Tag Archives: historical fiction

Heroes of the Secret Underground – Susanne Gervay

Standard

Harper Collins Australia

April 2021

  • ISBN: 9781460758335
  • ISBN 10: 1460758331
  • Imprint: HarperCollins – AU
  • List Price: 16.99 AUD

What an absolute privilege to review Susanne’s new historical fiction inspired by, and a tribute to her own family’s history in Budapest during the last years of World War II.

12 year old Louie lives with her two younger brothers, Bert and Teddy, in a beautiful old-style hotel with her Hungarian grandparents, Zoltan and Verushka. The children’s parents are world-renown musicians who are often away but the three children love living in the Hotel Majestic, an oasis of magnolias and tranquility in a busy city. There are always interesting guests, the busyness of helping their Pa and Grandma with the daily tasks and the fascinating building itself to explore continually.

When Louie glimpses a strange girl in the street and finds a stunning rose gold locket the secrets of the past begin to slowly reveal themselves. There are certain clues the children find in the hotel itself but the locket is the talisman that transports them to a dark and dreadful time in their grandparents’ lives – Budapest 1944 and the cruel tyranny of the Nazis.

The mysterious girl, Naomi, is their guide into the dangerous world of the secret Jewish underground and the siblings become involved in a fraught mission to help rescue dozens of children as well as restoring the wondrous locket to its rightful owner. They are amazed to realise that they are watching their own grandparents, mere children themselves, heroically leading in this deadly encounter. As this hidden history unfolds, Louie understands so much more about her gracious grandparents and all they have overcome to reach the peaceful present.

There are moments of real terror and anguish but these are beautifully balanced with the hope and courage demonstrated by all the young people involved. For those of us who are fortunate enough to never have experienced such unspeakable horror there is inspiration that even in the darkest times there are those willing to stand up and resist.

A year ago at the World Holocaust Forum Prince Charles said “The lessons of the Holocaust are searingly relevant to this day. Seventy-five years after the Liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau, hatred and intolerance still lurk in the human heart, still tell new lies, adopt new disguises, and still seek new victims.”

We must continue to empower our young people to vigorously oppose the ongoing spread of hatred and bigotry that is still so prevalent. In my opinion, encouraging our readers to examine and reflect upon the past is one powerful way to do this.

This has my highest recommendation for young readers from upper primary onwards. Pre-orders available from Booktopia or Amazon

Shalom aleichem 

The Mummy Smugglers of Crumblin Castle – Pamela Rushby

Standard

Walker Books Australia

July 2020

Illustrated by Nelle May Pierce

ISBN: 9781760651930
Imprint: Walker Books Australia
Australian RRP: $17.99
New Zealand RRP: $19.99

When I mentioned that I was reading this Pamela Rushby commented that she had written the sort of book she would have liked to read when she was eleven. She’s also written the sort of book that I would have liked to read when I was eleven! I’ve mentioned here before my somewhat non-fiction nerdiness as a child and reading about ancient civilisations, particularly Egypt, was one of my ongoing passions – so much so that I kept my (much older) brother’s ancient history textbooks when he finished school (and still have a couple of them) and often requested such titles from my mother who loved to buy me books.

This delicious story is really historical fiction doubled as it is set in Victorian times when the fascination with Egyptology was at it’s zenith. Young orphan Hattie/Hatshepsut Lambton has led a lonely life in the care of an always absent guardian uncle and when he is regrettably eaten by a crocodile she is sent to her great-uncle and great-aunt, relatives she’s never known before, who live in a very peculiar and ramshackle old castle. Hattie finds herself within a loving family circle at last with some quirky strangeness which young readers will find absolutely entrancing.

Of course there would be no adventure without some dark deeds and the Ravens, brother and sister, who are assistants to her great-aunt (who specialises in mummy unwrappings for fashionable society parties) are clearly up to no good.

Hattie is intrigued by her relatives’ passion for and knowledge of the ancient Egyptians but finds herself increasingly distressed by the whole concept of destroying the mummies. When the Egyptian authorities ban the export of ancient artefacts Hattie thinks perhaps the whole mummy unwrapping might come to a natural end but the Ravens are determined to keep Great-Aunt Iphigenia undertaking her career, as it serves their nefarious financial ends well.

