Tag Archives: Family Life

Eliza Vanda’s Button Box – Emily Rodda

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Harper Collins Australia

May 2021

  • ISBN: 9781460759608
  • ISBN 10: 1460759605
  • Imprint: HarperCollins AU
  • List Price: 22.99 AUD

Buttons three, attend to me!

Take me where I want to be!

Emily Rodda returns with her own special brand of sparkling magic inthis delightful new fantasy adventure. Milly Dynes has been a bit down in the dumps of late. She still loves living in Tidgy Bay, in the holiday park she and her dad have called home for six years but there seem to be problems surrounding her which sometimes make her wish she could escape. Things have been changing at home with Julie and a new baby sister to think of, her friends are all going away for the holidays, high school is looming and grumpy old Mrs Meaney have all been causing Milly some real anxiety.

Then on a cold and wet wintery day, when there is never an expectation of anyone wanting to rent a cabin, along comes Eliza Vanda with her sewing, her small brown mouse friend and assistant, Victor, and her amazing button tin. And just like that Milly also becomes an assistant and helper for Eliza, finding herself whisked away with Victor on some very magical adventures and meeting some very odd characters. This is no overly dramatic on-the-edge-of-your-seat adventure but a gentle and winsome one where small deeds ensure happy results to problems.

Your readers who revel in imaginative and feel-good stories will love this – who wouldn’t want to go on errands to places where unicorns, frog princes and other magical beings abound?

Very highly recommended for readers from middle primary upwards – it’s a delightful and highly enjoyable read.

A Weekend with Oscar – Robyn Bavati

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Walker Books

July 2021

ISBN: 9781760653040
Imprint: Walker Books Australia

Australian RRP: $16.99
New Zealand RRP: $19.99

I had already ordered this for our library collection based on the publisher’s promo so receiving it as a review copy was especially welcome and I am not disappointed. This is a beautiful funny and poignant coming-of-age story that will enchant your lower secondary students in particular. As an additional and very welcome ‘bonus’ it explores the sometimes fraught, but also enriching, experience of having a sibling with a disability.

Jamie is 16 and lives with his mum and his younger brother Oscar, who has Down Syndrome. Life has been tough for the past year following the death of his father and often Jamie thinks he should be helping his mum more, though she insists she is fine and that Jamie should continue to focus on his senior studies. While his grief is still very palpable and Jamie often finds it difficult to contain his grief, his emotions definitely improve when he meets Zara, who has recently arrived at his school. It is particularly apt that Zara also lives with a sibling with a disability but even before the pair discover that, they connect as like-minds who have similar goals and aspirations.

When their mum needs to go away to Perth for a weekend, Jamie volunteers to take care of Oscar. After all, he knows Oscar’s routine and needs inside out and he is confident he can manage but after a weekend filled with mishaps, Monday rolls around and Mum does not appear. At first, it seems this is because a huge storm has delayed flights but days slip by and both Jamie and Oscar begin to be agitated – for very different reasons. Jamie’s challenge to manage his little brother and his needs and find his mum and bring her home makes for one of the most delightful YA narratives I’ve read in some time.

Living with a disability is not easy. Living with someone with a disability is also, often, not easy – and especially, I would say for a young adult. This is a novel that explores this aspect of disability with real sensitivity, humor and resilience. I loved reading this so much that I consumed it in one binge read one night last week (yes last week of term when I was dead tired – pretty good indication how great it is really!!).

Will be talking this up big time with my ChocLit readers and certainly promoting it widely in the library after the holidays.

Highly recommended for your readers from around Year 7 upwards – it’s just a pure delight.

100 Remarkable Feats of Xander Maze – Clayton Zane Comber

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Harper Collins Australia

June 2021

  • ISBN: 9781460759455
  • ISBN 10: 1460759451
  • Imprint: HarperCollins AU
  • List Price: 19.99 AUD
  • Age: From 14 years

Believe me when I tell you that you will fall in love with Xander, and be sad to leave him at the end of this beautiful feel-good coming-of-age novel.

