Tag Archives: Death of a parent

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.

How To Make Friends with the Dark – Kathleen Glasgow

Standard

y648 (4)

Harper Collins Australia

April 2020

ISBN: 9781460751060

ISBN 10: 146075106X

Imprint: HarperCollins – AU

List Price: 19.99 AUD

 

Here is what happens when your mother dies.

My timing for reading this could have been better really. It was the 5th anniversary of losing my girl this past week, a scant fortnight before  Miss K’s 10th birthday. So at times it completely undid me reading Tiger’s story but trust me despite the heart-breaking poignancy there is also light and hope in this narrative.

Tiger and her mother have always been a team – just the two of them – in a little house with not much money but lots of love. There are often times when Tiger is completely fed up however: no money, no new clothes (her mother eclectically selects throw-outs from other people for her daughter) and above all her mother’s almost obsessive over-protectiveness.

Like most teenagers, Tiger is ready to rebel and does so spectacularly with a massive show-down with her mum about her plans to attend the upcoming big dance with one of her best friends, Kai – the boy she’s always really liked. As the mother-daughter conflict escalates during a day of constant texts and missed calls with Tiger refusing to countenance either her mother’s attitude or the hideous dress she’s found in a conciliatory gesture, the unimaginable happens. Tiger’s mother suffers a fatal aneurism and is dead within seconds – alone and as Tiger well knows, with her daughter’s last horrible words as the last exchange between them.

With no family to take her on, Tiger is immediately thrown into the maw of children’s services and foster homes and her ‘Grief Life’ consumes her and comes close to completely overwhelming the little resilience she might muster. And then, the most unexpected development turns everything on its head. Tiger has a half-sister and indeed, a father (who happens to be in jail)  – something for which Tiger has never been prepared, given her mother’s refusal to even discuss the past.  But the trauma isn’t over for Tiger. The journey of her adjustment to her new life, new family, new emptiness, new dark is at times harrowing and heartbreaking but ultimately some hope surfaces and perhaps – just maybe- Grief Life will ease, at least partly.

This is beautifully written and Tiger’s voice is compelling throughout. Make no mistake, it’s not an easy read emotionally but very much worth it. Our individual ability to process and then live with grief is unique to each – I know this only too well – but for anyone who has been in this aching abyss of blackness this could well be a book that will prove both cathartic and affirming.

I recommend it most wholeheartedly… but for mature readers from around 14 years upwards – there is some profanity and certainly some confronting situations/incidents as well. For your school library it’s definitely for your Middle to Upper secondary students.

Find teaching notes here.

The Space We’re In – Katya Balen

Standard

the-space-we-re-in

Bloomsbury

November 2019

ISBN: 9781526610942

RRP $14.99

What an absolutely stunning debut novel from Katya Balen! Simultaneously heart-breaking and uplifting Balen examines the difficulties faced by a child living with a special needs sibling.

Frank is ten years old. He loves soccer and space, he loves secret codes and playing in the ‘Wilderness’ with his two best friends. He loves living in his funny dilapidated house with his loving mother and father and he sort of loves his 5 year old brother Max who is severely autistic. Really Frank is struggling with his relationship with Max and often resents the way his little brother’s condition monopolises his mother’s attention and creates general havoc in the home and anywhere else. He knows that his mother and father love him dearly but there are times he wishes that they were in the same place they were before Max arrived.

We are her world and her universe and her space and her stars and her sky and her galaxy and her cosmos too

His mum’s constant affirmation of her love for them all is the lodestone to which Max clings and the rare moments they spend together just the two of them are infinitely precious to him.

When unspeakable tragedy strikes Frank is even more at odds with his brother but gradually through the support and intervention of understanding people such as neighbour Mark as well as his friends, Frank begins to piece together a new cosmos for his family – one that is different and not always easy but one in which Max is no longer light years apart from him.

Tissues are needed for this as there was a great deal that hit a little too close to home for me and it would be best that readers of a sensitive nature should be cautioned about the often very emotional content but it is a truly fabulous read. Often the voice of a sibling who finds themselves in this situation is glossed over or idealised or even just ignored. This book addresses the very real conflict that such children can experience and shows that there can be a way forward.

Highly recommended for readers from around 12 years upwards.

Catch a Falling Star – Meg McKinlay

Standard

Walker Books

March 2019

fallingstar

ISBN: 9781925381207
Imprint: Walker Books Australia

Australian RRP: $17.99
New Zealand RRP: $19.99

It’s 1979 and Frankie is just finishing primary school. Her dad has been dead, after a light plane crash over the ocean, for six years  and Frankie, her little brother Newt and her mum have been struggling along ever since. With their Mum working long hours as a nurse in the local hospital, Frankie and Newt have had to become very self-reliant which can be difficult as Newt, only seven years old, is very Newtish – a serious little boy with definite indications of being on the spectrum.

