Tag Archives: Family

The Ghost Locket – Allison Rushby

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Walker Books

April 1st 2022

ISBN: 9781760654153
Imprint: Walker Books Australia
Distributor: Walker Australia
Binding:
Release Date: April 1, 2022

Australian RRP: $17.99
New Zealand RRP: $19.99

Allison Rushby has repeatedly proven her gift for suspenseful spookiness for middle-grade readers and this new book, in my opinion, might just have tipped the scales of my favourite so far. Eleven-year-old Lolli (Olivia) has never known her mother, who died when she was just three months old. She knows that her mum had some mental health issues and a difficult life but that’s about all she knows. She’s been raised by her mum’s friend, Freya, somewhat by default really, but that hasn’t stopped the two developing a bond as close as any biological mother and child would have. Their other much-loved family member is Freya’s great-aunt, Elsie, owner of an extraordinary old house in Spitalfields, London.

The house is a museum that’s not a museum really. It’s an installation – a theatrical set, if you will – where each room reflects a different period of history, and how it might have looked when occupied by family. For the many visitors who come to see it, especially at Christmastime, it is a thing of wonder and joy. For Lolli, it is the source of nightmares. She knows that as a baby she screamed if taken into the house, and she remembers only too vividly her last visit when the ‘thing’ swooped down her and almost crushed her. Now Elsie needs her help, and Lolli must overcome her fears and panic, control her mind and bring all her energies to bear to solve the ages-old dark secret of the house.

Readers will absolutely love the slow reveal of clues and facts that help us to follow Lolli’s thoughts, and her reflections on her own life and her connections to both people and the world. As with Allison’s other books, the creepiness is at exactly the right pitch – enough to scare a young reader deliciously but not leave them traumatised. Parallel to the exquisite ghost story, is a warm and wondrous take on family, and what it means to each of us, whatever our circumstances.

For those who know my own, I read this paragraph and got very teary – as the seventh anniversary of my girl’s passing was last week, and The Kid’s 17th birthday is this week – and for this one passage I truly thank Allison for her words which are so applicable in our context.

“Your mother was a good person, [Lolli]. And don’t ever let anyone tell you otherwise. All she’d want for you in this life is for you to be a good person too. That you are always brave enough to be your best self. That you strive to do the right thing. The good thing. The loving thing. The helpful thing. The kind thing. That’s exactly what your mother would have done her whole life long if the world hadn’t broken her first.”

I was interested to read Allison’s notes at the back of the book and learn of the inspiration for the house in her story. You can read more about Dennis Severs’ House and understand the fascination for so many. For me this is exactly what ‘museums’ should be like – they should be living things as much as possible. [I don’t want to see a discarded object with a card tag attached to it, lying pointlessly on a shelf. I would much rather see it in its ‘actual’ setting! Canterbury Museum in NZ remains firmly in my memory after visiting when I was about 13 or so for the amazing Christchurch St collection and more.]

This is just one utterly fab read! – a little bit of history, a lot of creepiness, a bit of angst, a lot of love – all in all, a perfect package for any reader from around an astute 9 years up to 13 or so. I highly recommend it to you and I know I am looking forward to book talking it with my Year 7s before the holidays.

Ming & Flo Fight for the Future: (The Girls Who Changed the World #1) – Jackie French

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Harper Collins

March 2022

  • ISBN: 9781460760208
  • ISBN 10: 1460760204
  • List Price: 16.99 AUD

A brand new series from Jackie French is always cause for great excitement, and this one is going to be a corker, given this fabulous start!

We have all been awed by Jackie’s wealth of historical novels and her indomitable female characters over the years. Now younger readers have the opportunity to examine and reflect upon the past, with its many, often hidden, layers while becoming fully immersed in an exciting and engaging narrative.

Young Ming Qong wonders why so much of history fails to mention girls and women, because surely they also contributed to the events that have shaped both Australia and the world. She imagines what it would be like to step back in time and forge destinies as an intrepid explorer or a wise ruler. When a strange purple-robed character appears and introduces herself as “Herstory”, Ming’s chance to see and experience the past is at hand, though not at all as she might have pictured it.

Instead of some grand setting, Ming is transported back to a drought-stricken, barren farm in the late 19th century where young Flo and her mother, try desperately to survive while the man of the family is largely absent – thankfully, as on the rare occasions he is home, it means drunken rages and beatings. When Flo’s mother is killed by snake-bite, Ming/Flo seeks refuge with her mother’s sister, Aunt McTavish, who lives ‘comfortably’ in Sydney. Her stay with her wealthy aunt introduces Ming to many new revelations about the past, especially of pre-Federation Australia: the long fight for both federation and women’s suffrage, the plight of the poor, the lack of education or indeed any other opportunities for betterment, and a far more diverse population than Ming has ever read about.

