Tag Archives: Community

What Zola Did on Sunday – Melina Marchetta

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Penguin

  • September 2021
  • ISBN: 9781760895228
  • Imprint: Puffin
  • RRP: $12.99

This series has just been pure joy from the very first word with each new story building on the warmth, friendship and community of Zola’s neighbourhood. Now that we have finished the entire week with Zola I feel quite sad but I’m hopeful that Melina might take Zola and her friends, not to mention her mishaps, on a longer journey for us. I’m going to sit back and wait for What Zola Did in January now *grin*.


The climax of the entire series is the St Odo’s fete where so much that has featured along the way all comes together: the knitting, gardening, pets, music and baking as well as the entire cast of charming characters.

Of course, it was to be expected that Zola would once again be in the middle of a muddle and when she doesn’t quite manage to hold onto Tim Tam the cat in the face of excitable dogs before the Pet Parade starts, there is quite the calamity. But, despite the kerfuffle, the fete still manages to be a huge success and the funds raised by this caring community give everyone much satisfaction – particularly as their efforts will support the homeless, which gives the reader pause for reflection when one thinks about these happy families in their homes. Throughout the entire series, the opportunities for meaningful discussion and action learning have been plentiful, all the while without being ‘preachy’.

I feel sure you must have caught onto these sweet books for your newly independent readers by now – but just in case somehow you have overlooked them, do yourself and your little peeps a big favour and put them on your order list.

Highly recommended for readers from around 6 upwards.

What Zola did on Wednesday – Melina Marchetta

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Penguin Australia

  • September 2020
  • ISBN: 9781760895174
  • Imprint: Puffin
  • RRP: $12.99

I don’t know about you but I am getting incredibly fond of Zola and her neighbourhood. This little series is just truly delightful and I know that little readers must love being able to make connections with their own family, friends, schools and communities.

Boomerang St has been very busy with the gardening, knitting, new neighbours and playmates and now there is a new adventure for Zola, Alessandro and their new friends when Sophia’s turtle goes missing. It’s a real mystery but also lucky that one of Leo’s mums is a police officer and introduces them to her police dog, Vesper. Of course, as we know, Zola loves to help others but has an uncanny knack of finding trouble when she does and her plan, inspired by meeting PD Vesper, is to put Alessandro’s dog, Gigi, on the case of finding the lost turtle. Big mistake! Gigi takes off and a mad chase ensues until she is re-captured. Despite the problems, Turtle is found but the children all re-learn a very valuable lesson about crossing streets and running off unsupervised.

Naturally there is a happy outcome for all and especially so when one more community activity begins – the children and their various dogs are all invited to do some dog training with PD Vesper and Leo’s mum at the neighbourhood park.

Another super instalment in Marchetta’s new series – it’s almost sad already thinking about the end of the week!! Your newly independent readers both boys and girls will just adore these stories and they would make fabulous read-alouds for either classroom teachers or teacher-librarians paired with some activities and action plans.

Highly recommended for little readers from around six years upwards.

The Pony Question – Jackie Merchant

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Walker Books

July 2020

ISBN: 9781760651640
Imprint: Walker Books Australia

Australian RRP: $16.99
New Zealand RRP: $18.99

I’m not really a horse-y person and now that the Kid is no longer riding neither is she so horse-themed books are a little bit of uncharted territory for me. However many years ago Ruby Ferguson’s Jill’s Gymkana (#1 Jill’s Ponies) was a very enjoyable read for me and this reminded me strongly of that pleasure.

All that being said, this is not merely a horse story but a heart-warming narrative of family, friends and community with an additional bonus of being set in a location fairly familiar to me (Blue Mountains and Lithgow NSW).

Essie and her mum now live in a small community in a quirky somewhat shabby house after her father abandoned them for a younger woman and a new life in pristine perfection. Despite money being a little tight the two are very happy in their new surroundings with their warm and welcoming friends and life is moving along nicely as Francesca’s small business of restoring furniture gains traction. Essie’s antipathy towards her father and his cold and bottled-up new wife is almost tangible and she is particularly irritated by his offer to install her in an exclusive private boarding school with the promise of a new pony and more.

