Tag Archives: Jackie French

The Fire Wombat – Jackie French. Illustrated by Danny Snell.

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Harper Collins Australia

October 2020

  • ISBN: 9781460759332
  • ISBN 10: 1460759338
  • Imprint: HarperCollins – AU
  • List Price: 19.99 AUD

A year ago Australia was gripped by the raging fires that were sweeping through so many areas with ferocity causing so much devastation in their wake that the whole world was gasping as the scenes were broadcast. According to sources the destruction wreaked by Black Summer was unprecedented: 72 000 square miles burnt, 5 900 buildings destroyed (around half of these homes) and 34 people lost their lives. An estimated three billion land animals were impacted with some endangered species suspected to be now extinct. The Kid and I were visiting family in the Blue Mountains and the constant vigilance and state of alert around the fires that kept springing up across the ranges was both exhausting and stressful. Jackie French was just one of thousands evacuated when her home came under threat and given that the valley in which she lives is heavily populated with wildlife she was a firsthand witness to the dreadful impact on our native species.

With so many animals displaced and their food/water supplies destroyed an army of volunteers took on the role of providing fodder and clean water for thousands of creatures who otherwise would have succumbed as victims in the aftermath.

The Fire Wombat is just one of these and Jackie has crafted a beautiful testament in rhyme to illustrate the survival of our fauna, both with their own instincts and the compassionate help of so many.

One small wombat realises that bushfire is approaching and leads other animals to the shelter of her burrow, knowing that underground is the safest place to be. When the inferno has passed the creatures emerge and try to make their way out of the charred remains of their home territory, scalding their paws as they traverse the baked earth. But the fires have destroyed everything – grass, seeds, foliage, creeks and waterholes. If not for the legion of helpers dropping tons of carrots and other fodder as well as providing water, the decimation of our native wildlife would have been even greater. Jackie has captured this moving moment in our history beautifully and Danny Snell’s illustrations are a perfect accompaniment providing visual insight into the terrible destruction of the forests and mountainsides.

A truly beautiful book to both springboard discussions about supporting our fragile environment, caring for our wildlife and preparing for as well as recovering from bushfire season.

Watch Jackie’s video clip of the real Fire Wombat – now chubby and healthy after her recuperation.

You can find other images of animal rescue from Black Summer here at the Atlantic and an inspiring video of the work done by volunteers in saving animals.

I cannot recommend this highly enough – I would encourage multiple copies for your collection – and teaching notes are also available which will provide excellent scaffolding for use in your library or classroom.

The Angel of Waterloo – Jackie French

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Harper Collins Australia

December 2020

  • ISBN: 9781460757918
  • ISBN 10: 1460757912
  • Imprint: HarperCollins – AU
  • List Price: 29.99 AUD

In actual fact, I read the proof copy of this at the start of the term – hungrily devouring each page with intensity – as I do with every single one of Jackie’s books, particularly her historical fiction. All those who are faithful fans of the Matilda saga will embrace this new book with gusto as it precedes the series and takes the reader right back to the very early days of the European settlement in Australia.

I’ve said this oftentimes after reading one of Jackie’s Australian historical fiction books but I’m saying it again – I always discover new learning. I had absolutely NO idea that so many of the early immigrants (either convict or free) were directly connected to the Battle of Waterloo and this, apart from anything else, made for the most fascinating reading.

Henrietta Bartlett is the daughter of a battlefields surgeon and his very able assistant despite her youth. Motherless, Hen is in the forefront of the brutality and bloodshed of the Napoleonic wars and her gentle but efficient treatment of survivors earns her the epithet of ‘Angel of Waterloo’. It is one moment of extreme anguish saving a young man that Hen finds herself being married to her patient and although the union is contracted in extremis, for Hen it is the most real thing she has ever done. When she is told her new husband has died her grief is intense but she continues to work alongside her father until a time comes when she is on her own – without family, without spouse and must forge a new path.

That path takes her to the raw and raucous colony of New South Wales after the discovery that her husband has in fact survived the wars and is now living there. But more anguish is in store for Hen when she discovers that Max has ‘re-married’ and has a new family. With a spirit so indomitable that she can only be one of Jackie’s characters, Hen creates for herself a new reality becoming a landowner, farmer and woman of healing. To locals of the impoverished and disenfranchised status, she becomes ‘Auntie Love’ and her life rolls out with many twists and turns, ultimately being realised into a warm and fulfilling reward for her patience and generous nature.

