Tag Archives: Compassion

The Constant Rabbit – Jasper Fforde

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Hachette

JUN 30, 2020 | 9781444763638 | RRP $32.99

In my opinion there are simply not enough books with rabbits as main characters (as she looks down at her rabbit-patterned PJs and rabbit-y slippers – well, what did you expect with my surname?). Jasper Fforde has brought his amazing brand of satirical humour to this new stand-alone novel and it’s a gem. It’s quirky and highly imaginative, full of extremely funny puns/play on words (particularly love the Rabbit-y adaptations of books and movies), absurd fantasy, thoroughly engaging protagonists and satisfyingly nasty villains and all in all is the most enjoyable romp through a rather far-fetched but very allegorical sort of dystopian UK.

In a parallel Britain of 2020 there are 1.2 million human-sized rabbits walking (as well as leaping and gambolling), talking, driving cars, working (most of them in not very highly paid jobs) and mostly living in colonies which are pretty over-crowded – as one would expect – and not well supported with infrastructure. This strange circumstance was caused by an spontaneous Inexplicable Anthropomorphism event some fifty-five years previously. It wasn’t just rabbits to be fair. There were a few other similar occurrences elsewhere in the world – an elephant in Africa, a ram in Australia, but in the main it was the UK affected with the majority rabbits but also some foxes, weasels and a few singular animals such as guinea pigs involved.

Though the rabbits have attained some rights, their lot is mostly pretty dismal and heavily restricted. They are always the target of various law enforcement agencies, with one dedicated purely to their harassment, and some rather nasty vigilante-type groups.

Peter Knox lives in a quiet village with his daughter Pippa. His neighbours are pretty hard-nose leporiphobics politically speaking but Peter, who works as an official Spotter for RabCoTRabbit Compliance Taskforce, formerly known as Rabbit Crime Taskforce – has never had any real issue with them. But when Doc and Constance Rabbit move in next door, Peter and Pippa are left in no doubt that one can be a friend to humans or a friend to rabbits but not to both.

The litany of injustices, hatred, bigotry and oppression towards the rabbits will resonate with many currently, given recent global focus on similar actions towards disenfranchised sectors of society. Some of the action, promulgated by the PM and Cabinet as a ‘positive’, is chillingly like the Nazi regime’s treatment of the Jewish people with the proposed forced relocation to MegaWarren frighteningly similar to removal to ghettos.

What Peter is to find out is that he is not as tolerant as he’s always believed himself to be and that humanity, his own humanity, is in need of some gentle rabbit influence. This is marvelously wrought throughout with the reader completely engrossed in the fantastical plot and with much upon which to reflect, both within ourselves and within our society.

Although primarily a novel for adults, I would have no hesitation in recommending this highly for your senior students and believe that for studies of parallel real events and circumstances it would provide rich fodder for debate and discussion.

How can you go wrong? I mean to say, it’s rabbits. 🙂

The Year the Maps Changed – Danielle Binks

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Hachette Australia

APR 28, 2020 | 9780734419712 | RRP $17.99

What a glorious book with so much richness as it reveals not only a tragic episode in recent history but explores the pain but beautiful bonding in a family and community.

1999 in Sorrento is a difficult time for Fred (Winifred). Her mother died when she was very little and since then she’s lived with her adoptive dad Luca and her Pop but now everything is changing and not for the best. Pop has had to go away for a while into a rehab/nursing home and Luca’s new girlfriend and her son, slightly younger than Fred, move in. To add to that distress, and her ever-present grief, as Fred struggles to re-adjust to the changing dynamic, Luca and Annika announce that they are having a baby.

For Fred it seems like the end of everything and not even her life-long friends can help to make her feel better about the whole situation. Then a major upheaval for their small community brings unexpected connections, dramas and emotional situations which ultimately bring not only Fred’s family back into focus and closeness but forces the entire country to re-evaluate their beliefs and values.

A group of Kosovar-Albanian refugees fleeing the deadly warfare in their splintered country are brought to a centre near Sorrento in an humanitarian exercise that the then government referred to as “Operation Safe Haven”. While there are many whose compassion is extended to these displaced persons there is division within the community. Fatefully the lives of the refugees, a few in particular, become entwined with Fred and her family testing the boundaries of family trust but ultimately bringing this very different blended family into a stronger bond.

