Tag Archives: Hope

We Are Wolves – Katrina Nannestad

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Harper Collins Australia

October 2020

  • ISBN: 9780733340888
  • ISBN 10: 0733340881
  • Imprint: ABC Books – AU
  • List Price: 19.99 AUD

One book about children surviving in the conflict of war that has always remained with me was Journey into War by Margaret Donaldson. It was one I used often with upper primary children and it offered so much scope for discussion and reflection. I have long lamented that I don’t have a copy of my own as it is out-of-print. Now at last I have a truly worthy alternative.

The Wolf family must leave their home and everything they know as the Russian army swarms into East Prussia. Carrying as much as they can Mother, Liesel, Otto, baby Mia and their grandparents join a long procession of refugees in an arduous trek in search of safety. But such escapes are rarely easy and when the children find themselves completely alone and lost, they must do whatever they can to survive and for Liesel, protecting her little brother and sister is her primary concern. Surviving in the depths of winter is a nigh-impossible task for any children but to do so with the last violence of a war raging around is another entirely.

So the Wolf children become indeed wolves. Living like wild creatures, often without shelter, stealing food and clothes, raiding where ever they are able just to stay alive. They are not the only child casualties of the terrible war that has ravaged their country and, at times, they join forces with other wildlings. When they are caught up by Russians things look very grim for them but fortunately one of the soldiers becomes their friend and helps them along their way.

Eventually the children find themselves in Lithuania where they are taken in by a kindly elderly couple and finally have some respite and safety. They grieve desperately for their family – parents and grandparents – but are at least able to feel secure and cared for. Even in the darkest times miracles can happen and the outcome for the Wolf children proves that hope, warmth and kindness can exist in the worst of circumstances.

Young readers will be mesmerized by the gripping adventure and the challenges faced by the children and will be uplifted by their grit and resilience. Katrina Nannestad has wrought a novel that will hold its place for many years.

Highly recommended for your collection and if your teachers are searching for a fresh and engaging class read this would make a perfect suggestion.

Taking Tom Murray Home – Tim Slee

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Harper Collins

July 2019

ISBN: 9781460757864

ISBN 10: 1460757866

Imprint: HarperCollins – AU

RRP $32.99

The inaugural Banjo Prize competition attracted 320 entries but it was Taking Tom Murray Home that took out the first prize with its truly authentic Australian voice. Tim Slee’s novel bristles with laconic wit, quirky characters and bitter-sweet emotions and underlines with eloquence the dilemmas faced by so many of our rural Aussies who are doing it tough.

When the bank forecloses on Tom Murray’s dairy farm he is determined to go down in a blaze – literally. He sells off his stock, empties the house of his family’s possessions and burns it down. Unfortunately Tom is trapped in the fire probably due to his weak heart problem and loses his life. His widow Dawn refuses to allow his death be in vain and decides to take his body to Melbourne for burial thinking the several hundred kilometre ‘funeral procession’ from their small rural town will offer people pause for thought on the plight of so many struggling country folk. She is persuaded to take the coffin on the back of a neighbour’s vintage horse-drawn milk cart for even more impact and so begins a poignant, fraught and dramatic passive protest.

Told from the viewpoint of Jack, son of Tom and Dawn and twin of Jenny, the journey begins with a local drama when the town bank burns down. Immediately, the whole protest/procession takes on a new and controversial aspect.  As the travellers move slowly towards Melbourne they are joined by supporters of all types, thwart the frustrated police who try to find ways to stop them and alerted to a wave of fires that are erupting around the country targeting banks and supermarkets – who are seen as the corporate buddies threatening the livelihoods and lives of the farmers. Rallied by stirring words and the community spirit the grief and loss and frustration are eased and bolstered by hope and possibilities.

The twist in the end is both a surprise and a damning indictment of the pressures put upon the families who are fighting for their survival and will give many readers cause to reflect on actions that could make a difference to those who are the ‘backbone’ of our country.

While essentially a novel that would be equally enjoyed and appreciated by readers both young and old, there is a liberal sprinkling of swearing which might preclude younger readers if you were to put this in your school library.