Xander loves to make lists and #1 on his list of People I Love Most in the World is his Nanna, who has lived with him and his mum since Xander’s dad died. Nanna has been Xander’s ally, confidante, support team and his very best friend and now that she has stage 4 cancer, Xander is determined to do whatever it takes to save her. Nanna wants him to make a list of 100 remarkable feats that he will hope to achieve by the end of the school year. It’s going to be a very tricky mission especially with feats like:

#2 Make a friend

#10 Kiss a girl (preferably Ally Collins)

#28 Go to a party

#58 Get a job (any job)

#87 Learn to keep secrets

#100 Save Nanna

As we read Xander’s list we get a very clear insight into his quirky personality and a poignant understanding of why his Nanna has encouraged him to both create and fulfil the remarkable feats. For someone who knows her time is short ,and who has been this beautiful boy’s stalwart support, the greatest gift she can give him is the confidence and skills to step out on his own.

When Xander’s 100 remarkable feats list unintentionally becomes a matter of public record, he is surprised to find that he has help from unexpected quarters and many of his feats are accomplished almost before he realises. Xander’s journey into friendships, new situations and stepping well outside his very narrow comfort zone is both hilarious and moving, with one of the most genuinely likeable cast of characters I have encountered in a long time.

I will certainly be giving it my best and biggest promotion at our final ChocLit meeting for this term during the coming week and I highly recommend it for your readers from around Year 7 upwards. The themes of grief/loss, resilience, identity, belonging, mental health in particular will resonate with many teens, and for your classroom program you will find the teaching guide a great resource.

Truly Tan Shocked! – Jen Storer. Illustrated by Clare Robertson

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Harper Collins Australia

January 2021

  • ISBN: 9780733334146
  • ISBN 10: 0733334148
  • Imprint: ABC Books AU
  • List Price: 17.99 AUD

It has been ages since I’ve had the delight of reading a new Truly Tan book and the joy has not diminished one whit!

In this new adventure Tan and Gloria are most worried about their teacher, Miss Dragone, who has been acting most peculiarly: taking cooking classes to make delicious muffins, having her eyebrows and nails ‘done’, buying a fancy new bike – all kinds of weird stuff. Naturally, the determined spies are set on finding out exactly what is going on and confirming their suspicions that not all is well with their teacher.

Tan is also dealing with the very disquieting upcoming birth of a fifth Callahan sibling. She is not at all comfortable with losing her place as the youngest in the family, especially for yet another sister. As it is, the Lollipops (her older sisters) are all being as mental as ever and in fact, more so, as Emerald prepares for the starring role in the school production and deals with her first boyfriend break-up, Amber is seething with jealousy having only made the chorus of the show and Rose is wafting in and out of her home-made yurt reading everyone’s aura and communing with the bush fairies. And just to top it off, Tan feels that her 10th birthday – such a special occasion – will be completely overshadowed, indeed forgotten, in all the kerfuffle around her.

As usual, all is pretty chaotic really, yet Tan and Gloria press on with their investigation, with Tan’s diary entries (and the vivid description of which pen she is using) providing highlights of each stage. The explanations of unusual words at the conclusion of each chapter again provide readers with some bonus material.

Will Tan and Gloria uncover the truth about the Mystery of Miss Dragone? Will Tan get a special celebration for her birthday? And will she be able to cope with the arrival of Callahan #5?

All in all, absolutely great fun as always – these are ‘truly’ laugh-out-loud books that will appeal strongly to your independent readers.

Highly recommended for kiddos from around 8 years upwards.

Tiger Daughter – Rebecca Lim

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Allen & Unwin

February 2021

ISBN: 9781760877644

Imprint: A & U Children

Rebecca Lim has created a powerful and highly engaging #OwnVoices novel that captures the circumstances for some children, growing up Asian in Australia.

Wen Zhou is the only child of Chinese immigrants who came to Australia for a better life, only to find it not so. Her father has failed three times to secure a surgeon’s post in this country and refuses to take on anything lower, though he is a highly competent doctor who would easily find a place elsewhere in the health system. Wen and her mother live in a perpetual state of anxiety and almost fear with her father’s rigid rules and anger issues. Wen despairs of ever getting out of the rut in which she finds herself and her friend Henry is also in the same situation, though because of different circumstances. With the support of their teacher both children are preparing themselves for a scholarship exam that could help them move forward to a brighter future.