Beautifully – indeed, exquisitely- written Danielle Binks provides the reader with not only an understanding of the largest humanitarian effort provided by Australia and it’s less than humanitarian outcome but also an insight into a family’s own personal tragedy and their journey to becoming a whole.

This is a coming-of-age story that will appeal greatly to readers from around 12 years upwards as Fred deals with the immense changes in her life. These same readers will also be exercised in their own compassion and empathy which, in light of recent events, can only be a good thing.

Highly recommended for your readers in upper primary to secondary.

His Name was Walter – Emily Rodda

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Harper Collins Australia

March 2020

ISBN: 9781460756195

ISBN 10: 1460756193

Imprint: HarperCollins – AU

List Price: 17.99 AUD

Back in October 2018 I had the immense privilege of reviewing Emily Rodda’s new book His Name was Walter and immediately fell in love with it. I promoted it heavily with my kiddos and was very excited to be one of the schools selected to receive samplers and another copy for classes to share – an opportunity that was eagerly taken up with one of my favourite Year 4 teachers. That first edition was the most beautifully presented hardback and my review copy made a very special prize for my most enthusiastic reading challenge winner. Let’s just say my generosity has its limits so this new paperback edition is staying on my own shelves as it is a book that begs to be re-read many times. The students and I were thrilled when it won the CBCA Book of the Year award as well as the Prime Minister’s Literary Awards – so richly deserved – and it continues to prove a favourite among our young readers.

I find it hard to believe that anyone has remained ignorant of this treasure of a book so please do yourself and your kiddos a favour if you have not done so yet and promote it through book talks and ‘first chapter’ readings. The following it receives will warm your  heart and children who read it will be so enriched by its many layers and concepts.

Again it gives me the greatest pleasure to highly recommend this book to your readers from around 10 years upwards as well as your staff who would be well pleased at the reception they have if using it as a read-aloud.

Read a sampler and teaching notes available.

I have had the very great pleasure of socialising personally with Emily on a couple of occasions and she is both gracious and very funny (so is her husband Bob!) and I live in hope that on my annual visits to the Blue Mountains that I will somehow manage to ‘bump into her’ again!

If you missed this when it aired ABC News did a fabulous piece with Emily which you can watch here.

Eight Princesses and a Magic Mirror – Natasha Farrant/Lydia Corry

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Harper Collins

November 2019

ISBN: 9781788541152

ISBN 10: 1788541154

Imprint: Head Of Zeus – Zehpyr – GB

List Price: 29.99 AUD

Whether you are looking for alternative princesses or fairy tales or just looking for a beautiful book for the Mighty Girls in your readership this stunning gift book ticks all the boxes.

When an enchantress prepares for a new princess’ naming day saying she promises to ensure that the new little girl will become an ‘excellent’ princess, she needs to determine what in fact that means.

According to some it’s clean fingernails, manners, being pretty and kind to animals but the enchantress feels it’s so much more than just that. Her magic mirror is really not that much help but she knows a way to solve that problem and shrinks the large mirror to a pocket-sized compact and so its adventures begin.

Picked up by the first princess and travelling through time, place and misadventure over centuries the mirror becomes an important talisman for a eight different girls, each with their own strengths and energetic personalities who demonstrate courage, intelligence, compassion and love with big hearts and a burning desire to live life to its very best whatever that may be.

When the mirror returns finally to the old enchantress both have learned something valuable and lasting and the new princess will undoubtedly benefit from their wisdom.

This is truly a beautiful book both to read and behold – the colourful illustrations lend a real insight into each different princess and the absolutely glorious binding will make it a treasure for any recipient.

Mirror, mirror on the wall… what makes a princess excellent?’ The enchantress’s mirror travels through time, from east to west, to find the answer. Reflected in it are princesses who refuse to be pretty, polite or obedient. These are girls determined to do the rescuing themselves. The Arabian princess of the desert protects her people from the king with the black and gold banner; Latin American Princess, Tica, takes a crocodile for a pet; a Scottish princess explores the high seas; African Princess, Abayome, puts empathy and kindness above being royal; and in a tower-block, Princess saves her precious community garden from the hands of greedy urban developers. {Publisiher}

Highly recommended for readers from 8 years upwards.

