Tag Archives: Family relationships

The Travelling Bookshop #1: Mim and the Baffling Bully – Katrina Nannestad

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Harper Collins Australia

July 2021

  • ISBN: 9781460713662
  • ISBN 10: 1460713664
  • Imprint: ABC Books
  • List Price: 8.99 AUD

I absolutely love this return to her whimsical, feel-good style from Katrina Nannestad, in this new and thoroughly delightful series. Although pitched at younger readers, I can absolutely see my older readers, who are keen fans of The Girl, the Dog, the Writer…taking this up with glee and loving it.

Mim Cohen travels with her father, little brother, a horse called Flossy and a cockatoo called Coco in their travelling bookshop caravan. Where ever Flossy leads them is where they are meant to be and when they arrive in a small Dutch village, it is clear that they are here for a reason and when Mim meets Willemina, a kind girl who is being horribly bullied, it seems to her that she needs to help. But is it just Willemina who needs help?

The travelling bookshop is a magical entity and visitors are always completely surprised when they first enter it to find how mysteriously capacious it is. After all it’s not every old wooden caravan that contains a basement is it? One of it’s greatest mysteries – or perhaps the mystery of Mim’s dad, sometimes known as Dreadful Zeddy – is the fact that the bookshop provides exactly the right book for the right customer, despite any thoughts to the contrary by either customer or Mim. So the woman who is looking for a crime novel but takes a book about termites, or the man who searched for a tome on tractors but ends up with Knitted Tea Cosies may be initially rather baffled but as it unfolds, have exactly what was needed.

Their sojourn in the pretty little Dutch village and their interactions with the inhabitants is heart-warming and joyous, full of imagination and wonder which will enchant readers from around 7 years upwards. I for one can’t wait to read more adventures of Mim and the travelling bookshop and look forward to the next instalment with great anticipation. And I certainly want to know more about Mim’s mother, the world-travelling civil engineer.

I’m going to really enjoy promoting this one to my middle/upper primary kiddos as well as my younger secondary ones who are already great fans of Katrina’s work.

Very heartily recommended for readers from around 7 years upwards.

The Shadow Arts – Damien Love

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Bloomsbury

July 2021

Imprint: Rock the Boat

ISBN: 9780861540860

RRP: $14.99

A few months ago, Alex’s world changed forever. Now, just when it seems life is almost getting back to normal, his grandfather crashes back into the picture with grave news…Innocent lives –  even history itself – could be at stake.

Monstrous Devices was one of the most gripping and splendid debut novels I have ever read and I have been eagerly awaiting the next instalment. Let me say right now, it did not disappoint, and I have no qualms that any readers who have so far become engrossed in Alex’ adventures and the mystery of his grandfather, the tall man and the little girl and the battered tin robot will feel the same.

Like the first book this is a thrilling fantasy/adventure that is edgy and dark with some very unsettling evil villains and seriously creepy machines. I included the first in my pre-holiday book talking ‘best holiday reading picks’ to the Year 6 cohort and made sure I underlined that this is not a series for the faint-hearted or squeamish! Needless to say there was a clamour to be the one to borrow it – especially when I told them I had started this sequel and it was just as exciting. It is going to be such a pleasure to give this one a book talk when the new term starts.

Alex has been struggling to get back to ‘normal’ since the whirlwind adventure that blended ancient magical powers with chancy mechanized killing machines. His brief taste of the power that the mysterious tablet commands has taken hold of his thoughts and he has tried to learn to manipulate it. In a moment of danger, Alex’ grandfather re-appears, dapper and suave as ever, and once again the pair are off on a breakneck trip across Europe, this time to rescue their friend, Harry, unravel the mystery of the disappearing paintings and uncover the tall man’s plot to resurrect an ancient evil force. Their travels lead them to the depths of the Black Forest on the very eve of Walpurgis, and along the way Alex begins to piece together his family history, the true identity of the tall man, the connection of the little girl and most of all some of the strange and unfathomable secrets about his grandfather.