An expedition to Egypt itself in search of mummies to smuggle is a revelation to Hattie and she encounters many new experiences and unexpected friends and allies.

Pamela Rushby has created a wonderful adventure weaving many fascinating facts about both these historical periods with characters both intriguing and likable as well as those repellent and villainous. The touch of fantasy throughout is a bonus which will appeal to all young readers who will long to meet the mysterious Sekhmet and her lively kittens (resident housekeepers at Crumblin Castle) for themselves and they will enthusiastically embrace Hattie’s determination to protect her new-found family.

This is an absolutely super story which blends fantasy and fact beautifully. The publishers recommend it for 8 years upwards. I am going to keep it in my secondary library where I know I will have many Year 7 and 8 readers who will love it. It will certainly feature in my next book promotions to these students as well as my book club kiddos.

Highly recommended for avid readers from around middle primary upwards.

Classroom activities available here

His Name was Walter – Emily Rodda

Standard

y648

Harper Collins Australia

March 2020

ISBN: 9781460756195

ISBN 10: 1460756193

Imprint: HarperCollins – AU

List Price: 17.99 AUD

Back in October 2018 I had the immense privilege of reviewing Emily Rodda’s new book His Name was Walter and immediately fell in love with it. I promoted it heavily with my kiddos and was very excited to be one of the schools selected to receive samplers and another copy for classes to share – an opportunity that was eagerly taken up with one of my favourite Year 4 teachers. That first edition was the most beautifully presented hardback and my review copy made a very special prize for my most enthusiastic reading challenge winner. Let’s just say my generosity has its limits so this new paperback edition is staying on my own shelves as it is a book that begs to be re-read many times. The students and I were thrilled when it won the CBCA Book of the Year award as well as the Prime Minister’s Literary Awards – so richly deserved – and it continues to prove a favourite among our young readers.

I find it hard to believe that anyone has remained ignorant of this treasure of a book so please do yourself and your kiddos a favour if you have not done so yet and promote it through book talks and ‘first chapter’ readings. The following it receives will warm your  heart and children who read it will be so enriched by its many layers and concepts.

Again it gives me the greatest pleasure to highly recommend this book to your readers from around 10 years upwards as well as your staff who would be well pleased at the reception they have if using it as a read-aloud.

Read a sampler and teaching notes available.

I have had the very great pleasure of socialising personally with Emily on a couple of occasions and she is both gracious and very funny (so is her husband Bob!) and I live in hope that on my annual visits to the Blue Mountains that I will somehow manage to ‘bump into her’ again!

If you missed this when it aired ABC News did a fabulous piece with Emily which you can watch here.

The Seven Keys – Allison Rushby

Standard

1552612600603

Walker Books Australia

July 2019

ISBN: 9781760650797
Australian RRP: $16.99
New Zealand RRP: $18.99

 

I absolutely loved my first introduction to Flossie Birdwhistle in The Turnkey of Highgate Cemetery and was so excited to read her next adventure, though I’ve had to wait a while. Let me say right now, it was worth the wait. Allison Rushby has once again transported us not only in time but also dimension as we enter the twilight world where Flossie has such a huge responsibility.

It’s now seven years or so after the war in which Flossie played such an important role. The help she had from her nemesis Hugo Howsham, who was a temporary ally, has almost been forgotten. Indeed, now it seems far away when Hugo manoeuvres himself into a position of power by acquiring three of the cemetery keys, his own and two more. He’s not just after Flossie’s key but is determined to master all seven for the seven cemeteries in the ring around London.

Flossie feels overwhelmed and has little idea how she can possibly outsmart and outplay Hugo particularly when the rest of the turnkeys seem to be feeling very resentful of her ineptitude over the key dilemma and the revelation of her secret association with Hugo in the past.

But this determined guardian of her departed is not alone. Her reunion with her much-loved maid Daisy laid to rest in another graveyard, the support of her older sisters who now rest in her care, her Advisor Hazel and eventually the rallying of the other Turnkeys enable her to thwart the despotic Hugo’s plans, at least for the time being, and further to ensure the safety of her mother, her only living relative.

These are just the most marvellously imaginative narratives filled with historical and geographical information about the London of the past and its society.  There has not been one reader in my library to whom I have pressed the first book upon who has not come back thoroughly hooked and wanting more. I am well pleased I will be able to recommend this second as highly.