When tragedy strikes Henry’s family, Wen persuades her mother to help her support her friend and they begin a cautious campaign to do so, while hiding all evidence of their help from Wen’s father. Little by little both mother and daughter begin to find their own voices again and when Mr Zhou loses his job, they are able to manage an even greater shift in the domestic power.

The resilience and compassion demonstrated by Wen makes for marvellous reading and few readers would remain unimpressed. This is not just a novel for your Asian students (although we certainly have those in a majority at my own school) but one that will promote understanding of different cultural and family perspectives.

It was a compelling read – I binge read it in one afternoon – and I highly recommend for your readers from Upper Primary

upwards. Find teaching notes at Allen & Unwin.

Cuckoo’s Flight – Wendy Orr

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Allen & Unwin

March 2021

ISBN: 9781760524913

RRP: $16.99

Wendy Orr continues her stunning and intriguing sequence of books set in ancient Crete, now focused on Leira’s granddaughter, Clio. In this companion book to Swallow’s Dance and Dragonfly Song, daily life is in turmoil as the ever-increasing threat of invaders pervades the village and its surrounds. Clio struggles often in her day-to-day activities since her horse-riding accident some years earlier. Horses are a rarity in Crete, but Clio’s father comes from a land where they are not only useful but valued and she has inherited her father’s love of the animals, despite the injury which has left her lame. Now the pressure is on to protect the village and its inhabitants and Clio is conflicted between her constant care of her beloved horses and the requirements placed upon all the people by the Lady. Looming over all this is the Lady’s decree that the Great Mother requires a sacrifice – a maiden to serve her in her underworld. Grandmother Leira conceives of the idea of creating a substitute with a beautiful and realistic clay image of the Great Mother and the family vows to protect the statue while praying the Lady will decree this a suitable alternative to one of the handful of village girls who would be the right age for a ritual sacrifice. Sadly Leira, who has reached the end of her days, puts so much of her own life and emotion into the creation of the image that she is spent and while the family mourn their loss, they redouble their vigilance in keeping her final work safe.

Into this mix comes a ragged and abused fisher-girl who secretly loves Clio’s horses, her older brother who is vengeful and seeks retribution after the constant scorn from the townsfolk, the stress when Dada sails away for trade at the order of the Lady and the constant fear of whether the oracle will declare for or against a live sacrifice.

This is another compelling narrative from Wendy Orr, which again spotlights girls of courage and resilience while exploring a culture and history not often described in fiction. Clio’s rollercoaster emotions as she grieves for her much-loved grandmother, misses the security of her father being at home, fear for her best friend and jealousy over young Mika’s natural ability with horses are dramatically woven throughout the story. Readers who enjoy historical adventure will truly love this new novel and become heavily invested in Clio’s world and family.

Highly recommended for readers from around Upper Primary upwards, particularly those keen to pursue a story with a difference. Read more at Allen & Unwin and don’t miss the teaching notes available as well.

Penguin Bloom Young Readers’ Edition – Chris Kunz, Harry Cripps, Shaun Grant

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Harper Collins Australia

January 2021

  • ISBN: 9780733341670
  • ISBN 10: 0733341675
  • Imprint: ABC Books – AU
  • List Price: 14.99 AUD

Unless you were in some kind of mystical retreat with no access to outside communication, you could not have missed one of the summer’s biggest cinema releases, Penguin Bloom, based on the real-life story of Sam Bloom. Sam’s story, and that of her family, her life-threatening injury and subsequent inspirational journey was beautifully translated to film and many young people would have seen this during the holidays.

This media tie-in edition for younger readers will give both the kids who saw the movie, as well as those who missed it, the chance to explore the story from the perspective of Noah, oldest of the Bloom children. Noah’s voice is authentic and will immediately resonate with other children as he describes the aftermath of his mother’s devastating injury, sustained when she fell from a balcony during a family holiday in Thailand. The complete turn-around in their circumstances and family life put immense pressure on the Blooms and while Sam struggled to come to terms with her new physical limitations, Noah has secretly blamed himself for the accident. The exploration of the emotions is often raw and terribly moving but the fortitude and determination of this young family to repair their lives to be the very best they can be, is truly admirable. All this healing springs essentially from the family’s adoption of an orphaned magpie they name Penguin. When Penguin becomes Sam’s constant companion, she is able to pull herself through the overwhelming depression that engulfs her and begin a new acceptance of her condition as well as the resolution to transform herself, despite any impediments.

