Tag Archives: Friendship

Gus and the Starlight – Victoria Carless

Standard

Harper Collins

May 2022

  • ISBN: 9781460760642
  • ISBN 10: 1460760646
  • Imprint: HarperCollins AU
  • List Price: 16.99 AUD

This is such a completely fresh take on both family stories and ghost stories. It is charming, poignant and thoroughly engaging for readers from around mid-primary to lower secondary.

Gus is tired of moving house and never belonging anywhere. It’s the reason she refuses to make friends. When her mother packs her, her older sister and younger brother, up yet again and they basically escape the ugly situation with Mum’s boyfriend, things don’t look like getting any better. They wind up in a little hick town, where they start living in an abandoned and reputedly haunted drive-in movie theatre in exchange for getting it up and running. Much to the surprise of the nasty employer (but not quite owner) and to Gus, her family actually begins to turn this enterprise into somewhat of a success. That doesn’t mean though, that she’s going to make friends. She’s choosing not to like her new teacher or the project she’s doing with her strange science partner, with whom she most certainly is not going to be friends. She really doesn’t want to love being the projectionist at the Starlight and she definitely does not want to hang out with the strange boy she sees around the drive-in.

There are all kinds of ghosts in life – the ones that are those who have passed on but also the ones who are very much alive but choose to pursue from the past. Gus learns to deal with both kinds as well as discovering new skills and depths to herself, of which she had no idea prior to coming to this quiet little town. As well, her family grows and slowly flourishes, like blooms in a freshly-dug garden bed, as they all find true acceptance in their new home.

This will definitely find an audience with your readers particularly around year 5-7, both boys and girls, as its appeal is wide.

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

Standard

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”!

Mr Bambuckle’s Remarkables Join Forces – Tim Harris

Standard

Penguin Australia

  • 1 March 2022
  • ISBN: 9781761044557
  • Imprint: Puffin
  • RRP: $14.99

It seems incredible – or should I say remarkable – that is already four years since I had the pleasure of sipping Himalayan tea with the delicious Mr Bambuckle – sorry, I mean, sipping delicious Himalayan tea with Mr Bambuckle! And now everyone’s favourite teacher (up there alongside me really) is back with his class of remarkable pupils, plus some new additions, and they have the most important undertaking ever when they collectively uncover Principal Sternblast’s dastardly plot.

The new children in the class have come from the recently closed Blue Valley Grammar, nearby private school, and while they are a tad reticent at first, each of the four quickly find that they are not only welcome but valued. But for how long? It appears the Blue Valley School is also under threat, not of entire closure, but a take-over by a private consortium who see an opportunity to create a new exclusive selective school to replace the defunct grammar school. And, as one would expect, Sternblast is up to his neck in the behind-the-scenes machinations with not one whit of concern for any havoc he may cause.

At first class 12B are rather nonplussed as they think that neither Mr Bambuckle nor Miss Frost are making an effort to stop this disaster. But as always, Mr B has all his ducks lined up as he makes sure that his pupils are both prepared and ready to combine their collective strengths and save their school.

As always, this is such a fun read and while there is plenty of nonsense on offer, there is also many great messages imparted to readers: recognising one’s own worth, maximising impact by collaborative action, research and planning pay off, faith and trust in one’s comrades and the joys of true friendships – no matter how different the personalities. Tim has a real knack of combining the absurd with the meaningful, and his experience as a primary teacher always shines through in his excellent caricatures of 12B’s students.

This series has been so popular in my libraries, and without doubt there will be a clamouring to be the first to borrow this when you add it to your shelves.

Highly recommended for kiddos from around Year 4 upwards.

Specky Magee- Felice Arena, Gary Lyons

Standard

Penguin Australia

1st March 2022

  • ISBN: 9780143777168
  • Imprint: Puffin
  • RRP: $16.99

Seriously, these anniversaries always give me such a jolt – “Whaddya mean 20 years of Specky?” she says with disbelief as she opens the parcel. Yep, face it, you have been doing this job a long time! I’m the first to admit (much to the disgust of a couple of former gentleman friends) that I am not an AFL aficionado – hello!? born and bred in Sydney, right in the heart of Dragons territory and went to St George GHS – any surprise as to my football allegiance!?) but the Specky series is so much more than football.