Certainly we will now be waiting for the further adventures of Flossie who no doubt will need to once again engage all her skills and the combined talents of her twilight friends to block any dangers to her resting charges.

Simply splendid for readers from around ten years upwards.

A Great Escape – Felice Arena

Standard

escape

Penguin Random House

9780143794042

March 2019

Puffin

$16.99

I have never been a student of post-war modern history so my knowledge of the Cold War has always been minimal – sketchy even – but, as serendipity would have it, not one but two of my most recent audio ‘reads’ on my daily commute have referenced this period extensively and in great detail.

Now Felice Arena has brought this era to life for young readers with a compelling narrative based on facts. Peter is swept up in the swift and cold-hearted division of Berlin when his parents and younger sister are in the West on a day visit,  while he has stayed home with his grandparents in the East. In just one day the barriers become impassable and implacable with hundreds of families and couples completely sundered from each other.

For Peter this separation is utterly unbearable and from the first he begins to plot and plan how he might escape over the newly-erected barricades before the Wall becomes a concrete reality. In the course of his pursuit of a workable method of fleeing he encounters two new friends, Elke and Otto, both of whom are also trying to get to their families. The ingenuity of these other children is truly inspiring, demonstrating the lengths to which those who have been cut off from their loved ones would reach, despite the menacing threats of soldiers, guns and savage dogs.

Peter’s growing distress over his isolation but also his increasing worry over his aged and frail grandparents and their care is a dilemma which he must resolve before he can even contemplate action. Life in East Berlin is fraught with danger – the Stasi (secret police) always on the lookout for “traitors”. It almost seems inconceivable that any power would create such a heinous division of family and friends – but then it seems that the idea of building walls has not yet gone out of fashion and many will recognise the correlation and repugnancy of such action resonating in modern situations.

This is a powerful demonstration of the bonds of family and the courage of those who risk all to attain freedom from cruel and callous oppressors.

I cannot recommend it highly enough for readers from around ten years upwards and think it would be a particularly apt read for older students who are embarking on the study of this period of history.

Inheritance – Carole Wilkinson

Standard

inheritanc

Walker Books

ISBN: 9781760650360
Imprint: Black Dog Books
Release Date: September 1, 2018
Australian RRP: $17.99
New Zealand RRP: $19.99

Carole Wilkinson has created a superbly plausible narrative which realistically weaves historic realism from Australia’s past from the perspective of both First Australians and early white settlers putting an ugly side to the beginnings of our modern nation in full view. For too long much of this history has been ignored or whitewashed (pun intended) in order to placate a national consciousness.

Fourteen year old Nic (Veronica) has been left in the care of her taciturn grandfather in the old family homestead out in the country. Her mother, whom Nic lost when she was born, grew up here and Nic longs to find out more about her. She also wonders why the once grandiose sprawling homestead has become so rundown and neglected and so finds more than one mystery to solve.  Her start at a new school is not very encouraging but she at least can assimilate into the ‘loners’ group. Most especially disturbing for her is the instant antipathy from Thor, another loner, whose grievance against her seems to be solely based upon her family name.

While Nic discovers a strange gift inherited from her Scottish female side – the ability to time travel – and begins to unravel secrets about her pioneering family, Thor is trying to find evidence of a truth he knows to be so with regards to the tragedy of his own people, the Djargurd wurrung, original occupiers of the area.

After their inauspicious start Nic and Thor end up joining forces to uncover the truth of their own family histories and a start to reconciliation though not without many disconcerting discoveries, including the real story of Nic’s mother.

For those who have not read Bruce Pascoe’s excellent book Dark Emu there will be much to learn here about largely unknown First Australian culture, settlements and agriculture. The oft-repeated stereotyping of the ‘hunter/gatherer/nomadic’ society who did nothing to entitle them keeping their land is thoroughly de-bunked – a falsehood perpetuated as some kind of justification for the dispossession of our indigenous peoples.  For those who are not aware of the heinous actions of some early settlers, there will also be disturbing revelations about the conduct of some of those often held up as examples of founders of white settlements.

Young readers may well be dismayed to find out such history but it is important to know if we, as a nation, are to move forward with the gathering momentum towards full recognition and reconciliation. It has already taken too long and many older people would prefer to ignore the truth so it is essential that our youth know the real facts.  Historical fiction such as this, based squarely on actual events, goes a long way towards this.

