Tag Archives: Family Life

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.

The Wolves of Greycoat Hall – Lucinda Gifford

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Walker Books

ISBN: 9781760651596
Imprint: Walker Books Australia
Australian RRP: $19.99
New Zealand RRP: $22.99

Despite it being the last week of term, this was another fun read this week and one that I enjoyed immensely with so much to commend it, particularly to your middle primary kiddos.

The Greycoat family – Randall, Leonora and their only cub, Boris – live in their splendid home in Moravia but are trying to decide on their next holiday destination. There are objections from all directions to various suggestions but when Boris reads that Scotland is planning to ‘re-introduce’ wolves, the family immediately decide that they should be the first to visit. Of course, Scotland very likely is not expecting a well-dressed, affluent and articulate family of wolves to arrive in the Highlands but the Greycoats are thrilled to be early adopters and determined to make a great impression. This is particularly so as they can trace their ancestry to Scotland – to their venerable ancestor, Lambert McLupus the first wolf to become a Scottish baron. And as if that’s not enough, it is well-known that the cakes in Scotland are wonderful and given those in Moravia are horrid, that would likely be an incentive for anyone, let alone wolves with phenomenal appetites!

The Greycoats create quite a stir but also make some instant friends which is just as well as they encounter a particularly nasty property developer who is not only determined to raze a beautiful old home but who will do so at the expense of the local fragile ecosystem and rare wildlife.

This is absolutely loads of fun to read and children will intuitively pick up on the thread of resentment towards those who are different, without justification as well as the environmental theme.

Either as a read-aloud or for independent reading this is a cracker and will very quickly find a following among your readers from around eight years upwards.

Oooh check out this cute activity book on Lucinda’s website!

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.

Family – Aunty Fay Muir & Sue Lawson. Illustrated by Jasmine Seymour

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Magabala Books

July 2020

ISBN 9781925936285

RRP: $24.99

This is the second in the beautiful and enlightening Our Place series and continues the sharing of cultural identity and perspective in a way that is easily accessible by even the youngest of readers.

This relatively simple story accompanied by its stunning illustrations eloquently defines the meaning of family in the Indigenous Australian context and the ways in which family, in the whole sense regardless of size or shape, connects us all.

The importance of songs and stories from elders, learning to care for mob and country and the special connection to ancestors “to who we are, to who we will be” are all entwined with the concept that family is heart and home to everyone.

Once again the superlative illustrations add so much depth and richness to the prose and young readers will delight in recognising familiar scenes with which they can relate even though the setting is likely very much different to their own.

I cannot recommend this series highly enough to you for your collection whether it is for use in your cross-cultural programs or simply as a joyful addition to your personal collection.

The Mummy Smugglers of Crumblin Castle – Pamela Rushby

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Walker Books Australia

July 2020

Illustrated by Nelle May Pierce

ISBN: 9781760651930
Imprint: Walker Books Australia
Australian RRP: $17.99
New Zealand RRP: $19.99

When I mentioned that I was reading this Pamela Rushby commented that she had written the sort of book she would have liked to read when she was eleven. She’s also written the sort of book that I would have liked to read when I was eleven! I’ve mentioned here before my somewhat non-fiction nerdiness as a child and reading about ancient civilisations, particularly Egypt, was one of my ongoing passions – so much so that I kept my (much older) brother’s ancient history textbooks when he finished school (and still have a couple of them) and often requested such titles from my mother who loved to buy me books.

This delicious story is really historical fiction doubled as it is set in Victorian times when the fascination with Egyptology was at it’s zenith. Young orphan Hattie/Hatshepsut Lambton has led a lonely life in the care of an always absent guardian uncle and when he is regrettably eaten by a crocodile she is sent to her great-uncle and great-aunt, relatives she’s never known before, who live in a very peculiar and ramshackle old castle. Hattie finds herself within a loving family circle at last with some quirky strangeness which young readers will find absolutely entrancing.

Of course there would be no adventure without some dark deeds and the Ravens, brother and sister, who are assistants to her great-aunt (who specialises in mummy unwrappings for fashionable society parties) are clearly up to no good.

Hattie is intrigued by her relatives’ passion for and knowledge of the ancient Egyptians but finds herself increasingly distressed by the whole concept of destroying the mummies. When the Egyptian authorities ban the export of ancient artefacts Hattie thinks perhaps the whole mummy unwrapping might come to a natural end but the Ravens are determined to keep Great-Aunt Iphigenia undertaking her career, as it serves their nefarious financial ends well.

An expedition to Egypt itself in search of mummies to smuggle is a revelation to Hattie and she encounters many new experiences and unexpected friends and allies.

Pamela Rushby has created a wonderful adventure weaving many fascinating facts about both these historical periods with characters both intriguing and likable as well as those repellent and villainous. The touch of fantasy throughout is a bonus which will appeal to all young readers who will long to meet the mysterious Sekhmet and her lively kittens (resident housekeepers at Crumblin Castle) for themselves and they will enthusiastically embrace Hattie’s determination to protect her new-found family.

This is an absolutely super story which blends fantasy and fact beautifully. The publishers recommend it for 8 years upwards. I am going to keep it in my secondary library where I know I will have many Year 7 and 8 readers who will love it. It will certainly feature in my next book promotions to these students as well as my book club kiddos.

Highly recommended for avid readers from around middle primary upwards.

Classroom activities available here

Top End Girl – Miranda Tapsell

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Hachette Australia

APR 28, 2020 | 9780733642432 | RRP $32.99

A deadly memoir about being bold, black and brave in work, life and love

As Reconciliation Week closes for another year how timely is it that I can share this impressive and inspirational memoir from the pint-sized dynamo Miranda Tapsell.

