Tag Archives: Friendship

Bear Out There – Jacob Grant

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9781526607416

Bloomsbury

July 2019

ISBN: 9781526607416
Imprint: Bloomsbury Children’s Books

 

RRP: $14.99

We all need a friend who will help us out at times and when that friend goes way beyond their ‘comfort zone’ it’s even more special.

Bear and Spider are great friends but they are very different. Spider loves being outdoors with the breeze, the smells, the plants not to mention the bugs 😊. Bear, on the other hand, is more of a homebody who enjoys pottering around the house tidying and sitting comfortably with a cup of tea.

Bear has absolutely no desire to go out with Spider to fly his kite. He has his own plans for the day, none of which involve the great outdoors.  When Spider’s kite is caught up in the gusty wind and blows away of course Bear will help look for it but he grumbles all the way. The forest is full of horrible stuff like itchy plants, pesky weeds and cold rain and even Spider is starting to have enough of nature when at last as the rain clears and the pair look up to the sky there it is! At last the kite is found! Back home the two friends settle back in the comfy armchair with their tea and both fly kites from its warm cosiness.

True friends help each other even when they are opposites. This is a terrific story to explore that idea with little humans.

Highly recommended for readers from around 3 years upwards.

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Toffee – Sarah Crossan

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9781526608147

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.

The Shelly Bay Ladies Swimming Circle – Sophie Green

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9780733641169

Hachette

JUL 23, 2019 | 9780733641169 | RRP $29.99

 

If you missed The Inaugural Meeting of the Fairvale Ladies Book Club which was a runaway success a couple of years ago you must make certain not to neglect this new novel from Sophie Green!

Once again readers become heavily invested in the lives of the main characters; Marie, Theresa, Elaine and Leanne, as they form a strong bond of supportive friendship. Each of these women are facing their own challenges and when they unexpectedly meet up on Shelly Beach for a dawn swim they gradually and tentatively begin to connect despite their differing ages and circumstances.

Marie still mourns the loss of her husband five years previously and more so since her oldest friend moved away to a retirement village. With her terrier Charlie Brown her only real companion she often finds herself falling into melancholy. But she’s swum every morning almost her whole life and is determined to keep it up.

Then there is Theresa, young mother of two lively children, married to an insensitive, lazy and philandering husband. Despite the support of her Nonna who lives with them, Theresa is struggling to keep her emotions under control as her marriage disintegrates.

Elaine has recently migrated to Shelly Beach with her Australian-born surgeon husband leaving two grown up sons behind in England, as well as her own successful business. Essentially she is grieving for her past life and is resistant to embracing the new one on offer. Her solace becomes habitual and increasing gin and tonics until she reaches a crisis point.

The youngest of the group is quiet reserved Leanne who is hiding a dark secret which has left her emotionally scarred and wary of everyone, particularly men.

Each has their own personal reason for the early morning swim but soon discovers that in numbers, especially a close circle of women friends, is strength. That strength becomes even more important when each of them face significant changes in their lives.

Again this is a marvellous reflection of the impact our own personal circles have on our mental and physical wellbeing. Like its predecessor it is an insightful exploration of the power of friendship, trust and genuine love.

I highly recommend it to you and if you should be looking for a title for a book club this would be a perfect fit.

 

The Pinballs – Betsy Byars

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pinballs

Harper Collins

ISBN: 9780062881786

ISBN 10: 0062881787

Imprint: HarperCollins – US

July 2019

List Price: 16.99 AUD

 

Now in her 90s award-winning American author Betsy Byars first published The Pinballs in 1977. As I re-read this new edition I wondered if she thought that perhaps the fate of some children might improve over time. It seems that the plight of so many is far worse than the children in her novel, a sad and terrible indictment of our human society.

Three foster children are placed with a warm and loving couple, the Masons, who have successfully changed the lives of 17 other children.

Carlie is the first to arrive, having been removed from the reach of a violent stepfather by children’s services. She is brash and sarcastic but hides an unbearable longing to be with her mother and siblings.

Next is Harvey who is confined to a wheelchair after his father ‘accidentally’ running him over and breaking both his legs. Since Harvey’s mother left when he was small, he has had to basically fend for himself and his greatest desire is to find his mother on the commune/farm she calls her new home.

Thomas J was a mere toddler when he wandered up the driveway of the aged Benson twins’ farm, apparently abandoned. The spinster sisters took him in and always meant to contact the authorities but somehow never did. With both of them in the hospital after bad falls there is no one else to care for the small boy who doesn’t even know his real name or birthday.