This is a beautiful and very special story and one which will provide young people with inspiration in adversity, and imbue within them Sam’s own attitude of “Never, ever give up.”

Highly recommended for readers from around 10 years upwards.

Heroes of the Secret Underground – Susanne Gervay

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Harper Collins Australia

April 2021

  • ISBN: 9781460758335
  • ISBN 10: 1460758331
  • Imprint: HarperCollins – AU
  • List Price: 16.99 AUD

What an absolute privilege to review Susanne’s new historical fiction inspired by, and a tribute to her own family’s history in Budapest during the last years of World War II.

12 year old Louie lives with her two younger brothers, Bert and Teddy, in a beautiful old-style hotel with her Hungarian grandparents, Zoltan and Verushka. The children’s parents are world-renown musicians who are often away but the three children love living in the Hotel Majestic, an oasis of magnolias and tranquility in a busy city. There are always interesting guests, the busyness of helping their Pa and Grandma with the daily tasks and the fascinating building itself to explore continually.

When Louie glimpses a strange girl in the street and finds a stunning rose gold locket the secrets of the past begin to slowly reveal themselves. There are certain clues the children find in the hotel itself but the locket is the talisman that transports them to a dark and dreadful time in their grandparents’ lives – Budapest 1944 and the cruel tyranny of the Nazis.

The mysterious girl, Naomi, is their guide into the dangerous world of the secret Jewish underground and the siblings become involved in a fraught mission to help rescue dozens of children as well as restoring the wondrous locket to its rightful owner. They are amazed to realise that they are watching their own grandparents, mere children themselves, heroically leading in this deadly encounter. As this hidden history unfolds, Louie understands so much more about her gracious grandparents and all they have overcome to reach the peaceful present.

There are moments of real terror and anguish but these are beautifully balanced with the hope and courage demonstrated by all the young people involved. For those of us who are fortunate enough to never have experienced such unspeakable horror there is inspiration that even in the darkest times there are those willing to stand up and resist.

A year ago at the World Holocaust Forum Prince Charles said “The lessons of the Holocaust are searingly relevant to this day. Seventy-five years after the Liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau, hatred and intolerance still lurk in the human heart, still tell new lies, adopt new disguises, and still seek new victims.”

We must continue to empower our young people to vigorously oppose the ongoing spread of hatred and bigotry that is still so prevalent. In my opinion, encouraging our readers to examine and reflect upon the past is one powerful way to do this.

This has my highest recommendation for young readers from upper primary onwards. Pre-orders available from Booktopia or Amazon

Shalom aleichem 

In the Key of Code – Aimee Lucido

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Walker Books Australia

ISBN: 9781406389333
Imprint: Walker
Australian RRP: $16.99
New Zealand RRP: $18.99

It speaks volumes that this was read in just one night in the past week and that I was immediately talking it up the next day to my ChocLit group.

A verse novel that combines music and coding is not something I’d ever encountered before but this is a combination that works superbly and will undoubtedly engage many readers from around 12 years upwards.

Emmy has moved to a new state, to a new school and to a completely unfamiliar environment, when her parents take up new jobs in San Francisco, leaving Wisconsin behind.

While Emmy loves music she is not the least bit musical despite all efforts, unlike her parents – one a concert pianist and one an opera singer – and struggles to even initiate a conversation at the new school. But when she finds herself in the Computer Programming elective, a shift begins and the first tentative beginning of a new friendship develops. Of course, it’s not without hiccups as one boy in the group is openly resentful not only of Emmy and her new friend, Abigail, but also Ms Delaney, their passionate and expert tutor in coding. Misogynism starts early sometimes and the perception that some occupations or interests are suited to one gender or the other, still pervades.

Emmy’s immediate and intense immersion in the world of Java will be fascinating even to those readers who are unfamiliar with coding language, and could well be the prompt for some to explore this fascinating subject. her journey towards acceptance and real friendship is at times painful but ultimately a beautiful testament to faith in one self and building relationships with care.

It will come as no surprise that this outstanding debut novel is a direct result of the author’s passion for all three aspects – poetry, music and coding.

Highly recommended for your readers from around mid-primary upwards to at least Year 9 – I already have kids in my group waiting to read it too.