Tag Archives: Friendship

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.

Dragon Skin – Karen Foxlee

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Allen & Unwin

September 2021

ISBN:9781760526108

Imprint:A & U Children

RRP: $19.99

One wouldn’t normally associate the outback mining town of Mt Isa with magic or dragons but Karen Foxlee’s newest novel for middle school readers makes this eminently plausible.

How to save a dragon:
1) Assemble equipment. Water, Weet-Bix, sugar, syringe, sticky tape, scissors.
2) Believe in everything.

Pip is always reluctant to go home since her mother’s boyfriend moved in. Matt, the epitome of domestic bully, has reduced the previously happy life Pip and her mother had together to a frightened shadow where both are diminished. While her mother seems to have lost almost all her own free will, Pip’s resentment, both of Matt’s invasion, and the loss of her best friend, Mika, fuels her determination to get herself and her mum out of this ugly situation.

Pip spends a lot of time at the waterhole, where she and Mika used to sit and dream, talk and plan, even as the river dried up and the cracks in the mud widened. Since Mika’s been gone and Matt’s influence has permeated every moment of her life the waterhole has become Pip’s only refuge, even though her mum doesn’t like her spending so much time there alone.

The day she finds the almost-dead little creature is the day her whole life changes, though she doesn’t yet know it. All she does know is that she is going to save it, no matter what it takes. It’s not a lizard, it’s not a fish – it has wings and scaly skin and little nubs on the top of its little head – so it can only be a baby dragon. How and why, it has come to be almost dead, half-buried in the mud of a lonely waterhole Pip has no idea, just as she has no real idea how to save the little creature. She can hear Mika’s suggestions in her head but they come and go so she can’t depend on them. However, she’s not as alone as she thinks. As the days go by and Little Fella begins to slowly recover, Pip discovers a growing bond, born of conspiracy and curiosity, between herself and Laura and Archie, school friends she has never realised are friends.

Just as Little Fella’s strength improves and he grows to a point where he will survive, thanks to the combined efforts of the three friends, so too does Pip’s resolve and encouragement for her mother to make the move that will save them both.

Karen Foxlee’s ability to create characters with whom the reader can bond completely has become evident with the success of her earlier books and this new one does not disappoint. With its focus on a sadly, increasingly, common scenario, it will bring heart to those who may be faced with similar dilemmas – particularly as at the end of the book, the author has provided links and resources for readers with such issues.

To round off such an important and quality book, the bonus of beautiful binding makes this a joy to hold in one’s hands.

I give this my highest recommendation for your mature readers from around Year 4 upwards, with the warning that of course the domestic abuse issue may be an emotional trigger for some. In our collection, this means a disclaimer on the endpapers as an advisory comment.

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 Travelling Bookshop #1: Mim and the Baffling Bully – Katrina Nannestad

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Harper Collins Australia

July 2021

  • ISBN: 9781460713662
  • ISBN 10: 1460713664
  • Imprint: ABC Books
  • List Price: 8.99 AUD

I absolutely love this return to her whimsical, feel-good style from Katrina Nannestad, in this new and thoroughly delightful series. Although pitched at younger readers, I can absolutely see my older readers, who are keen fans of The Girl, the Dog, the Writer…taking this up with glee and loving it.

Mim Cohen travels with her father, little brother, a horse called Flossy and a cockatoo called Coco in their travelling bookshop caravan. Where ever Flossy leads them is where they are meant to be and when they arrive in a small Dutch village, it is clear that they are here for a reason and when Mim meets Willemina, a kind girl who is being horribly bullied, it seems to her that she needs to help. But is it just Willemina who needs help?

The travelling bookshop is a magical entity and visitors are always completely surprised when they first enter it to find how mysteriously capacious it is. After all it’s not every old wooden caravan that contains a basement is it? One of it’s greatest mysteries – or perhaps the mystery of Mim’s dad, sometimes known as Dreadful Zeddy – is the fact that the bookshop provides exactly the right book for the right customer, despite any thoughts to the contrary by either customer or Mim. So the woman who is looking for a crime novel but takes a book about termites, or the man who searched for a tome on tractors but ends up with Knitted Tea Cosies may be initially rather baffled but as it unfolds, have exactly what was needed.

Their sojourn in the pretty little Dutch village and their interactions with the inhabitants is heart-warming and joyous, full of imagination and wonder which will enchant readers from around 7 years upwards. I for one can’t wait to read more adventures of Mim and the travelling bookshop and look forward to the next instalment with great anticipation. And I certainly want to know more about Mim’s mother, the world-travelling civil engineer.