Can Ming help make a difference? She does her very best by helping Aunt McTavish in her mission to petition for a new referendum on the question of Federation but also, in her work with Louisa Lawson, for the advancement of women. As well, she instigates changes in her own right – teaching at the Raggedy School and rescuing orphaned Emily from dire circumstances.

It’s a cracking read all round. There is, of course, far more than the ‘big picture’ events enhancing this storyline, and Ming’s compassion, insight and empathy make for a terrific, positive example for readers – without any preachiness. The various characters who ably demonstrate that there are multiple aspects to anyone’s personality are memorable, and while we leave most of them behind at the end of the book, we do have the next one to deliciously anticipate, where Ming along with her brother, will be off on another time travel adventure.

This is eminently suited to your readers in Upper Primary up to Year7 or even 8, particularly your Mighty Girls, to whom I heartily recommend it. Congratulations Jackie on yet another fine series, again inspired by your own family “herstory”!

Banjo Tully – Justin D’Ath

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Ford St Publishing

September 2021

ISBN: 9781925804904

RRP: $17.95

It was a hair salon day and as usual, I took a book with me – one I’d only unpacked from its box this morning – although I have some others still half-read, because I always love Justin’s writing. And this was no exception – I read it from start to finish with barely any conversation with my stylist. After weeks of scowling in the direction of Year 9 boys, it was so good to read a story about one that is not a complete horror – even if only fictional LOL.

But seriously, in the past week three separate people have asked me for recommendations for teen boys in particular – including those who are either reluctant or not skilful readers – and here is a perfect example of such, and one which excludes no students. There is a significant female character who also happens to be from a different culture, there is some rich unpacking to be done around life in the country (versus life in the suburbs or city), family dramas, surviving crises, support from friends and others and, not least of all, climate change. Coming hot on the heels as it does of our government’s embarrassing presence at COP26 in Glasgow, this will spark intense and profitable discussions with your teens.

Banjo’s parents are doing it tough on their farm because of the ongoing drought, just as many others in their district and beyond are also. Their cattle are already sold off and now it looks like Banjo’s much-loved horse, Milly is next to go. He’s already had to drop out of the basketball team as the petrol costs of running back and forth to town prove difficult, although at least he can still attend Venturers. When Banjo decides to mount a protest against Ride to School Day, in which all the townie kids who ride the bikes will get a free movie pass, he takes Milly almost 30 kms into town to arrive in a different style altogether. However, problems arising from this escalate his statement into more of an escape, until he meets up with teenage conservationist, Mai Le, and suddenly he becomes the youth Eco Warrior riding his faithful horse to Canberra to tell the politicians exactly what he thinks should be happening – before the whole country, indeed the world, goes beyond the point of no return.

This is a well-paced narrative which will appeal across genders and abilities with ease and, given it’s setting and topical focus will also resonate with many. It would as easily make a successful read-aloud as a class novel and will certainly be on the list I am compiling at present for our Head of English. I highly recommend it to you for your readers from around Year 7 upwards. Thanks Justin for another cracking read that will have real impact for our young adult readers.

The Magical Bookshop – Katja Frixe. Illustrated by Florentine Prechtel. Translated by Ruth Ahmedzal Kemp.

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Bloomsbury

September 2021

Imprint: OneWorld

ISBN: 9781786075666

RRP: $14.99

Such a sweet and happy book this is! Translated from the German with great dexterity while retaining just the right amount of that quirkiness of expression that European children’s books often have, this is just a delight from start to finish.

Mrs Owl’s bookshop is full of magic and it is Clara’s favourite place to be. She loves her family very much but it can get very noisy in a full house. The bookshop gives Clara a space to just be – curled up in a favourite spot with a favourite book or chatting quietly with Mrs Owl, not to mention Mr King, the mirror, and Gustav, the cat – both of whom also talk! They are the greatest comfort to Clara, especially now when her very best friend forever, Lottie, is moving away. It’s all because Lottie’s father has a new girlfriend and Lottie’s mum does not want to stay in the same town as the new couple.

How can the two girls bear to be separated? It is just not fair. And then there’s Clara’s new teacher who might be pretty but Clara is not convinced of her friendliness. New boy Leo is no substitute for Lottie in the classroom and all in all, things are feeling pretty grim. Then there’s the very worst thing about this new year, is that someone is determined to close down the bookshop with some very nasty tricks and underhanded actions.

It soon becomes apparent that even with Lottie gone, Clara still has friends and those friends need her help badly. Maybe, in doing that, things might just get a little easier to bear in the light of Lottie’s move so far away.

This has such a lovely feel of friendship and community about it and readers from around 7 years upwards will enjoy it for not only the mystery but also the humour and magic.

Highly recommend for independent readers from around Year 2 upwards.