Boy Giant: Son of Gulliver – Michael Morpurgo

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Harper Collins

September 2019

ISBN: 9780008347925

ISBN 10: 0008347921

Imprint: HarperCollins – GB

List Price: 19.99 AUD

And the master has done it again! Morpurgo has drawn on Jonathon Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels as his inspiration for this latest exploration of human nature, political unrest and compassion.

Omar has fled war-torn Afghanistan with his mother in a race for survival. A long and dangerous journey sees them at last reach the sea and a boat for England but a storm at sea wreaks havoc and Omar finds himself washed up on a small island – and even stranger, surrounded by hundreds of tiny people.

It is Lilliput and the inhabitants believe that Omar is the descendant of Gulliver their revered saviour who visited them three hundred years earlier.  Omar’s sojourn on the island helps him to recover from terror, to develop compassion and wisdom, discover skills and strengths and eventually prepares him for a risky journey to England to try and find what remains of his family.

With much skill Morpurgo draws parallels between a three hundred year old text considered seditious and subversive in its time with its criticism of power and politics and the present day where our humanity struggles against those who are determined to destroy and oppress.

MM is one of my most favourite authors and never fails to astonish me. Who else could suspend my disbelief to the point where a tiny pair of Lilliputians helping to narrate a tale would seem so normal?

This is another fine tale for readers from around ten years upwards and in fact would make a splendid read-aloud or class novel for upper primary/lower secondary to engender discussions and commentary.

Of course, highly recommended – loved it!

 

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 😊 ..!

47 Degrees – Justin D’Ath

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Penguin Australia

9780143789079

January 8, 2019

Puffin

RRP:  $16.99

Australia has more than its fair share of natural disasters. One only has to think about the events of the last week or so with the terrible floods in North Queensland and the raging fires in Tasmania. Arguably one of the very worst of these was the Black Saturday fires in Victoria. Ten years ago the country, and indeed the world, was rocked by the news of the ferociously devastating fires in Victoria which claimed 173 lives, cost millions in damage and untold mental anguish for so many.

Justin D’Ath has drawn on his own experience (losing his home for a start) to create a narrative in which readers can immerse themselves safely while relating and empathising with those caught up in the horror. Homes, possessions, pets….family…..so much at risk and so much loss by so many.

Keelie has not lived in the district long. She and her family re-located from New Zealand and are really still finding their way in their new community and environs. Her dad has done all the right things to safeguard their home but when Mum and little brother have to go to Melbourne on a medical emergency, Keelie is not feeling confident with Dad’s plans. She is quite naturally worried about their home and their safety but her horse is her biggest concern immediately.

When the worst happens and the winds change and the roaring dragon of fire encroaches, Keelie and her dad plus dogs must quickly abandon their home for safety.

This is a gripping tale of courage, friendship, compassion and loss to which young readers will readily connect. We all hope and pray to avoid such terrible and ravaging events but the knowledge that so many are ready to step up and take care of those who are at risk is a reassuring prospect. As Australians I believe we are particularly good at this. We may be offhand and blasé about much but when the worst happens, we rally and support and fight back.

What a fantastic read this is! I highly recommend it to you for readers from around ten years upwards.

 

*In memory of those who lost their lives and those who fought on to save those they could*

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His Name was Walter – Emily Rodda

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Harper Collins

ISBN: 9781460756188

ISBN 10: 1460756185

Imprint: HarperCollins – AU

On Sale: 23/07/2018

List Price: 22.99 AUD

Oh my gosh!

 

Yes, of course there will be more to say but really this book was so incredible it really did almost leave me speechless. Just when I think Emily Rodda cannot get any better (I mean, I just loved The Shop at Hooper’s Bend!) she comes up with something so extraordinary that it is hard to imagine how any person can be so very talented.

After their excursion bus breaks down on a lonely country road a history teacher and four children are forced to seek shelter in a strange old, once grand, house until they are rescued. The overwhelming atmosphere of the shabby half-ruined place is one of melancholy and malevolence.  When they accidentally discover a very beautiful hand-written and illustrated book in a secret drawer the mystery deepens. The allegorical fairytale written to tell the story of Walter and Sparrow drives Colin and Tara especially, as the most sensitive of the group, to seek the truth behind the story .  While they are all intrigued by the strangely vivid almost lifelike painted illustrations it is the story itself that envelops them and compels them to keep reading throughout the night.