Frankie has been coping but only just with looking after Newt, has mastered baked beans or spaghetti on toast and even fish fingers, makes lunches, cleans out school bags and tries to get on with her homework projects. But when the news about the re-entry of Skylab, the first space station, pushes even Sunday night’s Disneyland off the TV, her grief resurfaces with intensity. The last time she saw her amateur astronomer father alive they had been sitting with two year old Newt watching Skylab launch and it seems to Frankie that those memories which have been pushed to one side are becoming just too much with which to deal, on top of everything else.

Most worrying is Newt’s increasingly strange and obsessive infatuation with the whole Skylab event and it seems that his normally purely scientific interests are becoming clouded by something else.

As Frankie tries her hardest not to feel neglected by her mother, watch out for Newt and salvage her increasingly fragile friendship with her best friend, it is her school project on Storm Boy that helps her to realise and face much of her distress and additionally enables her to see Newt’s dilemma with more clarity.

This is a beautiful, sometimes humorous and often poignant tale about grief and loss, love and family, bravery and self-belief.

I would highly recommend it for readers from around ten years upwards.

Check out the teaching notes here.

A Monster Calls: Special Collector’s Edition (Movie Tie-in) –Patrick Ness {Siobhan Dowd}  . Illustrated by Jim Kay

Standard

monster

ISBN: 9781406365771
Imprint: Walker
November 1, 2016

Australian RRP: $34.99
New Zealand RRP: $37.99

I first fell in love with Patrick Ness’ writing with the much acclaimed and prize winning Chaos Walking trilogy. I had not read A Monster Calls until this gorgeous hardback edition, which marks the imminent release of the movie, arrived and I’ve fallen in love all over again.

What a master of flawless prose he is! and combined with the illustrative magic of Jim Kay (think the illustrated Harry Potter books) this is a book that a reader will return to again and again.

Author Siobhan Dowd had put forward an idea or concept for this novel but sadly succumbed to cancer before she could move forward with it. Her publishers thought it was such a valuable premise that they sought a writer who might do it justice. Patrick Ness was the perfect choice and created what is now considered a modern classic.

When young Conor realises that a nightmare has become real and there really is a monster in the garden and it has come for him, the reader is taken on an emotional journey that is moving, funny, profound and heartbreaking until the truth is revealed.

Conor’s recurring nightmare began when his mother’s treatments did and won’t end until he has accepted why the ancient and very wild monster has come for him and what he must do to send it back to its former slumber.

Along with the fully illustrated novel there are over one hundred pages of interviews, details, essays, stills and more from the movie, which promises to be every bit as powerful as the novel.

I read it in one sitting and savoured every moment. So many books arrive for review that they stack up in tottering piles and after review. I find them good homes either in our own library collection or passed on to those who could use them but this one is too beautiful to leave my shelves. It will be taken up and stroked for its aesthetic qualities and read for its marvellous writing and illustrations many times.

Highly recommended for Upper Primary and Secondary students as well as all adults who appreciate a truly remarkable read.

amonstercallspic.jpeg

Blueberry Pancakes Forever – Angelica Banks

Standard

blueberry

ISBN: 9781760110451

Publisher :Allen & Unwin

Imprint: A & U Children

Pub Date: June 2016

RRP $15.99

 

As soon as I opened the package I was bursting to read this third and last instalment in the Tuesday McGillycuddy trilogy. And so I did in one sitting, devouring it as easily and happily as Tuesday might her father’s pancakes.

I have lately often spoken of the dearth of original and fresh stories and Angelica Banks AKA Tasmanian writers Heather Rose and Danielle Wood provide exactly the antidote to that.

This latest is a little darker and deeper than the previous two stories with a terrible sadness impacting on Tuesday and her author mother, Serendipity Smith. A year previous to this adventure, their much loved husband and father Denis died and their lives have become cloistered and cobwebby inside a once sunny and happy home and their shared world of writing, Vivienne Small’s world has become frozen in an endless winter.

The unexpected arrival of Tuesday’s eccentric godmother Colette Baden Baden heralds the beginning of healing and the start of a fresh and often dangerous adventure.

Much to her surprise, Serendipity is once again drawn by a mysterious story thread and leaving Colette to care for Tuesday returns to the Library for respite and rousing from the Librarian.

Almost immediately Tuesday is also snared by an even stranger story thread and finds herself captured by the weird and rather scary Loddon who seems to think he knows her.

As Baxterr and Colette desperately seek out Tuesday, defying all the conventions of the place where only writers are allowed, Tuesday and Vivienne face horrible dangers from the seemingly demented Loddon.

Without her faithful doggo at her side she seems to be in a very frightening situation and the defeat of Loddon seems almost impossible.

But strength and help often come from unexpected sources and Tuesday’s own story embraces both past and present intertwining threads.

These characters become so real to the reader and the whole premise of the series is so fresh and entrancing that one cannot help but become more and more engaged with their lives. I am a little sad to part with them.

For one who has spent the past fourteen months in intense grief this new story has particular resonance and offers the hope of healing. I cannot help but think that anyone in similar circumstances would also find it so.

If you have not yet discovered the magical world of Tuesday I recommend that you rush to buy this series and promote it to your readers who are hungry for a new hero – a girl of resilience, courage and compassion.

Highly recommended for readers aged around 8 to 13.