With her customary dexterity Jackie references her other books and readers will delight in the ‘ah ha’ moments contained in this intriguing and exciting narrative.

I had moments of angst when I thought the story was not going to end the way I’d hoped but the denouement is just sublime – and I’m not the only one to think this. Naturally, I lent my proof copy to a couple of fan friends who whole-heartedly agreed with me.

I don’t know how she does it to be honest but she does with such complete authority and seeming ease – every single time!! I takes me hat off to you Jackie French – as always, this is the perfect read.

Do I need to ‘sell’ it? Probably not but if you are not sure, don’t hesitate! Put this on your reading list immediately!!

The Schoolmaster’s Daughter – Jackie French

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The Schoolmaster’s Daughter – Jackie French

Harper Collins Australia

May 2020

ISBN: 9781460757710

ISBN 10: 1460757718

RRP: $17.99

We know so well Jackie’s passion for and skill with historical fiction and when she combines it, as she has with this new novel, with her own family history the result is even more sensational.

Australia at the point of Federation: a new century, a new nation and a new and radical shift in the traditional society and expectations – for some.

Hannah moves, with her schoolmaster father, her liberally-minded mother and her young brother from rural NSW to far north Queensland, deep in the heart of cane country where long-held prejudices and practices exist.

When their ship founders and subsequently breaks up just off the coast of its destination and the men of the party foolishly trek into the unknown, Hannah along with her mother and brother are rescued by a young Islander boy named Jamie. In spite of the evident prejudice of their fellow female travellers especially when faced with Jamie’s clearly white mother, Hannah and Mama begin the first tentative steps towards what becomes a life-long friendship. They go even further when Hannah, denied any further education by her conservative father, and Jamie, denied education by virtue of his colour and birth circumstances, begin to take lessons with Mama, who flouts the convention of being subservient to her husband.

This, however, is just the tip of the iceberg as the new century and the progress towards the women’s vote and other liberations is undermined by the short-sighted government that threatens the very existence of any Islanders indentured to the cane-barons such as the man who employs Hannah’s father.

Family drama, threats by the hardened suspicious townsfolk, secrets long-held by neighbours all impact on the family, driving Hannah and her mother further and further towards an escape from the tyranny of both husband/father and their close society. It’s not just Hannah and Jamie fighting for their right to education any more, it’s about a true equality for all and Hannah’s mother is well-placed to act with courage and determination to free herself and her children at a time when such actions were almost unheard of in ‘polite society’.  How very proud Jackie must feel to have the inspiration of the women in her family to create this fictionalised (but close to truth) narrative history.

This is fascinating and terrible, at times, as a very ugly side (yet another one) of Australia’s history unfolds and the depth of the struggles by the women who came before us is revealed.

Once more I was completely enthralled in and enriched by Jackie’s historical revelations – both the personal and the Australian aspects. In every book I learn things I’ve never known and in a way, that makes them vibrant and memorable. As always this is a superb way to introduce young (or older) readers to little-known (and very probably well-hidden) darker sides of a new nation and certainly to the very real and often tragic plight of women of the time.

As always, I cannot recommend this highly enough particularly for readers from around 13 years upwards.

 

 

Lilies, Lies and Love (Book #4 Miss Lily) – Jackie French

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Harper Collins Australia

March 2020

ISBN: 9781460754986

ISBN 10: 1460754980

Imprint: HarperCollins – AU

List Price: 29.99 AUD

When this arrived (and after all, I’d only been waiting for it impatiently since the moment of finishing book #3) I told myself I would not gobble it up like a kid eating lollies. *Laughs hysterically* As if! Three nights later…..

It is 1936 and Sophie, Dowager Countess of Shillings, has been living at her beloved Australian property, Thuringa, with her children and Miss Lily since the widely-reported death of her husband, Nigel Vaile.

The years have rolled by peacefully and all has been well although there are times when Sophie is concerned about Miss Lily’s frailty, the realisation that her dear friend Daniel, once known as John, is becoming increasingly fond of her and, if she admits it truthfully, often she feels bored.

In England and Europe a storm is rising as Hitler grows in power and begins to demonstrate his inherent evil. To complicate this England’s leaders refuse to re-arm and more worrying is the new King’s obsession with a divorcee called Wallis Simpson and the fascist views of the Nazi regime.