Pax, Journey Home – Sara Pennypacker

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Harper Collins

September 2021

  • ISBN: 9780008470289
  • ISBN 10: 0008470286
  • Imprint: HarperCollins GB
  • List Price: 19.99 AUD
So many readers have been waiting for a sequel to the book that captured thousands of hearts with its tender story of a boy and his orphaned fox. Now a year has gone by since Peter and Pax were separated (oh the tissues required!) and each has followed their own path. Pax has a mate and a new litter of kits to protect as they wander the wasteland to find a safe haven. Peter, now orphaned himself, has been taken in by the warm and generous Vola far away from his home but he cannot settle, despite the sanctuary she offers.

When Peter joins the Water Warriors, a group determined to repair the ravages of the war, his primary intention it to work his way back to his old home, although he knows there is nothing left for him there. He desperately tries to put Pax out of his mind but still there’s a part of him that yearns to know his fox is safe. At the same time as Peter draws nearer to his old house, Pax is trekking across the dangerous landscape with his youngest kit, the feisty the little girl pup, who is becoming weaker and weaker. Despite the fox’s sharp senses he has no way of knowing that the water the little vixen drinks so thirstily is slowly poisoning her. When their paths finally intersect again, the pair’s reunion is bitter-sweet but as they part once more, both have experienced a healing transformation.

Again Sara Pennypacker has crafted a book that is full of exquisite tenderness and real emotions, with no trace of cloying over-sentimentality. The beautiful re-defining of ‘family’ and the transcedent power of pure love will linger with readers well after they turn the last page.

An absolutely magical book which was one-sitting read for me as I once again dipped into the world of Peter and Pax.

My highest recommendation for readers from around 10 years upwards.

Kensy and Max #8: High Voltage – Jacqueline Harvey

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Penguin Australia

September 2021

  • ISBN: 9781760898557
  • Imprint: Puffin
  • RRP: $16.99

Get ready for your kiddos to clamour to be the first – and then the next – to borrow Jacqueline Harvey’s newest book in the dynamite Kensy and Max series! This is another knock-out episode in the thrilling adventures of the twins and their family and friends – though, ostensibly, in this book everyone is meant to be on a happy relaxing family holiday.

After some tense action over the school term, Granny Cordelia decrees a holiday for the entire family in a picturesque Portuguese villa with loads of sunshine, beach, delicious food, time to chill and absolutely no phones, devices or espionage! Their holiday villa just happens right next door to the epicentre of all the action surrounding the E-Prix Championships, Wolf Motors, and an innovative new vehicle called the Wolf Electra. Soon it seems that everyone in the family is secretively investigating something as strange and disturbing incidents start to rapidly escalate. Of course, the twins and their buddies, Curtis and Autumn, are right in the thick of things and doing their very best to unravel the intricacies of kidnapping, sabotage and family secrets.

This newest mission takes the family spy business a step further as the twins’ mother, who had declared herself to be no longer interested in being an active agent, revises her position and takes an active guiding role in their investigations. Also adding more depth to characters, who have been somewhat on the periphery, readers will enjoy finding out more about Mim, and her past relationship with James Wolf – not to mention his former association with the family.

High-powered race cars and the glamour of the sport combined with the spy antics of Pharos are an intoxicating combination, and the tension and threats around the championships, the reveal of a game-changing new SUV and the evolving status of family and friends certainly will keep readers on the edge of their seats.

My readers eagerly anticipate each new title so I know this one will most definitely be in high demand as soon as it hits our shelves, particularly as we approach the holidays. No doubt many of you will already have it on pre-order but if not, then add it to your shopping list at high speed or suffer the consequences (that will be strident nagging most likely I predict).

It’s not often that an author manages to keep her dedicated fan base once they move on past the intended audience, in my experience – they often seem to ‘grow out’ of certain favourites but that is most definitely not the case with Jacqueline’s works.

My highest recommendation goes without saying for this new cracker in a highly successful series – the joy her creativity brings to readers is inspiring.

Sofa Surfer – Malcolm Duffy

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Harper Collins Australia

May 2021

  • ISBN: 9781786697684
  • ISBN 10: 1786697688
  • Imprint: Head Of Zeus – Zehpyr GB
  • RRP $16.99

On any given night in Australia 116,427 Australians are homeless. 27,680 of these are young people aged 12-24 years. Most of the homeless youth aged 12–18 years in 2016 were living in ‘severely’ crowded dwellings (61%) or in supported accommodation for the homeless (26%).

Youth HomelessnessSalvation Army

121,000 16-24 year olds were homeless or at risk of homelessness in the UK in 2020 Centrepoint UK

Over the past year I’ve read some cracking teen books from the UK, and this is right up there with the very best. It’s engaging, often funny, extremely poignant and tackles a social issue of the gravest concern not only in the UK but also here in Australia.