I highly recommend this book to readers from Upper Primary upwards and think it is a valuable addition to a ‘read around your topic’ for students of history.

 

Dogs Galore!

Standard

pipgroom

A handful of doggy books for the canine lovers amongst us all…

My Dog Socks – Robyn Osbourne/Sadami Konchi

Ford St Publishing

socks

ISBN: 9781925272826 (hardcover)

9781925272833 (paperback)

Publication date: October 2017 (hardcover)

March 2018 (paperback)

Price: AUD$24.95 (hardcover)

AUD$16.95 (paperback)

 

Although it has taken me a while to get to this book that does not diminish its worth in any way. In fact it has been included in the 2018 CBCA Notable Books list and very deservedly.

Many educators of younger children despair of what appears to be a growing lack of imagination and imaginative play in our little people.

This is a beautiful expression of the magic of a child’s imagination as he and his ‘ordinary dog’ share adventures in the bush, on the farm or at the beach.  With a rollicking rhythm and rhyming text chockfull of wonderful onomatopoeic language this makes for a perfect read-aloud. Every child will want to share stories about their own pets after this dog’s ‘tale’.

Highly recommended for children from around four years upwards.

 

Rescue & Jessica: a Life-Changing Friendship – Jessica Kensky & Patrick Downes/Scott Magoon

rescue

Walker Books Australia

ISBN: 9780763696047
Imprint: Candlewick
Release Date: April 1, 2018
Australian RRP: $27.99
New Zealand RRP: $29.99

Based on the true life partnership of double-amputee Jessica (injured in the Boston Marathon bombing) and her service dog Rescue this is a book which will give young readers a real insight into the difficulties of living with a disability and how so many people are assisted with a trained service dog.

While Jessica was an adult when she met Rescue the book centres on a little girl called Jessica who faces the same tragedy as the grown up in losing both her legs. Rescue starts out as a Seeing Eye dog trainee but doesn’t quite meet the criteria. However, when his trainer decides he would make a perfect Service dog all falls into place perfectly.

Telling each participant’s story turn about readers will follow the progress of each until the final very happy resolution. The book includes information about the non-profit organisation  that trains such dogs for service with those with physical disabilities, hearing impaired and autism.

This is a wonderful book to share with children in our pursuit of empowering them with empathy.

Recommended for readers from around Year 3 upwards.

 

Dingo – Claire Saxby/ Tannya Harricks

dingo

Walker Books Australia

ISBN: 9781925381283
Imprint: Walker Books Australia
Release Date: April 1, 2018
Australian RRP: $24.99
New Zealand RRP: $27.99

This is a simply stunning addition to the series Nature Storybooks – narrative non-fiction intended to satisfy children’s thirst for knowledge on nature as well as their joy in stories.

As Mother Dingo leaves the den and her sleeping pups readers can follow her through the dusky Victorian Alps as she hunts for food for her growing litter. On each page is another fascinating fact about dingoes as well as the absolutely gorgeous and bold oil painting illustrations.

Another paragraph of general information concludes the text as well as an index for easy reference to specific points.

A fabulous addition to a collection to explore Australian native animals.

Teaching notes here.

Highly recommended for readers from around Year 1 upwards.

 

A Stone for Sascha – Aaron Becker

sascha

Walker Books Australia

ISBN: 9780763665968
Imprint: Candlewick
Release Date: May 1, 2018
Australian RRP: $27.99
New Zealand RRP: $29.99

This is a beautifully executed wordless book which will invite much discussion in a shared reading. On the surface it’s a story about a young girl grieving the death of her dog – and who of us does not know that pain when one of our family pets goes over the Rainbow Bridge?  On a deeper level as one explores the double spreads it is an examination of the cyclical nature of time, history and civilisation as well as the rituals and customs of other cultures. Something as simple as a special rock can carry with it the memories of ages past and also seal the memories of the present with a special significance.

This is not a book to be lightly dismissed in a single reading but will demand peeling back layers over repeated sharing and conversation.

I would highly recommend this is a visual text for sharing with children from around Year 4 upwards.

The Dog with Seven Names – Dianne Wolfer

dogseven.jpg

Penguin Random House

9780143787457

July 2, 2018

Random House Australia Children’s

 

If you have someone like my Miss Small who fell in love with A Dog’s Purpose (and now is adamant about wanting a golden retriever!) this is going to be the perfect read.