Emily’s book within a book explores the themes of justice, loyalty, compassion and true love all cloaked in a tale filled with magic and murder, prophecies and promises and long-hidden secrets.

As the haunting tale of Walter and Sparrow unravels the children and their teacher are drawn into a poignant and forgotten history until they finally solve the puzzle and at last, though decades later, justice can be served.

What a treat this book is! I read the first three chapters to Year 5 last Friday and you could have heard a pin drop with all of them clamouring for more – fortunately they will get that!

If you haven’t yet added this to your shelves be sure to do so. I highly recommend it for discerning readers from around ten years upwards.

 

Help Around the House – Morris Gleitzman

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Penguin Random House

9780143793236

September 3, 2018

Penguin

 

RRP $16.99

Classic Morris Gleitzman! And pure unadulterated joy! In these parlous times when politicians behave without regard for those they are sworn to represent this could not be more timely or indeed, pointed.

Ludo is a helper. A year after losing his mother his desire to help and his commitment to the values of being a true Scout remain firmly fixed in place. When his father wins a seat as an independent MP and the pair move to Canberra Ludo begins to see that politics, the people embedded in the system and the nation’s capital are all far from being the selfless ideal he had in his mind. His zeal for helping the homeless people in the capital quickly escalates into a mission with much wider implications. Along the way he is able to recruit like-minded allies, not least of all, his dad.

Ludo is a very likeable protagonist and never becomes priggish which could so easily have happened with a lesser creator. His warmth and compassionate nature are a lodestone throughout the narrative which readily endears him to the reader.

With Morris’ usual deft touch the gravity of some nasty situations is liberally leavened with a good dash of humour as well as some moments of real poignancy. Quirky characters as well as unsavoury ones are sprinkled throughout making this an engaging read with some very important underlying themes.

Not only do I believe this would be a novel which could be used to great effect with students but I do think it should be mandatory reading for every single elected member – perhaps it could be a requirement of their introduction or even better, preselection process?

Highly recommended for either independent reading or read-aloud for children from about eight years upwards.  Kudos to Morris for a fantastic and apt new book!

The Snow Angel – Lauren St John

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Harper Collins

Zephyr Books/Head of Zeus

ISBN  9781786695895

October 2017

RRP $19.99

 

It’s a long way from the wide blue skies and shimmering heat haze of Kenya to the bleak snow covered moors of Inverness and for 12 year old Makena the journey is not just a geographical one.

Much loved only child of a science teacher mother and a mountain guide father, Makena burns with passion for the mountains and climbing reckoning them her friends. When her parents are caught up in the Ebola outbreak on a mercy mission to Sierra Leone and die there, Makena’s world implodes into grief, loss of identity and homelessness. A spectacularly unsuccessful relocation to her paternal uncle’s poor home where his wife treats Makena as an unpaid servant ends abruptly and Makena finds herself fending for herself in the slums of Nairobi. Surviving like a gutter rat for a month or more, she is then swept up in a redevelopment which ruthlessly bulldozes the slums and she then finds herself rescued by a charitable organisation for girls and meets Helen. Just as Makena is recuperating from her trauma and a case of cholera, Helen has disappeared back to her parents’ home in Scotland and once again Makena feels herself abandoned.  But unexpectedly, arrangements are made for the young girl to spend a month over Christmas in the wilds of Scotland.  No spoilers here but suffice to say there is a happy ending for all.

This is just beautiful. It is warm and moving and oozes love despite the sadness threading throughout it. It is also somewhat mystical with the recurring motif of a special fox that seems to be akin to a guardian angel. There are lots of points of discussion; forgotten/orphaned children, civil war, rich vs poor, healing and the power of nature and love.

I read this in one sitting (well, lying down last night in bed) as I couldn’t put it down.  Lauren St John’s books about Africa have been wildly popular in my library for the past year or so and my prediction is that this will be just as enthusiastically received.

Check out Lauren’s website here and the book trailer here.

Highly recommended for readers from around ten years upwards.