Tag Archives: Family relationships

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.

Anisha, Accidental Detective #1 – Serena Patel

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Harper Collins Australia

June 2020

  • ISBN: 9781474959520
  • ISBN 10: 1474959520
  • Imprint: Usborne – GB
  • List Price: 12.99 AUD

Serena Patel wants to do more than entertain with her stories. She is determined to offer her readers insight into the experience of being ‘different’ and in her case that means growing up as a culturally different child in her school and neighbourhood, being isolated and bullied, and adrift as a homeless teenager and the feeling of hopelessness that comes with such negativity.

Anisha Mistry is clever and logical, loves science and her best friend Milo as well as of course her family, even though they are loud, chaotic and just a little crazy. Her Aunty Bindi’s upcoming wedding is threatening to throw the family into even wilder than normal mayhem and her own involvement as a very reluctant bridesmaid is certainly not making her feel any happier.

All that being said, when the groom is kidnapped and Anisha receives a ransom note, she is determined to spare her family any more agitation and together with her bestie Milo sets out to solve the crime and save the wedding.

It’s hilariously funny and at the same time shares some very acute observation and insight into life within a British-Indian extended family circle – many relatives, loud conversations, exuberant emotions and lavish occasions.

Of course we also have many families in Australia of Indian heritage and there is no doubt in my mind that many will relate to Anisha’s relationship with her relatives as well as their customs, but for Anglo children, or those of other cultures, this is just as much fun and interesting with its peep into life in such a vibrant and loving family.

A fantastic addition to your collection for a whole bunch of reasons I highly recommend this for your shelves, best suited for kiddos from around 8 years upwards.

Here in the Real World – Sara Pennypacker

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Harper Collins Australia

February 2020

  • ISBN: 9780008371692
  • ISBN 10: 0008371695
  • Imprint: HarperCollins – GB
  • List Price: 14.99 AUD

At present we (as a collective global community) are having a great deal of reflection and discussion of what it means to be a hero and for many young readers their perception and definition of this might be relatively narrow. This beautiful new narrative from the author of the highly-acclaimed Pax encourages children to re-think their ideas around this.

Ware is an only child, somewhat over-protected and ‘different’. He’s not the kid who wants to join in, he is content in his own world and his passion is medieval history and all that goes with it: castles, chivalry, fanfare and brave deeds. He’s looking forward to spending summer with his grandmother, happily in his own world,  while his parents work double-shifts desperately pulling together the money to buy their rented house but when Big Deal, his gran, becomes unwell the plans for summer fall apart.  He is, instead, enrolled in the dreaded vacation program at the ‘Rec’ where he supposed to have ‘meaningful social interaction’ and be forced to participate in mind-numbingly boring activities.  After only one day Ware explores the abandoned and demolished church next door to the Rec where he encounters a very fierce and very prickly girl, Jolene, who appears to be quite obsessed with growing plants in tin cans.

Initially the two are at odds, both wanting the space within the old church grounds but as Ware continues to skip Rec and investigate the lot and its potential they begin to find a common ground. While Ware begins to create his own castle from the ruins and Jolene fusses over her papaya plants, they both come to accept each other and the fact that the lot is, for both of them, a refuge from their troubles.   It’s an unlikely friendship but one that, like the little plants, slowly but surely grows and bears fruit that will nourish them both.

The two misfits’ summer proves to be one of teamwork, mutual acceptance and understandings, problem solving, loyalty and purpose. When their sanctuary comes under real threat they must devise a plan to save not only their space but Jolene’s plantation which, for her, is her ticket to a better life.

Woven throughout are the nuances, difficulties and at times hostilities that can permeate family relationships and friendships and the slow but careful resolution of some of these is a truly moving aspect.

I loved this book and read it quickly over two nights. While essentially gentle in its narrative the interaction between all the characters and particularly the two protagonists is very engaging. Not to do it any disservice by comparison but it really put me in mind of Bridge to Terabithia with its similarity in the scope of imagination and the unlikely pairing of the two children. It’s a tremendous read and one that will be very well received by thoughtful readers from around 11 years upwards. It’s certainly one I will be recommending highly to my Choclit group (Year 7-12) as I think many of them will appreciate both the quality of the writing and the premise of the plot.

Click to access Here-In-The-Real-World-Teachers-Notes.pdf

 

The Happy Prisoner – Monica Dickens

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First published in 1946 I originally read this when a friend gave me  a copy as a birthday gift many (many!) years ago. I loved it so much and re-read it so often that the paperback disintegrated over time and was reluctantly abandoned.