Many will know her from The Sapphires and more still from the recent movie which she co-wrote and starred in, Top End Wedding.

This memoir recounts her growing up in the Territory mostly focusing on Darwin, her determination to make it as a creative in such a tough industry and her passionate advocacy for her people, culture and country. Readers will follow Miranda’s journey from stage-struck Larrakia Tiwi kid to lauded actress and writer with delight while, at the same time, applauding her resilience, tenacity and self-belief. What a fabulous example to other young Indigenous kids aspiring to follow their own dreams!

It’s a testament to the readability of this book that I read it over just three (week) nights. Miranda infuses her writing with the same vivacity and joy she demonstrates on-screen along with much humour and a very down-to-earth attitude. She doesn’t hold back on her views about the ongoing struggle of our First Australian peoples and I would encourage anyone who wants to know more about both the past and the current state of play in this regard to pick this up and read it, reflect and, hopefully, act.

Sadly it is not just in our country that the racial issue continues to raise its ugly head as this week’s news unfortunately shows. It would seem that though the years roll on there are still so many who choose to remain ignorant and inhuman simply from their innate prejudices.

Miranda has added another string to her creative bow with this debut book. I for one hope that she will continue to produce more writing particularly with reference to opening the minds and hearts of fellow Australians.

I hardly need to say I recommend this highly for any reader from teen upwards – an important and deadly addition to any reading list.

The Schoolmaster’s Daughter – Jackie French

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The Schoolmaster’s Daughter – Jackie French

Harper Collins Australia

May 2020

ISBN: 9781460757710

ISBN 10: 1460757718

RRP: $17.99

We know so well Jackie’s passion for and skill with historical fiction and when she combines it, as she has with this new novel, with her own family history the result is even more sensational.

Australia at the point of Federation: a new century, a new nation and a new and radical shift in the traditional society and expectations – for some.

Hannah moves, with her schoolmaster father, her liberally-minded mother and her young brother from rural NSW to far north Queensland, deep in the heart of cane country where long-held prejudices and practices exist.

When their ship founders and subsequently breaks up just off the coast of its destination and the men of the party foolishly trek into the unknown, Hannah along with her mother and brother are rescued by a young Islander boy named Jamie. In spite of the evident prejudice of their fellow female travellers especially when faced with Jamie’s clearly white mother, Hannah and Mama begin the first tentative steps towards what becomes a life-long friendship. They go even further when Hannah, denied any further education by her conservative father, and Jamie, denied education by virtue of his colour and birth circumstances, begin to take lessons with Mama, who flouts the convention of being subservient to her husband.

This, however, is just the tip of the iceberg as the new century and the progress towards the women’s vote and other liberations is undermined by the short-sighted government that threatens the very existence of any Islanders indentured to the cane-barons such as the man who employs Hannah’s father.

Family drama, threats by the hardened suspicious townsfolk, secrets long-held by neighbours all impact on the family, driving Hannah and her mother further and further towards an escape from the tyranny of both husband/father and their close society. It’s not just Hannah and Jamie fighting for their right to education any more, it’s about a true equality for all and Hannah’s mother is well-placed to act with courage and determination to free herself and her children at a time when such actions were almost unheard of in ‘polite society’.  How very proud Jackie must feel to have the inspiration of the women in her family to create this fictionalised (but close to truth) narrative history.

This is fascinating and terrible, at times, as a very ugly side (yet another one) of Australia’s history unfolds and the depth of the struggles by the women who came before us is revealed.

Once more I was completely enthralled in and enriched by Jackie’s historical revelations – both the personal and the Australian aspects. In every book I learn things I’ve never known and in a way, that makes them vibrant and memorable. As always this is a superb way to introduce young (or older) readers to little-known (and very probably well-hidden) darker sides of a new nation and certainly to the very real and often tragic plight of women of the time.

As always, I cannot recommend this highly enough particularly for readers from around 13 years upwards.

 

 

Starfell: Willow Moss and the Forgotten Tale [Starfell #2]- Dominique Valente

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Harper Collins Australia

April 2020

  • ISBN: 9780008308445
  • ISBN 10: 0008308446
  • Imprint: HarperCollins – GB
  • List Price: 16.99 AUD

Being the youngest in the family is often a reason for feeling overlooked and somehow lesser and for Willow Moss this is especially true. She is both the youngest and the least magical in her family of witches. Even though in her most recent (first) adventure she actually saved the entire world which no one remembers at all, it seems her magic has gone rather skewiff and instead of her usual magical ability of being able to find missing things, she is inadvertently making things disappear. Obviously this is causing some disquiet not only with her family but the entire village.

This is particularly upsetting when her friend Sometimes is kidnapped. At least Sometimes, who can see ten minutes into the future, had time to send Willow a note asking for help before he disappeared. Not that it has helped that much as Willow has really no idea where to look for him. Still she sets out along with her faithful kobold Oswin and thus embarks on one of the strangest and most dangerous missions ever, one that will take her right to the very edges of Starfell and into the most terrifying of situations. Fortunately along the way through a series of misadventures and weird circumstances Willow acquires some friends who prove to be staunch in the face of danger.

Your young readers who love exciting magical stories mixed with some nasty villains, just enough creepy danger and loads of humour will lap this series up without doubt.  As well as that, they will gain much from the themes of loyalty, friendship, courage and self-belief.

Highly recommended for readers from around 8 years upwards.