I’m going to really enjoy promoting this one to my middle/upper primary kiddos as well as my younger secondary ones who are already great fans of Katrina’s work.

Very heartily recommended for readers from around 7 years upwards.

Alice-Miranda in Egypt [Alice-Miranda #20] – Jacqueline Harvey

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Penguin Australia

  •  June 2021
  • ISBN: 9781760891046
  • Imprint: Puffin
  • Format: Paperback
  • Pages: 416
  • RRP: $16.99

Put it on your ‘new books’ display and stand well back because the danger of stampede is very real! Twenty books on and everyone’s favourite little schoolgirl is still guaranteed to excite your readers – and not just your junior readers either. I know several older girls – including one who started university this year! – who are still dedicated A-M fans!

In this new adventure Alice-Miranda and her buddies are off on the trip of a lifetime, as part of the Queen’s Colours leadership program; to Egypt, the land of hidden tombs, ancient monuments, fascinating culture and, of course, camels and palm trees. But the cultural and historical aspects of the trip are not the only exciting highlights. As always it seems, wherever Alice-Miranda goes, mysteries follow, and along with those, some other trifling life problems – such as two boys (unsuccessfully) vying for her attention.

Alice-Miranda has several threads to unravel in this sojourn among the sands; the financial problems of the school and Miss Reedy’s anguish over being the possible cause of these, the extremely odd behaviour of the supposed expert standing in for renowned Dr Hassam, Minister for Antiquities, the suspicious actions of Masud, son of the group’s very knowledgeable guide and the puzzle of how precious artefacts are being smuggled out of the country. Really, it’s all pretty much bread-and-butter to our little dynamo – even though she and bestie Millie wonder aloud if they will ever have a ‘quiet’ holiday!- and readers will enjoy the fast-paced action which is interspersed with rich historic and cultural details.

Again Alice-Miranda demonstrates the resourcefulness, intelligence and empathy that we all associate with her character and which endears her so much to her readers. There are also some really top moments in the narrative which bring strong emotions to the fore as what I would call the “Alice-Miranda effect” influences the actions of her team mates, which will really resonate with readers.

There really is never any need to ‘promote’ a new Jacqueline Harvey book and particularly this series – they simply fly off the shelves and are always in high demand – however, you will no doubt still want to book talk it with your other new titles, if only to watch the scramble afterwards to be the first to grab it!

As always, highly recommended for your readers from around Year 4 upwards.

The Boy Who Stepped Through Time – Anna Ciddor

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Allen & Unwin

ISBN:9781760526443

Publisher:A&U Children’s

Imprint:A & U Children

Pub Date:June 2021

RRP: $16.99

Once again Anna Ciddor has crafted an historical narrative that will both entertain her readers with humour, drama, terrific characters and exciting storylines, and inform them with fascinating, and no doubt, previously unknown facts about life in Ancient Rome. Perry, leaves his family holiday in modern-day France behind , when he accidentally travels back 1700 years to a Gaul occupied by the Romans, . While that in itself would be quite shocking and unsettling, it is even more disturbing for the boy to discover he is a merely a lowly slave, in the household of a quite wealthy family.

Whisked from crumbling ruins in the 21st century, where his family are enjoying a festival celebrating the Roman history of the locale, Perry finds himself in the original Villa Rubia, and – due to his mum’s choice of festival costume for him – mistaken for the new slave boy, expected to carry out the most menial of tasks, sleep in what is basically just a hut and eat the most unappetising of foods, including mice!

Apart from his complete ignorance in not only the ways of ancient Roman households but obviously also the expectations of a slave boy, Perry struggles in his forced adaptation to his new circumstances as he attempts to find a way to return to the present. But his longing to be back with his family is tempered by his growing attachment to his new friends, particularly Camilla Valentia, daughter of the household – about whom, Perry has foreknowledge of her fate, having seen her tomb during his present-day holiday.

Your readers will love this for the adventure and the friendship theme but also the fascinating tidbits about life in ancient Rome – be it wine-making, daily meals, dress, the vernacular expressions, school or other customs. They will also feel deeply Perry’s frustration as he tries every conceivable option to get back to his real life and family.

I have already talked this one up with my ChocLit group – coincidentally our Year 7s are just finishing off their first History unit of inquiry on ancient civilisations so they were rather excited about it. Highly recommended for your readers from around Year 5 upwards.

