Tag Archives: Family relationships

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!

James Gong The Big Hit – Paul Collins

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Hybrid Publishers

June 2020

ISBN 9781925736441

RRP: $16.99

Fourteen year old James Gong is pretty much a fairly average teenage boy living in suburbia with a family who are also pretty average – well in most respects. His mother rescues dogs and keeps them out the back of their house, to the frequent annoyance of neighbours, and counsels her pooches with tender dedication. His father does – well, James isn’t exactly sure what it is his father does but he likes to hope that his dad is a spy since his job seems to be so well-hidden (at least it is to James). He has an older sister Caitlin who can be a real pain, like most big sisters, who is always banging on trying to save whales, trees, the environment- really whatever cause is topical.

For the most part James’ life is pretty cool. He has his besties Jay and Ethan, school is tolerable and he is just about to qualify for his black belt in taekwondo under the instruction of the exacting and ferocious Mr Choi.  When a crew from TV show My Life arrive at the hall to film a segment for the program they are mightily impressed with James’ jumping spinning side kick, so much so that they want him to star in their upcoming blockbuster movie. Wow! Hollywood fame and fortune awaits for young James – or does it?

While James is super-excited about the movie role, except for the scene that involves a KISS with a lovely young girl, there are aspects about the whole filming process that baffle him – like the lack of sophisticated equipment, or sets or indeed costumes. Little does he know that Marcie and Win the film-makers are actually pulling a tax-dodge swifty.  Added to the confusion around the movie, James is still at loggerheads with his sister, fighting his weird attraction for Caitlin’s best friend Amber who scorns him with vigour and seriously neglects his taekwondo practice resulting in a  fail in his black belt grading.

To make matters worse when the movie premieres it’s so ludicrously hilarious instead of the big action film James was expecting so that now, instead of being a Hollywood superstar,  he feels like he’s losing out big time and that he’s the biggest fool alive.

But perhaps, just perhaps there are positives in the offing. I really don’t want to give away any spoilers but let’s just say that there are a few very tricky twists in James’ story that Paul Collins has managed without the slightest hint of contrivance.

I feel there will be many readers both boys and girls who will really get into this book. They will love the action, relate to the well-developed characters, chuckle at the humour, wince at James’ ineptitude and – okay, at times ‘denseness’ – but ultimately will rejoice with him and certainly  express their emotions at the biggest ‘ah ha’ moments.

I recommend this highly for readers from around 12 years upwards who I can guarantee will thoroughly enjoy it.  If you’re looking for a great read-aloud or shared novel this will make a fabulous addition with many levels and themes to explore throughout.

Check out some teaching notes here and given the disruptions to normal services you can order your copy here right now!

The Long Distance  Playlist – Tara Eglington

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Harper Collins Australia

January 2020

ISBN: 9781460755211

ISBN 10: 1460755219

Imprint: HarperCollins – AU

RRP: $19.99

Well if you told me I would absolutely fall in love with a YA (primarily) romantic novel I would no doubt have scoffed loudly. However, this is just delightful and so so much more than just romance. Eglington explores contemporary culture, family relationships, aspirations, dreams and music with such a deft and ‘spot on’ ability that this will be a sure-fire hit with your teen readers.

It’s an immediately engaging format told for the greater part through Instagram messages, Skype, email and texts, accompanied by playlists (readers will love these!) which bounce with growing rapidity between Isolde in Sydney and Taylor in Queenstown. This young pair has been best friends all their lives, with a quirky but cool family connection, until a big bust-up when each speaks their mind and a rift of Cold War proportions extends over eighteen months.

In that space of time momentous things have happened to both. Taylor, who had been a rising snowboarding champion, lost his lower leg in a car accident which has effectively rendered him gloomy and despondent. Isolde has studied  – actually lived and breathed – ballet her entire life and has her sights set on the National Ballet company but within a year she has muffed her first audition badly and also been terribly hurt in her first romantic relationship and feels similarly.

However the two do reconnect and forgive each other and over a space of almost a year their online conversations become deeper and more meaningful and are headed, for both, towards feelings that run much deeper than childhood friendship. The growing warmth between them is not without hiccups though as (don’t we all know it?) the medium of cyber conversations can lead to missteps and misunderstandings. Happily though there is a completely satisfying resolution – though the ending does lend itself to a continuation at some point down the track.

It is charming, refreshing, often humorous but also sobering at times with serious family issues with which both teens are faced. The trans-Tasman relationship will most certainly be of appeal to a wide readership and the insight into both settings, not to mention both passionate pursuits,  is fascinating.

Unlike others in this genre there is nothing which might preclude readers who may be younger or more ‘sheltered’. Even swear words are not explicit which will mightily please many who would want to include it in their collections but otherwise might have to pass it up.

Highly recommended for readers from around 12 years upwards. Loved it!

The Space We’re In – Katya Balen

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Bloomsbury

November 2019

ISBN: 9781526610942

RRP $14.99

What an absolutely stunning debut novel from Katya Balen! Simultaneously heart-breaking and uplifting Balen examines the difficulties faced by a child living with a special needs sibling.

Frank is ten years old. He loves soccer and space, he loves secret codes and playing in the ‘Wilderness’ with his two best friends. He loves living in his funny dilapidated house with his loving mother and father and he sort of loves his 5 year old brother Max who is severely autistic. Really Frank is struggling with his relationship with Max and often resents the way his little brother’s condition monopolises his mother’s attention and creates general havoc in the home and anywhere else. He knows that his mother and father love him dearly but there are times he wishes that they were in the same place they were before Max arrived.

We are her world and her universe and her space and her stars and her sky and her galaxy and her cosmos too

His mum’s constant affirmation of her love for them all is the lodestone to which Max clings and the rare moments they spend together just the two of them are infinitely precious to him.