It was her father’s overweening attitude of control and competitiveness that ruined Essie’s promising success as a dressage rider two years previously when he, unbeknownst to anyone else, doped Essie’s pony in order to enable her to compete in a qualifier for a state team. When the ‘nobbling’ was discovered it was of course Essie who bore the brunt of the disgrace and the subsequent disqualification from competition. Her pony, Chet, was sold and though her dad promised to get her another horse, Essie just can’t bring herself to re-enter the fray.

Well all that’s about to change when Essie and her mum accidentally buy a neglected pony at a clearing sale and faced with either taking it home or re-selling to the local knacker, of course they keep the pony – at least for the time being. Poor Moxie has fallen from star pony to half-starved and half-wild beast in just a couple of years. She is in a bad way and really nobody is even expecting her to survive.

Essie’s journey of healing Moxie, along with the support of her mum and circle of friends, despite her father’s opposition is also a healing for herself as she faces difficult situations and arrives at answers providing the reader with a beautiful story of reconciliation in a very divisive and unhappy circumstance. No doubt there will be many for whom this will resonate, with or without a horse involved.

It is a testament to the engaging story that I read this in two sessions and in fact, read past my usual ‘lights off’ time, all unknowing! This is Jackie Merchant’s second novel and I know that I, for one, will look forward to more from this author.

Highly recommended not only for your horse-tragics but all your upper primary and lower/middle secondary readers who enjoy a contemporary story with real depth.

What Zola did on Tuesday – Melina Marchetta

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Penguin Australia

  • August 2020
  • ISBN: 9781760895167
  • Imprint: Puffin
  • RRP: $12.99

I reviewed the first in this joyful series a little while back and now we have the delight of the second instalment which is just as gorgeous!

Zola and her cousin over the back fence, Alessandro, would love to get to meet their new neighbours – more playmates! However, Mummy and Nonna Rosa are resistant to intruding so they are feeling rather frustrated as well as curious.

Of course Zola despite all her best intentions is always finding trouble – or is that trouble finding her? Nonna Rosa is not doing so well with her knitting and Zola’s teacher is looking for someone to help with a knitting group at school, which of course Zola realises would be a disaster with Nonna’s efforts. So the solution for Zola is to help with Nonna’s knitting. As you would expect – a disaster ensues! However, even disasters can turn around to a success and so it is with the great knitting fiasco – the knitting problem is sorted and so is the making friends with the neighbours and helping the knitting group.

Such simple but sweet and wholesome stories which will engage your youngest independent readers and very likely inspire their own community-mindedness, empathy and desire to help others.

Highly recommended for little readers from around 6 years upwards! This is an absolute must-have and I for one look forward to the rest of the ‘week’ to come.

What Zola did on Monday – Melina Marchetta. Illustrated by Deb Hudson

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Penguin Australia

June 2020

ISBN: 9781760895150

Imprint: Puffin

RRP: $12.99

This is certainly a departure from Looking for Alibrandi and Melina’s other novels for YA but what an absolute joy it is! From start to finish it ticks every box I love!

Zola lives with her mum and Nonna Rosa in a little house in the suburbs, with her cousin and bestie, Alessandro, living directly behind. Before the two lost their Nonno Nino, he cut a gate into the back fence so they could spend as much time together as possible – whenever Alessandro is not at his dad’s place.

Everyone in the neighbourhood loves their beautiful front garden filled with flowers and Nonna Rosa loves the backyard with its vegetable garden even more. But although Zola loves flowers she certainly does not like gardening!

At school her Year 2 class are temporarily housed across the road from the school, which is being renovated, within the grounds of the much-neglected community garden. Zola’s teacher Ms Divis is keen on gardens, community and sustainability – the perfect combination to inspire her little charges to take on the project of rejuvenating the community garden as well as investigating their neighbourhood’s local history.

Zola does have a knack for finding herself in sticky situations like leaving the back-fence gate open so that Alessandro’s naughty dog causes destruction in the backyard and even worse, ruining the newly planted special seeds Nonna Rosa had saved, given to her by Nonno Nino. But luckily she is also a smart little cookie who can come up with a solution to her various little problems.