Highly recommended for readers from around 14 years upwards.

The Dollmaker of Krakow – R. M. Romero

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Penguin Random House

Sep  2017 | 336 Pages | Middle Grade (8-12)

ISBN: 9781406375633
ISBN-10: 1406375632
RRP $24.99

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 There is war.

There is pain.

But there is magic and there is hope.

I’ve read many books both fictional and non-fiction concerning World War II and particularly the horror of the Holocaust but never have I read one that blends historical fiction with fairytale and folklore. Think a mixture of The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas and Hans Christian Andersen and ancient Polish folktales for this unusual and intriguing book.

Basically two narratives run together, sometimes parallel and sometimes interwoven. Karolina is a little wooden seamstress who lives in The Land of Dolls. Her homeland is beautiful and filled with joy, sweetness and all good things. Until that is, the Rats from across the sea invade (perfect allegory!). The filthy contemptuous rats bring every bit of their cruel, mean-spirited and arrogant ways to bear on the inhabitants of The Land of Dolls, terrorising all from the highest to lowest with equal dispassion. Eventually forced to escape her little cottage, Karolina finds refuge in the woods and also a wooden soldier called Fritz, formerly of the Royal Guard. The two make their way to find the gentle warm wind called Dogoda which reputedly can transport toys to the human world.

Karolina fetches up in the shop of the Dollmaker of Krakow, a kindly but troubled man who unknowingly possesses a special magical gift which has brought Karolina to life in the human world, as she was in her own land.  There she and the Dollmaker find solace in each other’s company and after some time also find true friendship with Jozef, a widowed Jewish symphony violinist and his little girl, Rena. When the Nazi rats invade Poland just as they did The Land of Dolls, the cruelty begins and death, destruction and despair envelop beautiful Krakow. By some mystical fate, a young and arrogant SS officer who begins a remorseless campaign of persecution against the four, who now consider themselves family, has a frightening connection with Karolina and the Dollmaker.

The poignancy of this tale tinged with its mystic reality is every bit as heartbreaking as any piece of ‘straight’ historical fiction. With beautiful illustrations reflecting the folkloric nature of the piece and similar borders which define the Land of Dolls narrative this is a work of art in more ways than one.

The fact that it took me only two sittings to consume this at the end of a long and tiring term is a testament to its power to enthral.  This is a powerful debut novel which resonates with the themes of hope, compassion and the strength of the human spirit and love.

 

I would highly recommend it for readers from around 12 years upwards.

Raymie Nightingale – Kate DiCamillo

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Walker Books

ISBN: 9781406373189
Imprint: Walker
May 1, 2017
Australian RRP: $14.99
New Zealand RRP: $16.99

 

I know that most folks will already know Raymie Nightingale but this paperback edition has been my ‘waiting for child pick up’ read for a few weeks so it did take me a while to get through in the short snatches. It comes as no surprise that this is another successful book for Kate DiCamillo bursting with warmth and love as well as poignancy.  If you didn’t manage to catch Kate on her recent tour you certainly should put it on your bucket list as she is just a delightful, engaging and genuine speaker. Kate puts her heart into every book she writes and perhaps none more so than Raymie. The parallels between her own life and that of Raymie are open for all to see and certainly her conversations about the book confirm this.

Raymie is devastated when her father takes off with a dental hygienist. She devises a plan to get him back – or at least call her. So she enters the Little Miss Central Florida competition and upon advice from her father’s sympathetic ex-secretary takes up baton twirling as her ‘performance’. She doesn’t like the twirling lessons at all and at first she doesn’t like the other two girls with whom she is learning. Beverley is a very cynical and embittered little girl with a pushy bullying mother and Louisiana is an odd little girl living with her eccentric grandmother and in fear of being put in the state home. Despite all odds the threesome become the firmest of friends and with many interludes of comradeship of somewhat dubious nature goes on to create their own happy – or happier than before – endings.

This is a warm and inspiring story for girls who may be having some difficulties in their own lives, showing them that though life may throw curve balls, friends can bring you just the support you need to get through it all.

Highly recommended for readers from around ten years upwards. Find activity notes here.