Tag Archives: Homelessness

Cardboard Cowboys – Brian Conaghan

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Bloomsbury

May 2021

ISBN: 9781526628602

Imprint: Bloomsbury Children’s Publishing

RRP: $12.99

This is another of the really cracking YA novels I have read in the last few weeks – and another that was a binge read as my heart went out to the main characters, and I became deeply invested in their journey.

12 year old Lenny is deeply unhappy. For many kids, their first year in high school is full of wonder and adventure with new experiences and friendships, but for Lenny it represents misery and isolation, as he relentlessly bullied and fat-shamed by other kids (and a very nasty PE teacher). Only one student attempts to reach out to Lenny, but in his state of despair, he fails to see the overtures for their worth. Given Lenny’s home life has been difficult in the past few months this exclusion and torment seems doubly hard to take. With his older brother gone away, for reasons not clear at the start, Lenny’s best mate and protector is far from his side, and both his parents seem too distracted and caught up to take much notice of him, so not surprisingly Lenny feels completely and utterly wretched.

He takes to cutting school and wandering the canals of Glasgow where one particular bench becomes his special place for thinking. When he unthinkingly chucks an empty soft drink can into the canal though, he finds himself face to face with a very irate and, it soon appears, homeless man. Bruce and Lenny build a friendship that is both unusual and completely moving. They recognise themselves as outcasts, cut off from the normal mainstream of society, and both are struggling to heal from trauma. In doing so, these two will move you to tears of both laughter and poignancy as their unlikely partnership as the ‘cardboard cowboys’ becomes an effective means of starting the healing process for both.

Their road trip north to discover Lenny’s brother, Frankie, is a catharsis for the unlikely friends and one that brings the frayed fabric of both lives a little closer to mending. The backstory of both is confronting but not in a way that will traumatise younger readers, rather it will give them pause for thought on the ease with which people can be thrust into circumstances which cause immense pain and evoke those feelings of empathy that we aspire to instil in our young people.

With its themes of homelessness, bullying, isolation and self-discovery this is an extremely worthwhile book to put into the hands of your astute readers from around Year 6 upwards. I have absolutely no hesitation in naming it as one of my top YA reads so far this year and highly recommend it to you.

Help Around the House – Morris Gleitzman

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Penguin Random House

9780143793236

September 3, 2018

Penguin

 

RRP $16.99

Classic Morris Gleitzman! And pure unadulterated joy! In these parlous times when politicians behave without regard for those they are sworn to represent this could not be more timely or indeed, pointed.

Ludo is a helper. A year after losing his mother his desire to help and his commitment to the values of being a true Scout remain firmly fixed in place. When his father wins a seat as an independent MP and the pair move to Canberra Ludo begins to see that politics, the people embedded in the system and the nation’s capital are all far from being the selfless ideal he had in his mind. His zeal for helping the homeless people in the capital quickly escalates into a mission with much wider implications. Along the way he is able to recruit like-minded allies, not least of all, his dad.

Ludo is a very likeable protagonist and never becomes priggish which could so easily have happened with a lesser creator. His warmth and compassionate nature are a lodestone throughout the narrative which readily endears him to the reader.

With Morris’ usual deft touch the gravity of some nasty situations is liberally leavened with a good dash of humour as well as some moments of real poignancy. Quirky characters as well as unsavoury ones are sprinkled throughout making this an engaging read with some very important underlying themes.

Not only do I believe this would be a novel which could be used to great effect with students but I do think it should be mandatory reading for every single elected member – perhaps it could be a requirement of their introduction or even better, preselection process?

Highly recommended for either independent reading or read-aloud for children from about eight years upwards.  Kudos to Morris for a fantastic and apt new book!

The Boy with Two Lives – Abbas Kazerooni

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ISBN:9781743314838

Publisher:Allen & Unwin

Imprint:A & U Children

Pub Date:September 2015

RRP: $15.99

 

Many of you will resource units of work/inquiry examining the lives of inspirational people through biographies and memoirs. This book and the previous memoir are perfect, timely and contemporary for readers from Middle Primary upwards.

This second instalment in Kazerooni’s powerful history continues from his international bestseller On Two Feet and Wings. The first volume retells then nine year old Abbas’ amazing escape from war-torn Tehran during the Iraq-Iran conflict. This second continues the story of a character determined to survive and succeed.

Now a refugee in England, the cousin who is supposed to be caring for Abbas as his sponsor and guardian dumps him in a boarding school where the boy thrives, makes friends, impresses staff with his character but grieves for his absent family. The feckless and cruel cousin Mehdi has one saving grace. His girlfriend has compassionate and kind parents who take Abbas into their home and offer much love and comfort. That is, until Mehdi decides he is tired of waiting for money from Abbas’ parents to pay school fees and puts the young boy to work illegally in each and every school holiday under the threat of deportation.
After some time this awful situation gets worse when after several traumatic life changes, Mehdi abandons Abbas to homelessness at age 13. His triumph at winning a scholarship to a prestigious school is marred by his daily struggle to simply survive with little food or personal comforts such as clean clothes, warmth and shelter. With family and friends unaware of Abbas’ situation he is forced to improvise his own life as he becomes all the more determined to attain his education.

This is a gripping read (one sitting for me) made all the more poignant because Abbas’ amazing character shines through despite all his dreadful situations. At no time is there a total collapse into self-pity, instead even in his darkest hours and immense despair Abbas finds inner strength and resilience somehow.

When Mehdi goes one step too far and threatens to kill Abbas, thinking the boy has ‘snitched’ on him and his nefarious activities, Abbas is finally rescued from his nightmare.

Tracing the extraordinary and at times harrowing journey undertaken by the young Abbas makes the reader reflect on the many things we often take for granted here in Australia.

I cannot recommend this highly enough – please take some time to find out more about this exceptional man who is now a successful writer, actor and producer living in California. I was fortunate enough to hear an interview with him on Radio National a couple of years ago and hope to secure a blog Q&A with him if possible.

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