Truly Tan Shocked! – Jen Storer. Illustrated by Clare Robertson

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Harper Collins Australia

January 2021

  • ISBN: 9780733334146
  • ISBN 10: 0733334148
  • Imprint: ABC Books AU
  • List Price: 17.99 AUD

It has been ages since I’ve had the delight of reading a new Truly Tan book and the joy has not diminished one whit!

In this new adventure Tan and Gloria are most worried about their teacher, Miss Dragone, who has been acting most peculiarly: taking cooking classes to make delicious muffins, having her eyebrows and nails ‘done’, buying a fancy new bike – all kinds of weird stuff. Naturally, the determined spies are set on finding out exactly what is going on and confirming their suspicions that not all is well with their teacher.

Tan is also dealing with the very disquieting upcoming birth of a fifth Callahan sibling. She is not at all comfortable with losing her place as the youngest in the family, especially for yet another sister. As it is, the Lollipops (her older sisters) are all being as mental as ever and in fact, more so, as Emerald prepares for the starring role in the school production and deals with her first boyfriend break-up, Amber is seething with jealousy having only made the chorus of the show and Rose is wafting in and out of her home-made yurt reading everyone’s aura and communing with the bush fairies. And just to top it off, Tan feels that her 10th birthday – such a special occasion – will be completely overshadowed, indeed forgotten, in all the kerfuffle around her.

As usual, all is pretty chaotic really, yet Tan and Gloria press on with their investigation, with Tan’s diary entries (and the vivid description of which pen she is using) providing highlights of each stage. The explanations of unusual words at the conclusion of each chapter again provide readers with some bonus material.

Will Tan and Gloria uncover the truth about the Mystery of Miss Dragone? Will Tan get a special celebration for her birthday? And will she be able to cope with the arrival of Callahan #5?

All in all, absolutely great fun as always – these are ‘truly’ laugh-out-loud books that will appeal strongly to your independent readers.

Highly recommended for kiddos from around 8 years upwards.

The Prison Healer – Lynette Noni

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Penguin Australia

  • Published: 30 March 2021
  • ISBN: 9781760897512
  • Imprint: Penguin
  • Format: Trade Paperback
  • Pages: 416
  • RRP: $24.99

I’m going to have a lot of my secondary students clamoring for this one. They are huge fans of Noni’s previous books, both boys and girls and this is another intriguing dark fantasy (with some dystopian touches) thriller for them to enjoy.

Set in an infamous death prison, Zalindov, seventeen year old Kiva has survived ten years of imprisonment – not for any wrong-doing as such but because she was captured along with her father who was charged with consorting with rebels.

After her father’s death Kiva took up his role as healer, then only aged 12, and has become an indispensable but hated prisoner. Seen as the Warden’s pet and the first to deal with incoming criminals by treating them and carving the ‘Z’ into the back of their hand, Kiva is reviled by the other inmates and it is only the orders of Warden Rooke that keep her relatively safe and whole.

The warring factions in Kiva’s world, the royal family and the rebels, are intent on creating division and this extends to the prisoners as well. The rising tensions within and without the prison are causing increased pressure on Kiva’s work in the infirmary and her emotional balance, held in check for so long. When the Rebel Queen is captured, gravely ill, Kiva must try to save her for two different reasons. One is that the authorities have ordered the rebel leader to be well enough to undergo the Trials by Ordeal and the other is that coded messages from her siblings on the outside have begged her to keep the queen safe, that they are coming to rescue them both. The arrival of a strangely mysterious prisoner, Jaren, threatens to upset Kiva’s balance even more and when she, in desperation, volunteers to submit to the Trials in place of the still sick queen, she must lean on the young man for help to endure and survive. At the same time, she is trying to uncover the reason for the mystery illness that is wreaking havoc with the prisoners, who are dying in droves.

This is complex and exciting with many twists and turns. Astute readers will very easily be able to piece together the various pieces of the puzzle from the cleverly inserted clues within the narrative but this will in no way detract from a satisfying read. It is quite dark and there are concepts best suited to older and mature readers: drug use/addiction, torture and violence and sexual references but that being said, I don’t feel it would be necessary to restrict this to our senior students (we put a disclaimer inside the cover for books with more mature issues/concepts).

I have every confidence that this new trilogy will prove every bit as popular as The Medoran Chronicles and with the second volume due for release in September, fans will not have to wait too long.

Highly recommended for readers from around 14 years upwards.