This is about so much more than the very important theme of growing our own food (itself so timely at present) and being attuned with nature, it’s about re-connecting with community and sharing care, compassion and concern. There is a rich diversity in families with single parents, same-sex parents, multi-generational families and different cultures.

Thankfully it’s the first in a series – one for each day of the week – so there is more joy to come. Perfect for newly independent readers or for class or home read-alouds, I highly recommend this for little humans from around 6 years upwards.

How to Grow a Family Tree – Eliza Henry Jones

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Harper Collins Australia

March 2020

  • ISBN: 9781460754955
  • ISBN 10: 1460754956
  • Imprint: HarperCollins – AU
  • List Price: 22.99 AUD

Seventeen year old Stella knows exactly how to help people – after all, she’s read self-help books all her life. Her friends and family often are the beneficiaries of the wealth of her accumulated wisdom.  Best friends Clem, Zin and Lara regularly think she’s a little weird with her psycho-babble but affectionately embrace it. Her family – Dad, Mum and sister Taylor – are a little less enthusiastic and at times exasperated.

Stella has always known she’s adopted and that has never been a problem for her until, that is, a letter arrives from her birth mother and she discovers that over the past ten years there were others, carefully put away by her mum until she might be ready for them.  The timing could not be worse. Dad’s gambling problem has driven down the family finances to such an extent that they must give up their house and move to Fairyland caravan park – literally the worst address in town, infamous for meth labs exploding and  filled, it appears, with the most dubious of characters.

Rather than the vice-filled wasteland redolent with crime and the dregs of society that she has imagined, Stella slowly begins to discover that Fairyland is, in reality, a community and, more importantly, that not everyone needs her help – at least, not in the way she’s always pushed it onto people.  The complicated chaos of her family life combined with keeping the secret of their new address from her friends and then the unravelling secrets about her origins as she attempts to get to know her ‘other’ family ensure a great  narrative which explores the nuances of relationships and the shades of right or wrong that exist in any human situation.  Stella realises that it is she who needs helping as much as anyone else and it is her Fairyland experience that provides it.

There is much humour in this novel along with the pathos and over-arching themes of compassion, respect and truth all of which make for compelling reading.  Readers will find much upon which to reflect – addiction, domestic abuse, the definition of family, relationships, perceptions and stereotyping among others and while it is complex it is also highly engaging and very readable.

It’s a fantastic read which I ate up over two nights and one I will enjoy sharing with my students.

I highly recommend it for astute readers from around 13/14 years upwards.

Click to access How-to-Grow-a-Family-Tree-Teachers-Notes.pdf

Evie and Pog (series)– Tania McCartney

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Evie and Pog Take Off FINAL COVER

Harper Collins Australia

January 2020

I’ve said before that Tania McCartney is uber-talented (as well as being one of the very nicest humans I know) and I for one am tremendously excited about this new series pitched at newly independent readers. It’s just fabulous to see a few new series to add to these collections!

 High in a tree house live two very best friends. One is a girl and one is a dog. And everyone knows them as Evie and Pog.

So starts each book and just like ‘Once upon a time..’ the pattern will signal to children that the fun and adventures are about to begin. These stories absolutely ooze exuberance with their characters and antics. Evie is six years old and lives with Pog in a slightly eccentric tree house alongside Granny Gladys who lives in a rather large, though no less eccentric, house. Evie loves crashing her cymbals, rolling in the daisy spot lawn, reading, cakes and knitting. Pog loves reading too but he prefers to sit at the table with a large cup of tea and his newspaper. He also loves vegetables – in any shape or form. Granny is a tidier and a rampant cleaner who is almost permanently attached to her dust buster. She also loves knitting and baking cakes (though not the mess that always seems to arise from cooking!).

They have some good friends like Noah and Mr Pooch and Miss Footlights and the adventures often include these characters.

Each book contains three separate stories and the uniform format with the double page spread of the tree house plan as the frontispiece and the cast of characters and the map of the village on the final pages gives readers that sense of continuity and familiarity they love.

