Tag Archives: Biographies

Wild Thing: the short, spellbinding life of Jimi Hendrix – Philip Norman

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Hachette

AUG 25, 2020 | 9781474611497 | RRP $32.99

Once again Philip Norman has crafted a biography that is both mesmerising and eminently readable just as he has done previously, but most notably for me with Slowhand. It’s hard to believe that it has been fifty years since Jimi’s brilliance was extinguished and to write the story of such an icon of both music and the 60s is no easy task let alone so long after his death, yet Norman has done so with both flair and meticulous attention to accurate detail.

James Marshall (born Johnny Allen) Hendrix had what can only be described as a tragic childhood – poverty, neglect, abandonment and pretty much starved of love or even affection. Growing up – or more accurately, surviving – in Seattle, Washington with an indifferent at best father and an absent mother, the man who was to become “the greatest instrumentalist in the history of rock music” according to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame always dreamed of rising above his circumstances to great heights. And rise he did, from his first attempts at music with a salvaged one-stringed ukelele through battered second-hand guitars to playing (and burning) sleek Stratocasters, the determined, indeed obsessed, self-taught Jimi became the supreme maestro of his chosen instrument.

His early attempts in the professional music scene were hampered and obstructed through racial prejudice and resistance to his own flamboyant creativity but when he was finally picked up by Chas Chandler (formerly of The Animals) and transported to London, his ascent to the heights was mercurial. Sadly for us all, his reign as the most innovative of musicians was plagued and ultimately cut short by depression, poor management, drugs and alcohol and lasted only a few all-too-short years.

Though troubled by his upbringing and difficulties with relationships (despite a legion of groupies and girlfriends) and often mis-represented by the media as wild, troublesome and a bad influence, all those who knew him well unfailingly describe him as gentle, caring, well-mannered and knowledgeable on a whole range of subjects and topics.

The circumstances of his lonely death have been shrouded in mystery with contradictory versions given by those who were the closest to being eye-witnesses but Norman has doggedly unearthed testimony from as many sources as possible to try to re-construct the tragedy.

I found this compelling reading and realised just how little I knew about this elusive personality who literally revolutionised pop music single-handedly.

Whether you are a Hendrix fan or not, or indeed interested in music history, this is a fascinating read and I highly recommend it to you.

RIP Jimi – fifty years later your legendary talent lives on and still influences so many.

By Steve Banks – Steve Banks, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=63987610

JT : The Making of a Total Legend – Jonathan Thurston, with James Phelps

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y648 (3)

Harper Collins

August 2019

ISBN: 9781460758618

ISBN 10: 1460758617

Imprint: HarperCollins – AU

List Price: 16.99 AUD

I grew up slightly obsessed with rugby league. Born and bred in the heart of Dragons’ territory in the glory days of that team, my girlfriends and I played footy every day in the school playground (I still bear a cracking scar on my knee from an untimely slide across the asphalt!).  I begged my father to buy me my own football and was rather disappointed when it appeared – the rubbery kind not a leather one – which he found quite amusing. Clearly I had no clue how much a ‘real’ football cost!  My love of the game has somewhat diminished over time but I’m still a diehard Dragons supporter and even after thirty odd years in Queensland still proudly wear my ‘Blues’ jersey at Origin time.

Despite my history with the great game I cannot deny that if a player ever deserved the epithet of legend it would be Jonathan Thurston.  This shining star of league has not only proven his skill over and over again but is an exemplar of sportsmanship, teamwork and above that, a thoroughly decent, humble and compassionate human.

Young readers will be inspired by this version of his autobiography which begins with his childhood in Brisbane – too skinny, too sooky, too little – to be considered a likely professional player and traces his rise to the greatest heights the game can offer.  From his debut with the Canterbury Bulldogs (nothing to say there) to his brilliance in State of Origin, internationals and of course the Cowboys readers will gobble up every detail of every game.

Since his retirement from the game this giant of league has continued to use his influence positively with the Jonathan Thurston Academy with its commitment to ensuring success for young people in every field be it studies, employment or well-being.

In a culture where so-called sporting heroes often fall far short as role models, JT is a stand-out whose ‘total legend’ status goes without saying.