A few weeks ago the wonderful Pat Pledger of ReadPlus invited some of us (t-l’s) to contribute to a ‘feel good’ reading list for the holidays and this was the first book that came into my head. I realised just how long it was since I had read it so immediately sourced a copy (it’s now out of print it seems). It arrived yesterday and I binge-read it last night and what a joy that was!

The Dickens talent for creating memorable characters touched with both drama and humour seems to be genetic and I’ve also enjoyed Monica’s other books – now about to source a copy of both One Pair of Hands and One Pair of Feet!

Here’s a precis -taken from GoodReads of this delightful excursion into post-war English family life.

 

It is the end of WW II and the household of Mrs. North, a well-to-do widow with a country cottage, is very busy. War circumstances brought both of her daughters home: loud but good-hearted tomboy, Violet, and highly-strung and over sensitive Heather with her two small children. Mrs. North is also taking care of her young niece, Evelyn, a lively child who loves to play on the local farm and has a great passion for animals. But at the center of all this is Oliver, Mrs. North’s only son who lost his leg during the war service abroad.

Recovering from his injuries, bed-ridden Oliver has nothing better to do but observe the busy lives of the people around him. Treated as a hero and a confidant by all the women in his family, Oliver begins to enjoy his new role as a self-proclaimed counselor. Due to his advice, Violet, an independent spinster, unexpectedly accepts the marriage proposal from a local farmer. Her wedding is a success and Violet finds a new happiness in her marriage, but soon Oliver’s meddling in his family affairs goes too far. Will his risky instructions save or ruin Heather’s marriage, which is at the brink of crisis, when her husband comes back from Australia after a few years of separation? Will Oliver learn to accept his new circumstances? Will he finally face to the reality and start to rebuild his own life?

In this compendium plot, Monica Dickens, with her typical attention to detail, humor and talent for creating vivid characters, explores complicated life stories of the close-knit family and their friends at the end of the war. The Happy Prisoner was first published in 1946.

Why not explore some Monica Dickens for yourself? In these rather anxiety-filled times, some light relief is so very welcome.

 

The Tell – Martin Chatterton

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9781760895945

Penguin Australia

April 2020

ISBN: 9781760895945

Imprint: Puffin

RRP: $16.99

OMG whoahhhh! If you struggle at times to get some of those middle school reluctant readers engaged with a great book (who doesn’t?) this is definitely a ‘must have’!

Pure adrenalin pumping action from start to finish, this a narrative that is tense, at times grim but with fabulous concepts of the meaning of loyalty, family expectations, ethics and courage throughout.

Raze Tanic is in many ways an average teen boy whose passion in life is creating street art (yes, graffiti but classy) with his two best friends, Ids and Candy. Together they form MCT and plan to be the best street artists in Sydney. However, Raze is far from average given that he is the son of Dejan Tanic, head of the biggest crime syndicate going and currently serving time – long time – in The Coffin, a high security jail out of Sydney. Older brother, Solo, is already firmly entrenched in the family business but Raze is determined to stay clear of it, a dilemma that has bothered him for quite some time as he anticipates his father’s fierce response. So he is well and truly astonished when during his much-hated jail visit and bravely telling his father of his decision, Dejan is not only understanding but seemingly supportive. Little does Raze know that it’s because Dejan is distracted, awaiting his ‘escape’ plan to come to fruition and when it does, all hell breaks loose.

Dejan’s bold and daring escape, executed with perfect precision, instigates the biggest manhunt ever but also triggers out-and-out warfare with rival crime boss, Jonjo Sullivan and it is Raze who is caught in the crossfire.

Ids and Candy have his back but their help is complicated by the fact that Candy’s father is Don Cooper, chief cop in charge of the operation to re-capture Tanic Senior and that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Murder attempts, arson, crooked cops, betrayals, domestic violence, cat-and-mouse chases, narrow escapes and more, all over Sydney, unravel at lightning speed leaving the reader practically breathless.

The energy and intensity of the narrative is superb and the characterisation of the three teens so well done – Martin has captured their ‘voice’ perfectly. Their resilience, ingenuity and sheer daring will appeal to even the most disengaged reader in my opinion and there is no doubt that this would also make a fabulous ‘read aloud’ for those 7/8/9 kids who disdain novels.

I’ve already recommended this to my Choclit group and promoted it on our library home page but will certainly be giving it a lot of ‘book talk’ time (whether that’s real-time or virtual). It’s definitely one to add to our eBook collection as well and I’m pretty selective about those, only adding what I judge to be a ‘winner’.

Do your collection and your teens a huge favour and make sure this one is added to your shelves – you won’t regret it and nor will they!

Highly recommended for readers from around 13 years upwards.

Check this out!