When unspeakable tragedy strikes Frank is even more at odds with his brother but gradually through the support and intervention of understanding people such as neighbour Mark as well as his friends, Frank begins to piece together a new cosmos for his family – one that is different and not always easy but one in which Max is no longer light years apart from him.

Tissues are needed for this as there was a great deal that hit a little too close to home for me and it would be best that readers of a sensitive nature should be cautioned about the often very emotional content but it is a truly fabulous read. Often the voice of a sibling who finds themselves in this situation is glossed over or idealised or even just ignored. This book addresses the very real conflict that such children can experience and shows that there can be a way forward.

Highly recommended for readers from around 12 years upwards.

Racing in the Rain – Garth Stein [Young Readers Adaptation]

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Harper Collins Australia

August 2019

ISBN: 9780062935076

ISBN 10: 0062935070

Imprint: HarperCollins – US

List Price: 14.99 AUD

For everyone who has loved the series of A Dog’s Purpose (which definitely includes me and K) this book will bring much joy though at times it is both poignant and tense.

It is the story of a family in essence. Beginning with the adoption of the smart and funny Enzo by Denny, amateur (but yearning to be professional) racing car enthusiast and following the often difficult trials that ensue after Denny’s marriage to Eve and the subsequent birth of Zoe, their daughter. At first Eve and Enzo are rather in a stalemate situation, neither thinking very highly of the other but after Zoe’s arrival and Enzo’s slavish devotion to and unfailing protection of her their relationship changes.

However family life can often be fraught, indeed heartbreaking, and at times can be under serious threat of falling apart and so it is in this instance. But throughout all it is Enzo who is ever present and faithful to the preservation of the fragility of his humans. He may be a canine but he is intelligent and understands everything that is happening around him and is determined to do anything he can to support Denny and Zoe.

Funny and tender, insightful and courageous, mute but definitely expressive Enzo’s observations, humour and loyalty will make you laugh and cry. It is truly delightful.

This special edition of the best-selling novel The Art of Racing in the Rain is timed to tie-in with the upcoming movie version. I can highly recommend it for readers from around 12 years upwards.

Beverly, Right Here – Kate diCamillo

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Walker Books

ISBN: 9781406391633
Imprint: Walker
September 2019
Australian RRP: $19.99
New Zealand RRP: $22.99

Without a doubt this is the happiest review I’ve ever written. Not just because it’s another fabulous book from this much-loved author, nor just that it continues the story of Raymie, Louisiana and Beverly but for a far more personal reason.

My review copy arrived just a few days before my girl and I were going on our holiday to Tasmania so it was one of my first choices to take along with me. I read most of it in the Brisbane airport terminal then finished it off during the flight. The Kid was quite taken with the cover and then curious about the story so I handed it to her and before we landed in Melbourne for the first leg of our trip she had read the first chapter. Now for a 14 year old you may not think this a significant moment but for a child who was first assessed with an intellectual impairment at six and who has struggled for years with both spoken and written language it was a true milestone moment. In that first chapter there were just five words of which she was unsure – and after checking with me, three of them she had correct and the other two she had worked out but couldn’t quite get the context or meaning. TRIUMPH!

She is now halfway through the book and is really enjoying the story – and the effect of her success has been electrifying to say the least. Her ‘reading level’ (GRRRR) at school has escalated over eight levels at least since her last literacy group before the holidays. My heart is singing! It is such a breakthrough for her and her confidence is soaring.

So with that out of the way, let me tell you about the story itself. We know from the two previous books that Beverly’s life is far from easy and when her beloved Buddy dies she’s finally had enough and takes off. At 14 with no money and only the clothes she’s wearing she lands in a new town where she manages to find some work and is taken in by a quirky but kindly old lady who becomes Beverly’s entrée into an atmosphere of caring. As some time goes by Beverly begins to establish positive relationships and meaningful friendships and eventually is able to rationalize her old life and how she might overcome the obstacles she faces.  Her newfound insight into herself enables her to move forward with confidence and determination.

Once again Kate has given us a memorable book. For me it will always be the book that turned my girl into a ‘reader’. Thank you from the bottom of my heart Kate diCamillo.

Toffee – Sarah Crossan

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Bloomsbury

June 2019

9781526608147
Bloomsbury YA

RRP $14.99

Exquisitely, compellingly poignant and haunting, I was so happy that I took this to the hairdresser’s yesterday. It meant I could read it one sitting without feeling guilty about neglected house chores!

I am not who I say I am.
Marla isn’t who she thinks she is.


I am a girl trying to forget.
Marla is a woman trying to remember. 

Allison has never known her mother who died within hours of giving birth. She’s been raised by a father with major anger issues and has tiptoed around both his rages and his women all her life. The latest in this parade of women is Kelly-Anne, kind and caring, who took off but did almost beg Allie to go with her.

After years of mental abuse and finally physical battering which culminates in a hot iron smashed across her face, Allie also runs – to find Kelly-Anne but instead runs into problems. She finds herself, taking shelter, in a dingy garden shed but the house to which it belongs is not unoccupied. Marla lives there in a dementia-fog of her own. Marla mistakes Allie for her girlhood friend Toffee and so the two begin a tentative and touching relationship in which both look out for each other, bolster each other and ultimately rescue each other.

That summation does not in any way do justice to the beauty of this verse-novel or its command on the reader.

Allison and Marla become a team. Each in her own way helps the other to overcome their difficulties and insecurities as well as their basic needs for care, companionship and safety.

This is truly a beautiful book which will bring the reader to tears, but also laugh and rage and empathy.

It is more suited to older readers – around 13 years+ – but is so worth promoting to your sensitive and discerning readers. I highly recommend it for students in Lower Secondary and upwards.