Sophie’s old friend James Lorrimer, as always, is in the thick of the intrigues and politics in the inner circle of cabinet and together with Churchill develops a plan to both thwart the King and provoke the Prime Minister into action. And so he enlists Sophie to ‘fascinate’ her old friend David, HRH King Edward VIII, to wean him away from the American predator and reluctantly she agrees taking all her precious family, as well as Daniel, back to Shillings and a world she thought she had left behind forever. Naturally they also take Mr Jones, Green and Violette along with them as this venture requires the skills and knowledge of all.

The evolution of the plan is complex and becomes fraught with complications which not only jeopardise England’s security but Sophie’s own personal safety. There are many tense moments in the unfolding of the plot which will have readers turning the pages as quickly as I did.

Interwoven with the main thread are the interactions and emotions of the main characters and a no-holds-barred interpretation of the man who has gone down in history for all the wrong reasons.

Readers will be, in turns, thrilled and dismayed as the events unfold but will relish their renewed acquaintance with familiar characters such as the indomitable Ethel, the elegant Emily and the duplicitous Hannelore along with the introduction of others new to the narrative.

Based on recently revealed documents from the German archives, there will be astonishment and shock in store for readers as the previously unknown machinations behind the King’s abdication and the extreme lengths to which some would go in the name of duty in this new work from the maven of historical fiction. For many this will be an eye-opening insight into one of the most turbulent times in British history and the monarchy.

There is never any need for me to recommend Jackie’s work – and indeed, there are many in my circle who have been practically panting for this next instalment – but I urge you to take this up with the highest recommendation I can offer. I remain optimistic that we have not yet seen the last of Miss Lily and Sophie and resign myself to waiting (somewhat) patiently for another chapter in their story.

As an aside, when my father was on his way to England as he transferred from the army to the RAF in 1941, he met the Duke of Windsor in New York and, in fact, shook his hand – he said forever after that he could tell just by that handshake and brief encounter that the man was completely spineless and had nothing but scorn for him all his life.

The Ghost of Howler’s Beach (The Butter O’Bryan Mysteries #1)  – Jackie French

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Harper Collins Australia

February 2020

ISBN: 9781460757727

ISBN 10: 1460757726

List Price: 16.99 AUD

 

To most folks Butter O’Bryan would seem a lucky boy.  In a time when many people are destitute and homeless he lives in a large and comfortable house, known as the Very Small Castle, he has three eccentric but loving aunts –  known as Elephant, Peculiar and Cake – and a well-regarded and clever doctor father who has offices in Sydney’s Macquarie St. He goes to a good school where he has chums and at home there is always a veritable cornucopia of good food prepared by Cooky. But the truth is that Butter often feels lonely and sad, particularly in the school holidays with no school or mates to distract him. He misses his mother who died a year ago dreadfully and even though the aunts are so very good to him, the emotional distance between him and his father makes him even sadder.

When he wanders down to Howler’s Beach just below the Very Small Castle one morning and discovers three raggedy thin children playing a game of cricket, he’s a little hopeful of joining in the game – even though he suspects they may be from the nearby susso camp and he’s not supposed to go near to those inhabitants. This edict is not from a snobbery point of view but a health precaution imposed by his father and aunts. No fear of that though as he is resoundingly rejected by the kids who disappear as soon as his attention is diverted by their dog digging furiously in the sand.

All thoughts of disappointment and loneliness vanish as quickly as the kids when the scruffy little dog disinters a human skull from the sand! Butter quickly wraps up the skull and takes it home in a great state of agitation and with his imagination running wild. And thus begins a curious mystery/adventure that young readers will find compelling as the history of three ragged kids, a strange and pathetic old man who dies unexpectedly on the door step of the Very Small Castle, a three-legged dog and a secret cove unravels. Along the way the empathy and innate goodness of the O’Bryan family is an inspiration for all readers –  a valuable lesson in our current global situation.

So, on the surface a really well-thought out and engaging tale that will totally hook readers from mid-primary upwards. But of course, there’s more 😊 . Jackie’s setting is the Depression in the Sydney area and readers will absorb so much historical information about this period of time in our country and the impact it had on the vast majority of ordinary people. The aftermath of the Great War has already made itself felt in a multitude of ways and now unemployment, poverty, homelessness and sickness are wreaking havoc on an already disenfranchised sector of society. There are references to significant events and topics such as the polio epidemic, the susso, wireless sets, the building of the Harbour Bridge and the cricket – including the great Bradman. And just to add even more value to this, Jackie has concluded with informational pieces about many of these as well as some typical 1930s recipes even including Bread and Duck under the Table – such a well-known and still used idiom in Australia.