At first it seems the disparate personalities of the three kids will cause friction but as time goes by and circumstances change for all of them, their friendship deepens.  They cease to be ‘pinballs’ bouncing around from bad situation to worse and start to become a bonded family. The patience and kindness of the Masons has much to do with this and they gradually build the self-esteem of each child.

It’s not a long book, more a novella really, but it is packed with emotions: poignancy, grief, humour, self-awareness and more.

Despite its age and references to 70s contemporary pop culture such as TV shows or toys, this is a book that truly stands the test of time and is just as, if not more, relevant in these times.

If you are looking for a different read-aloud for your middle school kiddos this would be a wonderful choice and an introduction to the other great works by Byars. I know that my year 5s once upon a time also loved The Great Gilly Hopkins but there are many others from which to choose. You will also find plenty of teaching notes etc for this book which is often used in US schools.

Highly recommended for readers from around ten years upwards.

 

 

Alice-Miranda Keeps the Beat (#18) – Jacqueline Harvey

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Penguin Random House

9780143786030

June 4, 2019

Puffin

 

RRP $16.99

Jacqueline Harvey knows exactly how to reach those high notes with her readers and the overwhelming popularity of her series, and certainly Alice-Miranda, is proof of that. The tiny girl with the big heart always plays her part in helping others, redressing injustices and solving mysteries.

Life at Winchesterfield-Downsfordvale Academy for Proper Young Ladies is at fever pitch with Miss Reedy acting as Head and an increasingly disgruntled and resentful staff. The new teacher Miss Crowley seems to really be a target for the short fuse of the acting headmistress.  Surely Miss Reedy cannot be as despotic as it would seem? Could there be some other hand at work behind the imperious orders and contradictory decisions?

At the same time a fire in the village which destroys the Abboud family home and restaurant causes huge consternation amongst both villagers and young ladies, with the resulting determination to help out the family to raise funds for re-building.

The spontaneous suggestion to hold a music festival strikes a resonant chord with many of the would-be helpers but not everyone is on board with it. Alice-Miranda is certainly keen particularly as she has a happy secret she’s been keeping which would mesh beautifully with the proposed event. But A-M is not the only one with a secret. Young Zahra Abboud is closely guarding her own hidden agenda while Alice-Miranda’s friend Jacinta is trying to fathom the mysterious reason behind her errant father’s sudden re-appearance.

Into the mix are the usual cast of characters of school mates, ‘boy’ friends, villagers and personalities of note with lots of interaction accompanying the main threads.

There is always so much to absorb in these stories primarily the abiding themes of kindness (often in the face of difficulty/hostility), compassion and resilience.

It is little wonder they are such a huge success with readers from 8 to mid-Secondary. I have so many kiddos who are literally panting and begging to get their hands on this new one first.

Congratulations Jacqueline on another fabulously orchestrated adventure! Now all that remains is for me to duck and weave the crash tackles when it arrives in the library 😊 ..!

Nullaboo Hullabaloo – Fleur Ferris

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nullaboo

Penguin

9780143787143

May 7, 2019

Puffin

 

RRP: $14.99

 

We could all use some more fairy dust in our lives. Whether it’s because of the gloom and doom of daily news reports or if (like me packing up house) because of some personal issues. I maintain that a liberal sprinkling of fairy sparkle would be very beneficial for anyone.

Fleur Ferris has demonstrated so superbly her ability to write gripping YA fiction and has now turned her hand to fiction for younger readers with the same ease and expertise.

In a little country community young Gemma isn’t having a terrific time. First there’s the worry of her family being evicted from the farm they all love. Second, the all-too-perfect Nina got butterflies for her special science project topic while Gemma bombed out with March flies – really? March Flies?

But when Gemma captures not a fly nor even a feather in her bug catcher but a real live honest-to-goodness fairy, things in Nullaboo start to go completely crazy! Janomi the fairy isn’t meant to reveal herself to humans but she’s desperate for help after her grandfather, leader of their colony, was captured by the dreadful silver spiders. There’s more than a captured fairy leader at stake though when a secret government agency gets wind of the find and lead by an absolute nutter poses a real threat of extermination to the last fairy colony on Earth.

It’s up to Gemma, her family and the solidarity of their little community to save the day – and the fairies!

This seemingly effortless and straightforward narrative has much scope for discussion with current global topics such as environmental damage, conservation, tolerance, acceptance and embracing differences all able to correlate to the unfolding of events.  And aside from that it’s a jolly fun read!