Each is chockers with Tania’s humorous and always endearing  illustrations and loaded with onomatopoeia and a wonderful variety of fonts giving each an even more lively feel.

Evie and Pog: Take Off! [Evie and Pog #1]

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ISBN: 9781460757932

ISBN 10: 1460757939

Imprint: HarperCollins – AU

List Price: 12.99 AUD

  •  Puppy School Mess
  •  School Play Drama
  •  Cake Stall Chaos

 

I’m pretty sure you can surmise from the story titles that there is a continuing theme of incidents filled with rambunctiousness and hilarity which generally involve lots of  knitting yarn (usually in tangles), cakes and unexpected happenings.

For example, when Granny decides Pog must go to Puppy School with Mr Pooch it is not the dogs who win the Puppy Challenge  – and certainly not Pog who is completely and utterly against such demeaning activities – but Evie who aces the challenge course and becomes the first ‘girl’ winner.

 

 

Evie and Pog: Puppy Playtime! [Evie and Pog #2]

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ISBN: 9781460757949

ISBN 10: 1460757947

Imprint: HarperCollins – AU

List Price: 12.99 AUD

  • Reno Rumble
  • Classroom Contraption
  • Puppy Park

The tree house is freezing and Evie, Pog and Granny decide it’s time to renovate and what better way to do so than with knitting. They could really use some help though and when Noah comes to visit they know he will be the perfect person to assist – even only they can work out how to get him up into the tree house, Noah being too heavy for the basket which is the general method of entry.

Of course throughout each of these is again the signature knitting, cakes, often surprising accidental events which are always resolved happily (and with the aid of the aforementioned knitting and cakes).

These are truly hilarious and quirky almost to a point of outlandishly silly which little readers will absolutely love. The belly laughs will be plentiful I predict!

 

Highly recommended for younger readers from around six years upwards. What a joy they are!

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Taking Tom Murray Home – Tim Slee

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Harper Collins

July 2019

ISBN: 9781460757864

ISBN 10: 1460757866

Imprint: HarperCollins – AU

RRP $32.99

The inaugural Banjo Prize competition attracted 320 entries but it was Taking Tom Murray Home that took out the first prize with its truly authentic Australian voice. Tim Slee’s novel bristles with laconic wit, quirky characters and bitter-sweet emotions and underlines with eloquence the dilemmas faced by so many of our rural Aussies who are doing it tough.

When the bank forecloses on Tom Murray’s dairy farm he is determined to go down in a blaze – literally. He sells off his stock, empties the house of his family’s possessions and burns it down. Unfortunately Tom is trapped in the fire probably due to his weak heart problem and loses his life. His widow Dawn refuses to allow his death be in vain and decides to take his body to Melbourne for burial thinking the several hundred kilometre ‘funeral procession’ from their small rural town will offer people pause for thought on the plight of so many struggling country folk. She is persuaded to take the coffin on the back of a neighbour’s vintage horse-drawn milk cart for even more impact and so begins a poignant, fraught and dramatic passive protest.

Told from the viewpoint of Jack, son of Tom and Dawn and twin of Jenny, the journey begins with a local drama when the town bank burns down. Immediately, the whole protest/procession takes on a new and controversial aspect.  As the travellers move slowly towards Melbourne they are joined by supporters of all types, thwart the frustrated police who try to find ways to stop them and alerted to a wave of fires that are erupting around the country targeting banks and supermarkets – who are seen as the corporate buddies threatening the livelihoods and lives of the farmers. Rallied by stirring words and the community spirit the grief and loss and frustration are eased and bolstered by hope and possibilities.

The twist in the end is both a surprise and a damning indictment of the pressures put upon the families who are fighting for their survival and will give many readers cause to reflect on actions that could make a difference to those who are the ‘backbone’ of our country.

While essentially a novel that would be equally enjoyed and appreciated by readers both young and old, there is a liberal sprinkling of swearing which might preclude younger readers if you were to put this in your school library.

Highly recommended for readers from around 14 years upwards.