It’s  not just the story of one special little terrier x dingo pup but a fascinating look at the impact of the Second World War on a part of Australia, that has been largely ignored by history texts.

When a little runty pup is born on a station in the Pilbara his chances of survival are slim. Elsie’s father is a tough boss with no time for sentiment but as times prove tough, he relents and gives Elsie the pup as her Christmas present. From that time onwards Elsie and her Princess are inseparable. All seems perfect but then the War creeps closer and closer to home and Elsie’s family must leave their home and her father refuses to countenance little Princess going as well.  Elsie is heartbroken and promises to find the little dog as soon as she can when the family is settled into their new home.

Meanwhile Princess is taken on by a stockman who assures Elsie he will find the little dog a special home. From Princess to just Dog, the little terrier survives many adventures and mishaps eventually finding refuge with Doc of the RFDS but also becoming a much loved mascot of the remote hospitals, their staff and patients. The tiny dog with an unwavering determination to be reunited with her Elsie sees much despair and terror but also hope and courage.

This is indeed a magical story filled with special moments and demonstrating the loyalty of rare and memorable animals. Readers will be both sad and happy along with Princess and also learn much about Australia’s history.

Highly recommended for readers from around ten years upwards.

Dolls of Hope – Shirley Parenteau

Standard

dollsofhope

 

Walker Books

March 2018

ISBN: 9780763677527
Imprint: Candlewick
Australian RRP: $19.99
New Zealand RRP: $22.99

 
A companion book to The Ship of Dolls this continues the little known history of the Friendship Doll project of 1926, this time from the Japanese perspective. Chiyo Tamura has been raised in a very traditional rural Japanese family and has never imagined that she might ever leave her small village. However, when her older sister becomes engaged to a neighbor,  wealthy landowner, Chiyo is sent to Tokyo to a girls’ boarding school. In Tokyo she discovers that Japan is undergoing a cultural shift as the old ways are abandoned and new Western ways are adopted.

She also becomes involved through her school in the Friendship Dolls project when her school is selected to receive one of the special little visitors and even has a hand in crafting the reciprocal gift doll Miss Tokyo.

But there are many dramas, both small and large, along the way as Chiyo struggles to adapt to life in the school and the city, and deals with the inevitable school bully.  Chiyo’s own perception of her own ‘worthiness’ that is her self-esteem and confidence increases as she grows in personality and skills.

Altogether this is a charming book, a very enjoyable read and certainly explored a piece of history of which I was completely unaware.

I highly recommend it to readers from around ten years upwards who will have no difficulty connecting and empathizing with Chiyo.

 

 

The Mulberry Tree – Allison Rushby

Standard

 

Walker Booksmulberry

ISBN: 9781760650292
Imprint: Walker Books Australia
Release Date: July 1, 2018
Australian RRP: $17.99
New Zealand RRP: $19.99

 

Immy is not well pleased at moving to England from Sydney. Her mother has a new job which carries some prestige, but her father is floundering – his previous career as a GP slaughtered by a tragedy. Their transition to Cambridgeshire is hindered by a narrow choice of rental properties but Immy decides on a thatched cottage that has a rather dark history and her parents are happy to go along with her choice in deference to her resistance to the entire move.

According to village legend, the huge mulberry tree in the garden of their cottage has already ‘stolen’ two girls on the eve of their eleventh birthday – and as Immy is about to turn eleven there is a hushed fear that the same will happen to her. But Immy is made of stern stuff and even while railing at her parents over the move – and her father’s depression – she refuses to give into fear over the tree’s influence.  Although, the strange ‘chant/song’ she keeps hearing is rather unnerving. Along the way, unexpectedly Immy makes friends of varying ages and discovers special bonuses in living in a new environment.

This is a fabulously ‘spooky’ story – not confronting to the extent that it would totally freak young readers out, but in that deliciously creepy way that demands the reading is page-turning.

It appears this is quite a skill for Allison Rushby. This telling of a story that is somewhat dark and certainly weird but not enough to scare the pants of kids – which is of course a real drawcard.

Boys and girls of around ten years upwards will love this story with its beautifully drawn characters – and in this I include the mulberry tree.

I highly recommend this for upper primary/lower secondary readers and look forward to Allison’s further writing.