When his grandfather becomes unable to carry on, it is up to Alex to put together all the missing pieces, and harness all his powers to ensure the tall man’s plans, which could signal the end of the world as we know it, come to naught. In the process, he learns much about himself and his own resilience, not to mention empathy and intuition.

Beyond the reckless chases, the nimble escapes and the humorous interludes there is a deep theme throughout of the light and dark of human nature, the power of creation for good and evil and the wants and desires of those who seek power, of whatever kind.

Once again this is a triumph of well-crafted writing which will thoroughly captivate your readers from upper primary onwards. It will certainly be a book that your kiddos will want to debate and discuss post-reading so make sure you set time aside for that.

Highly recommended for readers from around 11/12 years upwards – but possibly not ones easily scared by flying sharp mechanical objects that are programmed to attack no matter what. I suggest you issue all loans with a sachet of table salt – just for good measure!

Echo in the Memory – Cameron Nunn

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Walker Books

June 2021

ISBN: 9781760653118
Imprint: Walker Books Australia

Australian RRP: $16.99
New Zealand RRP: $19.99

Beautifully timed for NAIDOC Week this new YA novel, which explores the convergence of two periods of Australian history with the common thread being the one family name, will both shock and illuminate many readers regarding some of the darkest moments in our history and how they continue to impact lives today.

Two boys separated by two hundred years are both exiled from all they know; both having faced traumatic circumstances. When Will is sent to his grandparents’ isolated farm in rural NSW it feels like the ends of the earth. As he struggles to deal with his grief over his mother’s death and the abandonment of his father he begins to have what appear to be flashes of memory of this unfamiliar place. However, the memories are not his he quickly realises but whose are they? He begins to realise that his surly and recalcitrant grandfather also has these memories, something which gradually brings the two closer together.

The memories relate to ‘the boy’ whose story is set in 1829 and is told in the first person. The harsh and unforgiving life for a child convict is revealed as each piece of history unfolds. In addition is the shocking revelations of the treatment of the local First Australian peoples, which is graphic and disturbing. In the present, Will’s story is told in the third person and his struggle to reconcile the hurt and grief of his family circumstances gradually begins to be resolved as he forges a new, although very different, kind of life on the farm.

Cameron Nunn has done much research into child convicts using primary sources which include original records and interview transcripts from the London courts, and this forms the basis of both his Ph D and his fiction. For students of history, or those seeking to better understand the often dangerous and certainly traumatic life for a child transported across the world, with little or no hope of ever returning to their family and original home, this is a must read.

It is written with older students in mind – suggested Year 9 upwards – and if you employ a ‘read around your topic’ approach to your history subjects, it will be very much worth adding to your collection. You will find the teaching notes hugely beneficial as an addition to your planning.

Highly recommended for your discerning readers from around 14 upwards.

Cardboard Cowboys – Brian Conaghan

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Bloomsbury

May 2021

ISBN: 9781526628602

Imprint: Bloomsbury Children’s Publishing

RRP: $12.99

This is another of the really cracking YA novels I have read in the last few weeks – and another that was a binge read as my heart went out to the main characters, and I became deeply invested in their journey.

12 year old Lenny is deeply unhappy. For many kids, their first year in high school is full of wonder and adventure with new experiences and friendships, but for Lenny it represents misery and isolation, as he relentlessly bullied and fat-shamed by other kids (and a very nasty PE teacher). Only one student attempts to reach out to Lenny, but in his state of despair, he fails to see the overtures for their worth. Given Lenny’s home life has been difficult in the past few months this exclusion and torment seems doubly hard to take. With his older brother gone away, for reasons not clear at the start, Lenny’s best mate and protector is far from his side, and both his parents seem too distracted and caught up to take much notice of him, so not surprisingly Lenny feels completely and utterly wretched.

