wonder when the woman sleeps! Her prodigious output, the diversity of her works and the unsurpassed quality of her narratives are just truly awe-inspiring.

I know a modicum of Australian history but Jackie always provides so much deeper knowledge and indeed, revelations about our past which I for one have entirely missed.

In this case it is the piracy that was not uncommon in our waters during the 19th century.

Young Ebenezer (Ben) Huntsmore has had an idyllic life, growing up in his mother’s ancestral home, Badger’s Hill, and has loved his interaction with the farming tenants and the contented continuity of their community.  When his mostly absent and ne’er-do-well shipowner father loses everything in a gambling debt their life is turned upside down and Ben and his mother are forced to leave their much-loved home to journey to the far off new colony of Australia. Huntsmore Senior has a plan to restore the family fortune with his one remaining ship as a privateer, with the good grace and commission from the Prince of Wales. Who knew? Certainly not me!

The sea voyage is marred by the ill-treated human cargo of convicts – mere chattels to the owner – and the death of Ben’s mother from typhoid. Ben barely survives the deadly illness himself. The ensuing chapter of the narrative finds little improved for young Ben when the piracy begins in earnest with scant regard for human life or any kind of mercy. With poetic justice the first act of robbery on the high seas a success has a bad ending for Ben’s father and Ben himself is castaway but with his only two ‘friends’ – the Aboriginal sailor Guwara and the convict Higgins  – who form an alliance and commit to returning Ben to safety.

Complex and confronting at times but with redeeming hopefulness, courage, unexpected friendship and loyalty and the perfect illustration that ‘class’ does not maketh the individual, this is a wonderful study of human nature at its best as well as its worst. The references to Jackie’s previous books with the appearance of an adult Tom Appleby (Tom Appleby, Convict Boy) and the mention of Nanberry (Nanberry Black Brother White) are cleverly inserted. As always Jackie’s indefatigable research enables her to embed historical fact into her narrative seamlessly, allowing the reader to truly ‘live’ in the experience.

Readers who are keen on Australian history or those who are studying this period of history will find this intriguing and intense. Again, Jackie has given us an absolutely cracking read!

Highly recommended for mature readers from around mid-primary upwards.

Mamie – Tania McCartney

Standard

 

Harper Collins

November 2018

ISBN: 9781460755860

ISBN 10: 1460755863

RRP $24.99

mamie

In this the centenary celebration year of May Gibbs’ iconic Australian children’s book, Tales of Snugglepot and Cuddlepie , how perfectly timely it is to have a new book which brings the creator to life for younger readers.

When May first wrote her stories she probably had little idea how much they would become ingrained in her adopted country’s cultural psyche nor how beloved her characters would become.

The woman who imagined the little bush folk is the subject of Tania McCartney’s new book as it details the early life of May – known as Mamie to her family. As a little girl in England this little girl was typical of her era relishing fairy tales and woodland creatures, drawing and painting and allowing her imagination to run wild with the inhabitants of the local woods and meadows.

When her family immigrated to Australia Mamie could not fathom this very different country. Where would her beloved fairies live in this often harsh climate and untamed bush?

But gradually Mamie realised that fairy folk live everywhere, that perhaps they just look rather different and have different adventures and thus the Gumnut Babies, the flower fairies, the wicked Banksia men and all the population of the wild Australian landscape came to life under her magical touch.

And in similar fashion Tania has breathed life and energy in Mamie’s story and very cleverly illustrated it in a contemporary style to which children will easily relate. Each page contains glorious tiny details for readers to pore over excitedly, the whole retaining the original freshness, quality and magic of May’s own work.

When I decided to celebrate the centenary with little people at school, there were some who were dubious about the children of today even knowing the books or being interested but I am happy to say that the past term sharing the adventures with Year 1 and culminating in making their own little gumnut babies to take home was a resounding success.  It thrills me to know that another generation loves the stories and will take them on into their lives. Postcard_gumnut_babies

We only have a couple of days left with our kids but I am desperate to share Mamie’s story with them so they can also take with them some knowledge about a woman who brought so much joy to so many people.

Thank you Tania for turning the spotlight so successfully on one of our national treasures in this the special year of their long lives! As usual your own work will stand the test of time alongside the originals with its dainty and sweet words and illustrations.

Highly recommended for readers from around four years upwards – and a perfect Christmas present for this year.

I still have my original copy (from around my 5th birthday) – do you have yours?

S&C

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

Standard

rebel

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.