Highly recommended for anyone who loves a great fairy story – and hopes for fairies in their garden!

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Animal Crackers

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Now that the pile of review novels is finally getting to a stage that could be described as semi-tamed, it’s time to get stuck into plethora picture books. So here are some animal-focused ones to get into – because we all know that our little readers just love a great animal story and we love them because so often they send such positive messages.

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Flat Cat – Hiawyn Oram/Gwen Millard

Walker Books Australia

January 2019

ISBN: 9781406371543
Australian RRP: $24.99
New Zealand RRP: $27.99

“If you love something, set it free” – that was my first thought on reading this book. My second thought was the memory of buying my beloved Burmese cat, Possum, many years ago. I was determined that he would be an ‘inside’ cat but after two weeks of completely shredded flyscreens, I realised that was not in his nature and so he became an inside/outside cat and was my best friend for the eight years of his life.

Sophie loves Jimi-My-Jim and gives him everything you might think a cat could desire – toys, special food, sparkly collars, beds and even clothes. The one thing that Jimi-My-Jim is missing is freedom. He is never allowed outside and gradually he becomes ‘Flat Cat’ because he so morose at seeing the outside world only through a window. When one day by accident, Flat Cat manages to get hold of the front door keys, he is off and away and discovers a world full of other cats, life, excitement, joy and another very special cat – Blanche.  While at first the consequences prove to be difficult for both Flat Cat and Sophie, they are overcome and Flat Cat is able to pursue his new life – with the joy of the freedom plus the joy of being Sophie’s special friend.

This offers a serious point of discussion about when, if ever, it’s acceptable to reject the rules in place and certainly gives ‘helicopter’ parents an opportunity to examine their practices.

I certainly recommend it for young readers from around six years upwards – but would suggest that it could also be a valuable addition to parent information nights!

goodrosie

Good Rosie! – Kate de Camillo. Pictures by Harry Bliss

Walker Books Australia

October 2018

ISBN: 9781406383577
Australian RRP: $24.99
New Zealand RRP: $27.99

 

I really meant to get to this one sooner rather than later because I truly adore Kate di Camillo’s work. This is such a departure from her novels but is truly enchanting and endearing.

We all need friends and Rosie is no exception. She has a good life with her human, George, but is lonely without doggy companions. Sometimes it seems that she and George don’t have much in common, for example, an intense interest in squirrels. When George takes Rosie to the dog park for the first time, she is somewhat overwhelmed. She has never seen so many dogs before and she feels confronted and scared. She is even more so when Maurice, a very large St Bernard approaches shaking his toy bunny with such vigour it’s a wonder the toy’s extremities still exist. But then the tiny Fifi with her sparkly collar doesn’t seem a kindred spirit either.

It takes an unfortunate incident between Maurice and Fifi to help Rosie realise that sometimes friends come in different shapes and sizes and that we don’t all ‘click’ at first sight.

Formatted in a graphic novel style, this is a lovely reminder about unlikely friendships but moreover about overcoming prejudices and feeling anxious.

A fabulous book for sharing with young readers to kick-start conversations about acceptance and building relationships.

 

Saying Goodbye to Barkley – Devon Sillett/Nicky Johnston

barkley

EK Books

978-1-925335-96-5

$24.99

Losing our furbabies is difficult. For children who have grown up with a special pet it is arguably even moreso. Super Olivia and her trusty sidekick, Barkley, have always been a team. As Olivia carries out her amazing super-hero deeds, Barkley is always right by her giving his all. When Barkley is no longer there, Olivia feels her zest for super-sleuthing and action-heroism has also gone. But after her grieving she realises that Barkley would not want her to give up her passion in life, nor forget his extraordinary assistance. Olivia knows what she must do as a true super-hero for whom rescues are a daily event. She must rescue a new sidekick.

Spud is white, fluffy and adorable – and absolutely useless at fighting crime and uncovering dastardly plots but Olivia loves her anyway.

This is not a story about replacing one pet for another but a beautiful way of describing that eventually we can heal from our losses and find joy in other ways, events and companions.

Highly recommended for readers from around six years upwards.

 

 

Catch a Falling Star – Meg McKinlay

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Walker Books

March 2019

fallingstar

ISBN: 9781925381207
Imprint: Walker Books Australia

Australian RRP: $17.99
New Zealand RRP: $19.99

It’s 1979 and Frankie is just finishing primary school. Her dad has been dead, after a light plane crash over the ocean, for six years  and Frankie, her little brother Newt and her mum have been struggling along ever since. With their Mum working long hours as a nurse in the local hospital, Frankie and Newt have had to become very self-reliant which can be difficult as Newt, only seven years old, is very Newtish – a serious little boy with definite indications of being on the spectrum.

