Tag Archives: historical fiction

Grace’s Escape – Louise Park

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Simon & Schuster

September 2021

  • Publisher: Berbay
  • ISBN13: 9780645069631

RRP: AU$ 16.99 / NZ$ 19.99

Middle school readers fell in love with Grace’s adventures in her first book, Grace’s Secrets, and they will love this next instalment as Grace and her friend, Millie, continue to slip between past and present investigating mysteries and becoming acquainted with literary greats of the past.

Grace and her mother are settling beautifully into Faerie Castle, with the fun of Victorian-themed weekends, their guests, and, certainly, the added excitement of the girls setting up their beautiful olde-worlde style stationery shop is bringing much joy.

Once again the enchanted map leads the girls into a strange adventure in which they are mistaken for sisters, Georgiana and Theodora, who were meant to arrive at the castle of the past but did not. It’s up to Grace and Ellie to rescue these sisters it seems, along with Grace’s precious pup Coco, who is dog-napped by the same villain who has captured the girls.

As they dip in and out of the castle’s history, the girls become firm friends with Mamie – perhaps better known to some as May Gibbs, creator of the Snugglepot and Cuddlepie stories – as well as J. M. Barrie – playwright and storyteller who gave the world Peter Pan and the wonderful Beatrix Potter. Fortunately, they are able to outwit the villains, rescue the missing girls and, along the way, provide inspiration to these legendary creators.

This is such a delightful adventure that will enchant your readers who love to hear of historical people, particularly ‘bookish’ folk, and who relish the thought of living an almost double life – enjoying the wonders of modern life as well as savouring some of the beauty and elegance of times past.

My own thrill comes with the my own little mention – as Grace’s much missed teacher-librarian back in Broome – thank you Louise for such an honour !

Highly recommended for your readers from around Year 3/4 upwards. It is a must have for your collection!

Echo in the Memory – Cameron Nunn

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Walker Books

June 2021

ISBN: 9781760653118
Imprint: Walker Books Australia

Australian RRP: $16.99
New Zealand RRP: $19.99

Beautifully timed for NAIDOC Week this new YA novel, which explores the convergence of two periods of Australian history with the common thread being the one family name, will both shock and illuminate many readers regarding some of the darkest moments in our history and how they continue to impact lives today.

Two boys separated by two hundred years are both exiled from all they know; both having faced traumatic circumstances. When Will is sent to his grandparents’ isolated farm in rural NSW it feels like the ends of the earth. As he struggles to deal with his grief over his mother’s death and the abandonment of his father he begins to have what appear to be flashes of memory of this unfamiliar place. However, the memories are not his he quickly realises but whose are they? He begins to realise that his surly and recalcitrant grandfather also has these memories, something which gradually brings the two closer together.

The memories relate to ‘the boy’ whose story is set in 1829 and is told in the first person. The harsh and unforgiving life for a child convict is revealed as each piece of history unfolds. In addition is the shocking revelations of the treatment of the local First Australian peoples, which is graphic and disturbing. In the present, Will’s story is told in the third person and his struggle to reconcile the hurt and grief of his family circumstances gradually begins to be resolved as he forges a new, although very different, kind of life on the farm.

Cameron Nunn has done much research into child convicts using primary sources which include original records and interview transcripts from the London courts, and this forms the basis of both his Ph D and his fiction. For students of history, or those seeking to better understand the often dangerous and certainly traumatic life for a child transported across the world, with little or no hope of ever returning to their family and original home, this is a must read.

It is written with older students in mind – suggested Year 9 upwards – and if you employ a ‘read around your topic’ approach to your history subjects, it will be very much worth adding to your collection. You will find the teaching notes hugely beneficial as an addition to your planning.

Highly recommended for your discerning readers from around 14 upwards.

Cuckoo’s Flight – Wendy Orr

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Allen & Unwin

March 2021

ISBN: 9781760524913

RRP: $16.99

Wendy Orr continues her stunning and intriguing sequence of books set in ancient Crete, now focused on Leira’s granddaughter, Clio. In this companion book to Swallow’s Dance and Dragonfly Song, daily life is in turmoil as the ever-increasing threat of invaders pervades the village and its surrounds. Clio struggles often in her day-to-day activities since her horse-riding accident some years earlier. Horses are a rarity in Crete, but Clio’s father comes from a land where they are not only useful but valued and she has inherited her father’s love of the animals, despite the injury which has left her lame. Now the pressure is on to protect the village and its inhabitants and Clio is conflicted between her constant care of her beloved horses and the requirements placed upon all the people by the Lady. Looming over all this is the Lady’s decree that the Great Mother requires a sacrifice – a maiden to serve her in her underworld. Grandmother Leira conceives of the idea of creating a substitute with a beautiful and realistic clay image of the Great Mother and the family vows to protect the statue while praying the Lady will decree this a suitable alternative to one of the handful of village girls who would be the right age for a ritual sacrifice. Sadly Leira, who has reached the end of her days, puts so much of her own life and emotion into the creation of the image that she is spent and while the family mourn their loss, they redouble their vigilance in keeping her final work safe.

Into this mix comes a ragged and abused fisher-girl who secretly loves Clio’s horses, her older brother who is vengeful and seeks retribution after the constant scorn from the townsfolk, the stress when Dada sails away for trade at the order of the Lady and the constant fear of whether the oracle will declare for or against a live sacrifice.

This is another compelling narrative from Wendy Orr, which again spotlights girls of courage and resilience while exploring a culture and history not often described in fiction. Clio’s rollercoaster emotions as she grieves for her much-loved grandmother, misses the security of her father being at home, fear for her best friend and jealousy over young Mika’s natural ability with horses are dramatically woven throughout the story. Readers who enjoy historical adventure will truly love this new novel and become heavily invested in Clio’s world and family.

Highly recommended for readers from around Upper Primary upwards, particularly those keen to pursue a story with a difference. Read more at Allen & Unwin and don’t miss the teaching notes available as well.

Heroes of the Secret Underground – Susanne Gervay

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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.