Alice-Miranda Keeps the Beat (#18) – Jacqueline Harvey

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Penguin Random House

9780143786030

June 4, 2019

Puffin

 

RRP $16.99

Jacqueline Harvey knows exactly how to reach those high notes with her readers and the overwhelming popularity of her series, and certainly Alice-Miranda, is proof of that. The tiny girl with the big heart always plays her part in helping others, redressing injustices and solving mysteries.

Life at Winchesterfield-Downsfordvale Academy for Proper Young Ladies is at fever pitch with Miss Reedy acting as Head and an increasingly disgruntled and resentful staff. The new teacher Miss Crowley seems to really be a target for the short fuse of the acting headmistress.  Surely Miss Reedy cannot be as despotic as it would seem? Could there be some other hand at work behind the imperious orders and contradictory decisions?

At the same time a fire in the village which destroys the Abboud family home and restaurant causes huge consternation amongst both villagers and young ladies, with the resulting determination to help out the family to raise funds for re-building.

The spontaneous suggestion to hold a music festival strikes a resonant chord with many of the would-be helpers but not everyone is on board with it. Alice-Miranda is certainly keen particularly as she has a happy secret she’s been keeping which would mesh beautifully with the proposed event. But A-M is not the only one with a secret. Young Zahra Abboud is closely guarding her own hidden agenda while Alice-Miranda’s friend Jacinta is trying to fathom the mysterious reason behind her errant father’s sudden re-appearance.

Into the mix are the usual cast of characters of school mates, ‘boy’ friends, villagers and personalities of note with lots of interaction accompanying the main threads.

There is always so much to absorb in these stories primarily the abiding themes of kindness (often in the face of difficulty/hostility), compassion and resilience.

It is little wonder they are such a huge success with readers from 8 to mid-Secondary. I have so many kiddos who are literally panting and begging to get their hands on this new one first.

Congratulations Jacqueline on another fabulously orchestrated adventure! Now all that remains is for me to duck and weave the crash tackles when it arrives in the library 😊 ..!

The Shop at Hoopers Bend – Emily Rodda

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Harper Collins

      ISBN: 9781460753668

      ISBN 10: 1460753666

      Imprint: HarperCollins – AU

     On Sale: 24/07/201

     List Price: 16.99 AUD

When you go to bed feeling a little tired and start reading a new book and then just keep reading it until you’re finished, you know it’s a terrific piece of writing.

It’s been a while since I’ve read any Emily Rodda books but this is a pearler!

Jonquil Medway (known as Quil) is an orphan who lives with her very top executive high-flying childless aunt – who is kind but not exactly a kindred spirit. Quil is generally either at boarding school or at holiday camps since her aunt is always globe-trotting and she’s pretty fed up with it all.

On this occasion as her aunt has flown off to Germany, Quil has been left overnight with Aunty Pam’s PA (even less a kindred spirit) and is being delivered to the railway station to go to yet another month long camp. To kill time before the train Quil is trailing behind PA Maggie at a very dingy flea market when she comes upon something astonishing. A beautiful cup with her name and her flower hand painted on it. Quil tingles with the magic of finally finding something with her own unusual name and wonders who made it and where the Hoopers Bend Gallery might be when she discovers that title on the underside.

To her great surprise as the train chugs up to the Mountains, Quil is suddenly staring at a platform sign bearing the legend Hoopers Bend. Impulsively she disembarks and thus begins a marvellous and almost mystical time of self-discovery.

An old and dilapidated village shop, an amusing little black and white dog and a rather bitter woman named Bailey are the catalysts for Quil finding her own true self and her life history. As if the stars align everything begins to change for this lonely little girl.

Emily Rodda has skilfully woven tiny threads one after the other to complete this masterful tapestry of ordinary people uncovering extraordinary events. Her characterisations are superb and her setting so powerful the readers can imagine them inside the story along with Quil.

This is going to be a huge winner with readers I predict and quite easily the kind of book that will sit well with teachers for use in Readers Circles and the like.  Themes of trust, honesty, inclusivity, friendship and simple pleasures will lend themselves well to discussions. Beautifully written and accessible to readers from around nine years upwards this is likely to be a title of note in the next twelve months.

Find teaching notes here.

Highly recommended for your collection – order it now!