Frankie has been coping but only just with looking after Newt, has mastered baked beans or spaghetti on toast and even fish fingers, makes lunches, cleans out school bags and tries to get on with her homework projects. But when the news about the re-entry of Skylab, the first space station, pushes even Sunday night’s Disneyland off the TV, her grief resurfaces with intensity. The last time she saw her amateur astronomer father alive they had been sitting with two year old Newt watching Skylab launch and it seems to Frankie that those memories which have been pushed to one side are becoming just too much with which to deal, on top of everything else.

Most worrying is Newt’s increasingly strange and obsessive infatuation with the whole Skylab event and it seems that his normally purely scientific interests are becoming clouded by something else.

As Frankie tries her hardest not to feel neglected by her mother, watch out for Newt and salvage her increasingly fragile friendship with her best friend, it is her school project on Storm Boy that helps her to realise and face much of her distress and additionally enables her to see Newt’s dilemma with more clarity.

This is a beautiful, sometimes humorous and often poignant tale about grief and loss, love and family, bravery and self-belief.

I would highly recommend it for readers from around ten years upwards.

Check out the teaching notes here.

Love Lie Repeat – Catherine Greer

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loveliverepeat

Penguin

9780143791225

March 5, 2019

$19.99

I’ve mentioned before that I have in recent times been somewhat disenchanted with many of the YA novels that have come my way. There have been a few exceptions. This one, debut novel and all, is an absolute corker!

Annie and her ‘island girls’ (the kind you take with you to a desert island), Ashlin and Ruby have been a threesome forever. They are bonded so closely that nothing could ever tear them apart. While their family lives may be complex in one sense with divorces, absent fathers, family secrets they lead privileged lives with money, fashion and solid support.

When Ashlin’s hitherto unknown half-brother, Trip, arrives from Canada, asked to leave his school due to some unexplained arson attacks, the girls’ previously tight bonds of friendship begin to fray in varying degrees. Annie’s burgeoning relationship with Trip seems destined to follow some kind of roller-coaster experience as she repeatedly trusts him, rejects him, reconciles with him. Ashlin’s secret sexual identity begins to reveal itself while Ruby, ignoring Annie’s obvious interest in Trip, starts throwing herself at the boy with little regard for her friend.

Into this mix of emotional angst are the girls’ usual activities of sport, singing, holidays and fashion but all of these seem to be overcast by some sinister atmosphere and more frighteningly, inexplicable random fires.

Greer has put together an intense and gripping narrative with many twists and turns and the ending is not to be missed.

Given its fairly adult themes this is not a book I would recommend for your younger teens but I have no hesitation in promoting it to senior secondary students.

47 Degrees – Justin D’Ath

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Penguin Australia

9780143789079

January 8, 2019

Puffin

RRP:  $16.99

Australia has more than its fair share of natural disasters. One only has to think about the events of the last week or so with the terrible floods in North Queensland and the raging fires in Tasmania. Arguably one of the very worst of these was the Black Saturday fires in Victoria. Ten years ago the country, and indeed the world, was rocked by the news of the ferociously devastating fires in Victoria which claimed 173 lives, cost millions in damage and untold mental anguish for so many.

Justin D’Ath has drawn on his own experience (losing his home for a start) to create a narrative in which readers can immerse themselves safely while relating and empathising with those caught up in the horror. Homes, possessions, pets….family…..so much at risk and so much loss by so many.

Keelie has not lived in the district long. She and her family re-located from New Zealand and are really still finding their way in their new community and environs. Her dad has done all the right things to safeguard their home but when Mum and little brother have to go to Melbourne on a medical emergency, Keelie is not feeling confident with Dad’s plans. She is quite naturally worried about their home and their safety but her horse is her biggest concern immediately.

When the worst happens and the winds change and the roaring dragon of fire encroaches, Keelie and her dad plus dogs must quickly abandon their home for safety.

This is a gripping tale of courage, friendship, compassion and loss to which young readers will readily connect. We all hope and pray to avoid such terrible and ravaging events but the knowledge that so many are ready to step up and take care of those who are at risk is a reassuring prospect. As Australians I believe we are particularly good at this. We may be offhand and blasé about much but when the worst happens, we rally and support and fight back.

What a fantastic read this is! I highly recommend it to you for readers from around ten years upwards.

 

*In memory of those who lost their lives and those who fought on to save those they could*

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