He takes to cutting school and wandering the canals of Glasgow where one particular bench becomes his special place for thinking. When he unthinkingly chucks an empty soft drink can into the canal though, he finds himself face to face with a very irate and, it soon appears, homeless man. Bruce and Lenny build a friendship that is both unusual and completely moving. They recognise themselves as outcasts, cut off from the normal mainstream of society, and both are struggling to heal from trauma. In doing so, these two will move you to tears of both laughter and poignancy as their unlikely partnership as the ‘cardboard cowboys’ becomes an effective means of starting the healing process for both.

Their road trip north to discover Lenny’s brother, Frankie, is a catharsis for the unlikely friends and one that brings the frayed fabric of both lives a little closer to mending. The backstory of both is confronting but not in a way that will traumatise younger readers, rather it will give them pause for thought on the ease with which people can be thrust into circumstances which cause immense pain and evoke those feelings of empathy that we aspire to instil in our young people.

With its themes of homelessness, bullying, isolation and self-discovery this is an extremely worthwhile book to put into the hands of your astute readers from around Year 6 upwards. I have absolutely no hesitation in naming it as one of my top YA reads so far this year and highly recommend it to you.

The Cousins – Karen M. McManus

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Penguin Australia

  • December 2020
  • ISBN: 9780241376942
  • Imprint: Penguin
  • RRP: $17.99

Attention all of you who loved One of Us is Lying! This YA thriller will get you and your readers in from the first page. I literally ate it up over just a couple of nights. Three cousins all the same age who barely know each other, having not met since they were around five years old, are suddenly thrown together for the summer. Their respective parents plus another sibling have been disinherited and disowned by their grandmother years ago, before they were even born and yet, mysteriously they have all been invited to the old family home where the famous Gull Cove Resort, Catmint House and the Story family are held in the greatest esteem.

Envy of all, rich and privileged, the older Story children were very close despite their different personalities but following the death of their father, and their mother’s decline into a morbid grief as they all began their independent lives at college and in the adult world, there comes a great shock. A bald communication from their mother’s lawyer You know what you did signals their instant dismissal from their mother’s life. So why does the mysterious Mildred Story suddenly and unexpectedly invite her grandchildren to come and be part of the Gull Cove Resort team for the summer?

As the narrative unravels the secrets, the lies and deceptions unfold in such an extremely satisfying (for we sleuths!) way that the reader is completely engrossed in the story. The cousins’ curiosity and determination to uncover the truth reveals far more than anything expected. This is truly a thriller that will delight your astute readers.

It gets a huge recommendation from me with the rider that it does have some significant coarse language and some adult themes but for your mature readers a great big tick!!! Family first – always. Right?

Full Speed: Kensy and Max #6 – Jacqueline Harvey

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Penguin Australia

September 2020

  • ISBN: 9781760890025
  • Imprint: Puffin
  • RRP: $16.99

Is it any wonder that Jacqueline Harvey’s fans are legion? Her consummate skill in smashing out superlative stories for young ‘uns just continues to enthrall and capture their reading hearts.

Now the sixth instalment in the hugely successful Kensy and Max series takes the thrills even further as the young twin spies undertake a covert mission in the Alps accompanied by their parents and close companions, Fitz and Song.

The nasty Van Leer couple are some of the most unlikeable villains readers will encounter, only outweighed by the pack of really dastardly gun-smugglers who have attached themselves to the Van Leer’s lucrative data-theft enterprise. It’s up to the Spencers to forestall both sets of malefactors and in the picturesque snowy setting of Zermatt this is exactly what they do. There is plenty of action to excite with skillful skiing, stealthy stalking and wild chases on snow-mobiles as the plot unravels, revealing far more than the Pharos family anticipated.

Most unexpectedly the revelations about Soren, the Van Leer’s bullied and repressed son, give rise to a startling development which,completely shock all involved.

Once again Kensy and Max demonstrate their latent talents as spies-in-the-making, often taking the initiative in the whole mission and ably thwarting even the most heinous of criminals.

Jacqueline Harvey’s narratives not only celebrate resourcefulness, quick-thinking and capability but also trust, loyalty and family relationships. Combined with the thrills and spills that accompany the spy business – even for those who are still learning the ropes – this is an unbeatable series with scads of appeal for both boys and girls from around 8 years upwards.