Any youngster who is a keen follower or player loves this series – right from the start I can confirm – and it will be no different as a new generation pick them up. The footy aspect is integral, of course, and the story line is fortified by the technical ‘know-how’ inserted at relevant points. But the theme of Specky is so much more than this. Readers will relate with ease to Specky’s relationships with friends and family, at school or at home or on the footy field, and they will empathise with his dilemmas and concerns.

It is in this first Specky story that he discovers he is adopted, and as anyone could imagine, the whole unravelling of this (so far) family secret causes much disquiet all round but the sensitivity and understanding that underlies the text is so very affirmative and reassuring for any young reader.

Readers don’t need to know anything about the game (hey I’m testament to that point). If they are fans, they will love the footy details but even without that, they will thoroughly enjoy the well-paced plot, the interactions of family and friends and Specky’s very down-to-earth and utterly believable actions, speech, and responses to the situations in which he finds himself.

There is obviously a very valid reason why these books are still so popular. In fact, in my new library, while I’m dissing a lot of titles that, rightfully, should be in a primary library, I strongly defended Specky. If our Year 7s come in and haven’t yet discovered this legend, they should and I will be the first to recommend!

I highly recommend this series to you for your readers from around Year 4 upwards but please – bear in mind, if you are struggling to tempt some readers (boys or girls) in lower secondary who lack confidence and enthusiasm but are mad AFL players – give this the biggest plug ever!! I’m now trying to think what incentive I can add to a big promo of it in my new space!

The PM’s Daughter – Meredith Costain

Standard

Penguin Australia

March 2022

  • ISBN: 9781761046704
  • Imprint: Puffin
  • RRP: $16.99

I’m well aware that many things just pass me by – especially when it comes to TV. To be fair, though The Kid is a teen, she would be way too engrossed with her horror movies to watch a show on the ABC but it appears that this series has been quite the hit.

Inspired by the series, Meredith Costain has brought her considerable talent and experience to crafting a book that will, most certainly, engage your tween/teen readers. This storyline really has something for everyone. Cat (otherwise known as Catalina) is the daughter of Australia’s first single parent/female/foreign-born PM – which, let’s face it is hugely significant in itself (and really, let’s hope prophetic, shall we?). After a tedious and tiring FIFO scenario, Cat and her PM mum, plus great-aunt Tia (who is totes adorable) are re-locating to Canberra from Perth.

The Lodge is not the most hip place to live for sure (and yes, I have seen inside it, so can vouch for that) and Cat is well miffed at leaving behind home, friends, and pets to be faced with protocols, antique furniture, hideous clothes and boring functions. Most of all, she’s full fed up that she is expected to put aside her own values and beliefs around important issues like climate change and the voting age to ‘toe the party line’ for the sake of her mum.

And, of course, it’s not because she doesn’t love her mum but, after all, she’s a teen girl – that’s her prerogative surely? – disagree and battle over everything! (Trust me, I’m on my second time around raising The Kid so I know of which I speak!).

Canberra is, as always, a heaving mass of fomenting discord with agitators – especially the youthful ones – as well as opposition to the new PM’s proposed policies, the threat of WA seceding and the usual hoi polloi of political media circus. And Cat ends up right in the middle of it all as she navigates new situations, tries to make friends whilst dancing around the trust issues and struggles to make her own voice heard.

When her mum is in danger of losing her new post due to blatant sabotaging, it falls to Cat and her new chums to salvage a career – whilst maintaining their own values and beliefs, no easy ask.

This is a tremendously enjoyable read which I think kiddos from around 12/13 will greatly appreciate. It has action, tension, family relationships, friendships, a little romance and a good dash of suspense to keep the discerning reader interested.

I’m definitely going to talk this one up to my year 7s & 8s in particular, and already considering adding it the newly revamped lit circle program I’m creating.