Highly recommended for readers from around 10 years upwards.

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JTCommunity

Little Frida – Anthony Browne

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1546492208673

Walker Books

April 2019

ISBN: 9781406381221
Imprint: Walker
Australian RRP: $24.99
New Zealand RRP: $27.99

The absolutely mega-talented Anthony Browne brings his own distinctive style to the story of another fabulous artist, Frida Kahlo.

This glorious picture book gives younger readers an insight into the background and artistic genesis of Kahlo who has, over the years, become an increasingly iconic artist particularly among younger people.

Told simplistically with some detail about Frida’s early life and the beginnings of her imaginative journey into her unique artistic journey this book is a pleasure both to hold and to read.

Of course Anthony’s own surrealist imagery is a perfect approach to the work of the most celebrated artists in this genre. The superb colour palette echoes that of Frida’s own works and so is a double insight into her life and work.

The growing number of biographical works for younger readers is proving a huge drawcard for many children and this factional version of Kahlo’s history will be a welcome addition to your shelves. For me, with my love (bordering obsession) with Browne’s work, this will be a keeper for my own shelves.

Highly recommended for readers from around 5 years upwards.

For Tweens and Teens – a selection

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You Are Awesome: Find Your Confidence and Dare to be Brilliant at (Almost) Anything: The Number One Bestseller

awesome

– Matthew Syed

Hachette

APR 24, 2018 | 9781526361158 | RRP $19.99

 

This positive and empowering guide, by bestselling mindset author Matthew Syed, will help boys and girls build resilience, fulfil their potential and become successful, happy, awesome adults.

I think in most classrooms and schools these days we are all doing a lot of talking about positive mindset. Just last week celebrating the anniversary of ‘The Dot’  my Year 1s could all attest to the word ‘yet’ as in “I can’t do it – yet”.

Little guys take this idea up enthusiastically but tweens and teens often seem to struggle with it – after all they have a lot of other stuff going on with which to contend as well. So I think anything that might help them to set themselves on a more confident path can only be a winner – though it’s entirely possible they may read it discreetly away from their peers.

With this in mind the author has really pulled out everything to make this really easy to read and engaging with a bright graphic layout and has included stories of some really well known inspirational people such as J. K. Rowling and Serena Williams.

There is really a lot to like about this and I will certainly be promoting it particularly to certain of my Middle school students who don’t always realise their wonderfulness.

Highly recommended for readers from around 10 years upwards.

You Are Mighty: a guide to changing the world – Caroline Paul. Illustrated by Lauren Tamaki

mighty

Bloomsbury

May 2018

9781681198224

RRP $ 24.99

Those who’ve read this blog before will most likely be aware of my committed advocacy to the Mighty Girl philosophy, empowering our girls and young women to rise up in all arenas.

This is the perfect book for any girl in your sphere to imbue them with a sense of justice, an unshakeable confidence and a compassionate heart. The author has provided many ideas for being a ‘game-changer’ with DIY tips, life stories from those well-known such as Malala or lesser known – just regular kids who have chosen to create ripples in the world in which we live.

There is much humour here to leaven the more serious aspects of activism and intelligent thoughtful ‘gutsy girls’ will find much to which aspire and adhere as they traverse their adolescence.

Fabulous book for any sassy girl in your life circle or to encourage your middle/upper schools young women.

The Short & Curly Guide to Life – Dr Matt Beard and Klya Slaven

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Penguin Random House

9780143792185

October 1, 2018

Puffin

RRP:  $24.99

 

Dive into the mind-bending world of ethics with the Short & Curly team and their Brains Trust of researchers. Based on the hit ABC podcast!

Ok, I freely admit I’m not up with the podcast however I love having philosophical discussions with kids and actively instigating conversations around ethics. Often what is highly inflammatory and difficult for adults to talk about can be eminently simple and straightforward for kids. This is rather like a ‘how to’ for kids who are interested in the sorts of discussions that consider all kinds of situations.

Each section follows the same format with a proposed situation and then an ‘agent report’, “philoso-mail’, ‘agent debrief’ and ‘thinking questions’. Also included are research updates, fun facts and report run-downs.