Though they do not need any recommendation from me, as they simply fly off the shelves as soon as they are spotted, they would be top of my list for your middle school kiddos.

Teaching notes available for this series

The Year We Fell from Space – Amy Sarig King

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Text Publishing

November 2019

ISBN:9781922268853

AU Price:$16.99

NZ Price:$21.00

Divorce is difficult for many families but when coupled with the topic of depression – a mental health issue that continues to be frequently misunderstood – arguably even more so, particularly in this instance when it is parental depression.

Realistic and at times very emotional this is a novel that provides ultimately uplifting resolution and hope for children caught in this particular situation. King explores this twinned theme with finesse and empathy and it is no wonder it has been so highly acclaimed.

Liberty Johansen has dreams of changing the way people look at the sky. Her fascination with the stars and her creative interpretations of constellations have long been her passion, fuelled from an early age by her troubled father.

But when her parents split up and the family is fractured, Liberty sees her world and the stars she loves crashing down around her. Dealing with the aftermath of her mother’s sadness, her sister’s emotional distress and the growing realisation that it has not just been her father’s depression that has caused the rift, Lib also finds herself increasingly alienated from friends compounding her own anxieties.

When Liberty witnesses the rarity of a meteor crashing to earth, she retrieves the special ‘rock’ and it becomes her significant albeit virtual confidante as she struggles to find some equanimity in the increasingly sad family situation as well as her own social life.

As the reader follows Liberty’s year and her working through a mire of misery with the help of her extremely intuitive mother and with the aid of professional counselling – not to mention her conversations and self-realisations with her special ‘rock’, we come to know that while such a family break-down is very traumatic that often, and one might hope usually, the initial emotional rupture begins to heal and a different family life can emerge.

This is a fabulous read in its own right but for young tweens or teens finding themselves in such a predicament could well be a means to seeing their way forward as well.

Highly recommended for readers from around 10 years upwards.

Teaching notes available:

The Silver Arrow – Lev Grossman

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Bloomsbury

September 2020

ISBN 9781526629418

RRP: AU $14.99 NZ $16.99

In my opinion it’s a rare middle-age novel that can transcend reading interests, age groups and genders but this is most definitely one that can. Certainly your middle grade readers will love it but it is just as appealing for older readers, including adults, as well as competent younger readers with its blend of whimsy and fantasy, strong conservation theme, friendship and family, humour and adventure.

Kate’s wealthy estranged uncle is considered ridiculously eccentric and irresponsible by her parents and really she knows very little about him. Certainly when she writes to him on a whim and asks for a birthday present she doesn’t expect to receive one. She definitely doesn’t expect the gift of a full-sized steam locomotive which appears in her back garden.

While her parents wrangle over what to do with such an unwanted and cumbersome gift, Kate and her younger brother Tom ignore parental doubts and distrust and board the engine in the middle of the night. The journey that ensues is both a revelation and a test of the children’s resilience, initiative and bravery.

To their complete astonishment the locomotive takes off through the night and guided by the engine’s own ‘voice’ they soon arrive at a station where a curious assortment of animal passengers wait patiently with valid tickets to board. The children do not take long to realise that their job is to ensure that each of these creatures, endangered due to various impacts on their natural habitats, are safely delivered to new homes where they can have some certainty of survival of their species. From the sweetest baby pangolin to a very cantankerous porcupine, a beautiful mamba to a sad and lost half-starved polar bear, the Silver Arrow has a mission – one that is filled with moments of danger and near-misses but ultimately the trip of a lifetime for all.

Readers will be thrilled by the excitement of the adventure and adore the laughs to be had but will also learn a great deal about the plight of many of the world’s most threatened animals. Like Kate and Tom, one might hope that they will also take action to do what they can to preserve and conserve the wonders of nature against loss of habitat, introduced invasive species and of course, humans.

I cannot recommend this highly enough for your readers from around 7 or 8 years upwards. It is both a joy and an inspiration and, in my opinion, destined to become a modern classic.