When Tyler’s family moves from London to live in the spa town of Ilkley, West Yorkshire, the 15-year-old is well ticked off and prepared to resent absolutely everything about their new lives. He misses their old house and his friends, and he hates the ‘small town-ness’ of Ilkley. The fact that his parents have opted for renovations to their new house rather than their usual summer holiday somewhere exciting is, as far as Tyler is concerned, the nail in the coffin. His resentment continues to build, and his only outlet is taking his dog Dexter for long walks where he can vent his feelings on a blissfully unaware canine.

Desperate for something to fill the empty days, Tyler goes to the local lido (that’s the local public pool to us!) where at least he can enjoy his swimming prowess. To his great surprise he’s approached by an awkward gangly girl, whom he estimates to be around 18, with an almost unintelligible Geordie accent, long skinny limbs, baggy swimmers and gawky specs who asks him to teach her to swim. Of all the things he might have expected to happen this was certainly not one of them but ‘Spider’ as she is known is surprisingly persuasive and, being keen to earn himself some money for headphones, Tyler takes on the challenge.

And challenge it is – Spider is not the most confident of pupils and certainly not the most physically adept but she does make progress even though she’s not always reliable with Tyler’s payment for lessons. As the lessons progress, Tyler begins to realise that Spider’s life is one fraught with anxiety and difficulties as she ‘sofa surfs’ at a resentful cousin’s place, tries desperately to find some work and sense of self-worth. Tyler faces the opposition of his parents who are not at all keen on him becoming embroiled in any way with such a person and when local girl Michelle fixes her sights on him in a very possessive way, his life becomes even more complicated.

What starts out as simple swimming lessons, becomes a friendship marked by true empathy and compassion and as Tyler works his way through helping Spider, he also works his way through his own (relatively inconsequential) family problems and begins to realise how fragile family relationships can sometimes be. It is such a relief that at the end of some harrowing moments there is a good outcome for Spider but sadly, the statistics reveal that this is not always the case especially for young women. Tyler’s shock when he learns Spider is only 16 – so a year older than himself – is very confronting and will certainly give teen readers some pause for thought.

It is a sobering thought that in so many affluent Western countries the incidence of youth homelessness is on the increase and not only can support agencies find themselves overwhelmed but can also be perceived as contributing to some of the problems. You can read more about youth homeless in Australia here and check out agencies such as the Salvation Army, Mission Australia or Homelessness Australia. The novel concludes with the contact for Centrelink in the UK – the leading youth charity in that country.

I know my readers who love the work of writers such as Sarah Crossan and Brian Conaghan are going to love this book and it will certainly be top of my book talking list at our next ChocLit meeting.

My highest recommendation for teens from Year 7 upwards.

The Valley of Lost Secrets – Lesley Parr

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Bloomsbury Australia

February 2021

ISBN:9781526620521
Imprint:Bloomsbury Children’s Books

RRP: $14.99

Omg, I can’t tell you how much I loved this read during the week!! It completely reminds me of two much-loved favourites, Carrie’s War by Nina Bawden and Goodnight Mister Tom by Michelle Magorian (both of which I own and have re-read many times), but with its whole new take on the situation of evacuee children in WWII.

Jimmy and his little brother have been evacuated from London to a Welsh valley – traditional, coal-mining families and either open welcomes or suspicion of ‘foreigners’. Mr and Mrs Thomas are warm and caring, and little Ronnie is quickly comfortable with both, but Jimmy is both distrustful and resentful. He’s already lost his mum, who took off leaving the brothers with their dad and grandmother, and he’s certainly not ready to treat this temporary stay as ‘home’. The entire London contingent seem different here. Jimmy’s best friend, now lodged with the local minister’s family, has turned into a nasty bully like the Reverend’s son and Florence, uncared for and abused at home, blossoms into a true friend.

Jimmy is to realise that even a temporary family can be a solace but first there are difficulties to overcome and these are complicated when the boy discovers a human skull hidden in the hollow of an old tree. Enough to scare even an adult, this find has Jimmy scrambling for someone to trust and sometimes an ally can be found in the most unlikely quarter. The secrets of the valley are gradually revealed as Jimmy and his little tribe work together to solve a decades old mystery, and bring much needed comfort to a long-held grief.

We do know, of course, that not all the evacuated children had happy experiences and we cannot begin to comprehend how overwhelming or unnerving the whole exercise would have been even for those who did. In those times, many city children had never had any experience of wide open spaces, nature and the reality of rural living – some didn’t even know that milk came from cows!

Young readers, particularly those who are fond of such stories set in wartime, will find much to love about this narrative. The strong themes of family, friendship and bravery are very inspirational and will give many children finding our current circumstances difficult some insight in dealing with similar events.

Highly recommended for your readers from around ten years upwards.