Tag Archives: Family Life

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.

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.