Some pretty cute cartoon style illustrations round off the more serious side of the entire text and all in all I think that there would be many tweens that would be quite interested in this.

Readers from around 12 years upwards would be the most engaged I think.

 

Splat the Fake Fact! Adam Frost. Illustrations by Gemma Correll.

splat

Bloomsbury Australia

Published: 01-07-2018
Format: Paperback
ISBN: 9781408889503
Imprint: Bloomsbury Children’s Books

RRP $14.99

Well, we hear a lot of talk about fake news these days so I think most kids will enjoy a book about fake facts and guessing which is true and which is not!

Woodlice have blue blood. Dead cabbage café is the name of a band. King Edward III banned football in England. Do your best to work out which is the fake fact!

Kids who (like me) are always in search of fascinating and completely irrelevant trivia will love this as well as enjoy bugging their friends with their ‘is it true?’ moments.

Very much in the style of a graphic novel with as many illustrations as text, this will also be a hit with those who are not keen readers I anticipate.

Anyone with kids will know (and possibly groan) the feeling of being beset by endless jokes and riddles when their young reader has discovered the joy of those books. This one will be equally as popular for plaguing adults I foresee!

Highly recommended for kids from around 8 years upwards.

 

High Five to the Boys: a celebration of ace Australian men

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Penguin Random House

9780143791782

July 30, 2018

Random House Australia Children’s

$29.99
Following on from the brilliant ‘Shout Out to the Girls’ comes this celebration of Australian males from days gone by to right up to the moment.

This format is so very suitable for young readers to dip into with snapshot mini-bio’s faced by funky illustrations. While it’s entirely possible that young readers may well know Eddie Woo far better than they know Weary Dunlop this is a wonderful resource for finding out more about a wide range of significant men in the Australian fabric of society. Encompassing males from all walks of life and, dare I say, class this will enlighten many a young reader and, it is hoped, prompt some to investigate further. With so many endless English assignments which look at ‘significant achievers’ at least this provides reader with some engaging and interesting factual text.

As with its companion book this one’s royalties go to the Smith Family which is a fabulous way to encourage the development and growth of more outstanding Australians.

Highly recommended for readers from around 10 years upwards.

 

 

 

Published: 01-07-2018
Format: Paperback
ISBN: 9781408889503
Imprint: Bloomsbury Children’s Books

Bloomsbury Australia

RRP $14.99

Well, we hear a lot of talk about fake news these days so I think most kids will enjoy a book about fake facts and guessing which is true and which is not!

Woodlice have blue blood. Dead cabbage café is the name of a band. King Edward III banned football in England. Do your best to work out which is the fake fact!

Kids who (like me) are always in search of fascinating and completely irrelevant trivia will love this as well as enjoy bugging their friends with their ‘is it true?’ moments.

Very much in the style of a graphic novel with as many illustrations as text, this will also be a hit with those who are not keen readers I anticipate.

Anyone with kids will know (and possibly groan) the feeling of being beset by endless jokes and riddles when their young reader has discovered the joy of those books. This one will be equally as popular for plaguing adults I foresee!

Highly recommended for kids from around 8 years upwards.

 

High Five to the Boys: a celebration of ace Australian men

Penguin Random House

9780143791782

July 30, 2018

Random House Australia Children’s

$29.99
Following on from the brilliant ‘Shout Out to the Girls’ comes this celebration of Australian males from days gone by to right up to the moment.

This format is so very suitable for young readers to dip into with snapshot mini-bio’s faced by funky illustrations. While it’s entirely possible that young readers may well know Eddie Woo far better than they know Weary Dunlop this is a wonderful resource for finding out more about a wide range of significant men in the Australian fabric of society. Encompassing males from all walks of life and, dare I say, class this will enlighten many a young reader and, it is hoped, prompt some to investigate further. With so many endless English assignments which look at ‘significant achievers’ at least this provides reader with some engaging and interesting factual text.

As with its companion book this one’s royalties go to the Smith Family which is a fabulous way to encourage the development and growth of more outstanding Australians.

Highly recommended for readers from around 10 years upwards.

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

brickhill

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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