The Pony Question – Jackie Merchant

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Walker Books

July 2020

ISBN: 9781760651640
Imprint: Walker Books Australia

Australian RRP: $16.99
New Zealand RRP: $18.99

I’m not really a horse-y person and now that the Kid is no longer riding neither is she so horse-themed books are a little bit of uncharted territory for me. However many years ago Ruby Ferguson’s Jill’s Gymkana (#1 Jill’s Ponies) was a very enjoyable read for me and this reminded me strongly of that pleasure.

All that being said, this is not merely a horse story but a heart-warming narrative of family, friends and community with an additional bonus of being set in a location fairly familiar to me (Blue Mountains and Lithgow NSW).

Essie and her mum now live in a small community in a quirky somewhat shabby house after her father abandoned them for a younger woman and a new life in pristine perfection. Despite money being a little tight the two are very happy in their new surroundings with their warm and welcoming friends and life is moving along nicely as Francesca’s small business of restoring furniture gains traction. Essie’s antipathy towards her father and his cold and bottled-up new wife is almost tangible and she is particularly irritated by his offer to install her in an exclusive private boarding school with the promise of a new pony and more.

It was her father’s overweening attitude of control and competitiveness that ruined Essie’s promising success as a dressage rider two years previously when he, unbeknownst to anyone else, doped Essie’s pony in order to enable her to compete in a qualifier for a state team. When the ‘nobbling’ was discovered it was of course Essie who bore the brunt of the disgrace and the subsequent disqualification from competition. Her pony, Chet, was sold and though her dad promised to get her another horse, Essie just can’t bring herself to re-enter the fray.

Well all that’s about to change when Essie and her mum accidentally buy a neglected pony at a clearing sale and faced with either taking it home or re-selling to the local knacker, of course they keep the pony – at least for the time being. Poor Moxie has fallen from star pony to half-starved and half-wild beast in just a couple of years. She is in a bad way and really nobody is even expecting her to survive.

Essie’s journey of healing Moxie, along with the support of her mum and circle of friends, despite her father’s opposition is also a healing for herself as she faces difficult situations and arrives at answers providing the reader with a beautiful story of reconciliation in a very divisive and unhappy circumstance. No doubt there will be many for whom this will resonate, with or without a horse involved.

It is a testament to the engaging story that I read this in two sessions and in fact, read past my usual ‘lights off’ time, all unknowing! This is Jackie Merchant’s second novel and I know that I, for one, will look forward to more from this author.

Highly recommended not only for your horse-tragics but all your upper primary and lower/middle secondary readers who enjoy a contemporary story with real depth.

The Key to Finding Jack – Ewa Jozefkowicz

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Harper Collins Australia

May 2020

  • ISBN: 9781800240421
  • ISBN 10: 1800240422
  • Imprint: Head Of Zeus – Zehpyr – GB
  • $14.99

Perfect for your middle primary to lower secondary kiddos this new adventure/mystery is just a great read with lots of excitement but also loads of great messages about the importance of connections with family and friends, self-belief, empathy and selflessness and being true to oneself.

Twelve year old Flick (Felicity) is very close to her big brother Jack and the two of them have always loved solving puzzles and being amateur sleuths together. When Jack goes off to Peru for a gap year adventure, Flick knows that she will miss him terribly and when an earthquake strikes the very location of Jack’s travels and there is no word from him, Flick and her family are devastated.

Flick is certain that Jack is still safe despite the lack of communication and begins to piece together his movements beginning with the smallest of clues – the discovery of Jack’s special tiny gold key necklace under his bed. From this tiny find Flick slowly unravels aspects of Jack’s life and personality of which she has no idea and at the same time finds herself making new friends and re-invigorating family relationships.

Parallel to the mystery of Jack’s whereabouts is Flick’s writing – the story within a story – and a strange legend of Inca gold both of which will intrigue readers who love this genre.

It’s a heart-warming story with wonderful characters throughout and readers will immediately be drawn to Flick and her friends, both new and old.

Highly recommended for readers from around 10 years upwards.