Highly recommended for readers from 12 upwards – and those reluctant readers who can often be tempted by the film tie-in angle.

The Beatryce Prophecy – Kate DiCamillo. Illustrated by Sophie Blackall.

Standard

Walker Books Australia

October 2021

ISBN: 9781529500899
Imprint: Walker
Australian RRP: $24.99
New Zealand RRP: $27.99

It goes without saying that anything Kate writes is superlative, but what I love especially is her ability to create narratives that are so completely different to those by anyone else, as well as her own creative diversity. From the chivalrous Desperaux to the amazing Ulysses, the friendship of Raymie, Louisiana and Beverly and the delicate Edward Tulaine and so much more, we have long recognised her superiority as a writer. Now Kate has created a medieval fantasy that will utterly bewitch readers with the charm and magic of both characters and plot.

We shall all, in the end, be led to where we belong. We shall all, in the end, find our way home

In a land beset by war and violence a prophecy causes a usurper king to be wary of a young girl. When a mysterious child is found curled up with a very cranky goat in the stable of a monastery, a gentle monk takes it upon himself to be her protector. As Brother Edik tends to Beatryce, who seems to have lost her memory, he discovers she has a dangerous secret – one which could bring disaster down upon all connected with her.

Beatryce’s journey to safety, along with the unfortunate looking monk, a wild boy who is in possession of a dangerous sword and a man who once was a king, is a tale of courage and loyalty, danger and the power of words. Part-fairy tale, part-fable, this is a story that will linger with the reader for some time and one to which readers will return to savour again its beauty, both text and the medieval-styled illustrations and illuminated letters.

As we have already seen with several of Kate’s books, I predict this could well be taken up at a movie adaptation given its memorable characters, not least of which is the obstreperous goat, Answelica, another truly stand-out animals from Kate’s imagination.

This was a binge-read for me and I am giving it a big promotion as a read-aloud for our middle primary kiddos when school resumes. I highly recommend it to you for your readers from around year 4 upwards.

Shadowghast – Thomas Taylor

Standard

Walker Books Australia

September 2021

ISBN: 9781406386301
Imprint: Walker
Australian RRP: $17.99
New Zealand RRP: $19.99

It’s back to Eerie-on-Sea for another cracking and creepy mystery. In this new adventure a seriously spooky magician arrives in town, accompanied by henchmen, and purports to be Herbie’s long-lost aunt. She seems to enthrall the boy but his friend and ally, Violet, is far from convinced of the Caliastra’s sincerity or truthfulness. As Halloween approaches and the time for the annual Ghastly Night event, strange things begin to happen.

People are either going missing altogether or somehow becoming changed – and not for the better. Poor Herbie yearns to have a real family and home and he truly wants to believe that Caliastra is both his aunt and that her intentions are wholesome but as the mystery deepens, it seems more and more unlikely.

Can a famous illusionist actually do real magic? Because once she demonstrates the power of the Shadowghast lantern, it would seem that the light it throws is indeed true sorcery. Perhaps the story of the Shadowghast is more than just legend and it’s up to Herbie and Violet to unravel the truth.

This series is so much fun and while, in our library, it has been a little slow to take off, it is definitely gaining momentum – and deservedly so. It is deliciously and thrillingly spooky, has exactly the right blend of mystery and humour, some wonderful themes of loyalty, friendship, family and courage and, for those of my ilk, fabulous frivolity and wordplay. One only has to encounter the two protagonists in the first book – Herbert Lemon and Violet Parma – to know that punnish fun is in store throughout! (fish and chips sold by Mr Seegol! hahahaha!)

This mix echoes the best of Lemony Snicket but is far superior in my opinion and Taylor’s skill in creating both his imaginary setting and engaging our suspension of disbelief is admirable.

If your kiddos haven’t got onto this series yet, I strongly recommend you adding it to your collection and book-talking it. Some read-aloud excerpts would certainly find their mark with any audience from around Year 4 upwards.

Banjo Tully – Justin D’Ath

Standard

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.