Once again, I cannot recommend this highly enough. I think any reader from around ten years upwards will enjoy it very much on all levels.

Dippy and the Dinosaurs (Dippy the Diprotodon, #2) – Jackie French & Bruce Whatley. Concept by Ben Smith Whatley.

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Harper Collins Australia

February 2020

ISBN: 9781460754092

ISBN 10: 1460754093

RRP 24.99 AUD

We’ve all been in love with Jackie’s wombats for years and now she and Bruce Whatley have provided us with another fabulous ‘wombat’ character to cherish.  Dippy made his first appearance last year and thoroughly delighted all his young readers. This BIG boisterous and happy diprotodont like his modern counterpart is uniquely Australian and eminently loveable.

Dippy’s new adventure follows his digging of a big hole – in fact a huge hole! – which serves as a super slide into a whole new landscape filled with strange and wonderful gigantic animals. Australia’s megafauna shows off in all its fascinating wonder as Dippy plays and flies and swims with his new friends. And just as all young ‘uns need to after such exuberance a refreshing rest is required by this young and curious creature.

Described as ‘deceptively simple’ this does indeed provide a portal to adventure and confidence for any little human.

Highly recommended for littlies from around 2 years upwards.

Top Koala – Jackie French. Illustrated by Matt Shanks

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HarperCollins Australia

November 2011

ISBN: 9781460754818

ISBN 10: 1460754816

Imprint: HarperCollins – AU

List Price: 24.99 AUD

Following the huge success of Koala Bare this favourite furry friend returns with enough self-confidence to power the whole country!

I am top of every tree!

Top is always best to be.

With the terrible outcome of bushfires and the dire predicament of our native animals, particularly koalas there could be no better time to use a delightful picture book to focus attention on these amazing and threatened creatures.

Once again Jackie’s lively rhyming text is accompanied by the truly beautiful watercolour illustrations of Matt Shanks as readers follow Koala to the top of everything – whether its Uluru or Parliament House or the Big Pineapple. Children will once again be treated to exposure to some of our quirky Australian animals including that favourite – the quokka with loads of laughs along the way.

Whether you have a classroom topic of animals or Australia or simply to remind your kiddos of the need to protect our fauna,  this is superb way to introduce both and your audience will definitely be clamouring for re-reads!

Highly recommended for little readers from around 3 years upwards.

All of Us [a history of SouthEast Asia] – Jackie French and Virginia Hooker. Illustrated by Mark Wilson

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Harper Collins

y648 (2)

October 2019

ISBN: 9781460750025

ISBN 10: 1460750020

Imprint: HarperCollins – AU

List Price: 29.99 AU

Is it a history book? Poetry? A work of art? Geographical work? Actually it’s pretty much all of these wrapped up in one stunning picture book.

The incomparable Jackie French teams up with Emeritus Professor Virginia Hooker, social historian, to take readers on a journey through history that dates back 200, 000, 000 years ago.

Richly illustrated by Mark Wilson we are treated to many fascinating aspects of our nearest neighbours with whom we are linked by ocean and monsoon. Traders, explorers, monuments, animals, landscapes, faiths and festivals, struggles and successes are all examined in double page spreads which each feature a time-line and a focus topic. Alternate pages also share some verse resonant with figurative language and lyric descriptions.

Timor-Leste, Java, Melaka, Philippines, Macassar, Bangkok and Hanoi are just some of the destinations to be explored each with the most pertinent of significant facts.

This is a book which will not only be a hugely welcome addition to classrooms (given the dearth of information pitched at student level) but thoroughly enjoyed by young readers for its sheer beauty and intriguing information.

It is sumptuous and truly a delight to the eye and mind – non-fiction has rarely looked better!

Highly recommended for readers from around 8 years upwards.

A teaching guide is available here.

Clancy of the Overflow (The Matilda Saga #9) – Jackie French

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Harper Collins

October 2019

ISBN: 9781460754771

ISBN 10: 1460754778

Imprint: HarperCollins – AU

List Price: 29.99 AUD

This little hobby of mine has brought me so much richness. I’m able to read the newest titles from so many fabulous creators. But as you probably have realised I stand in complete awe of our maven of literature for children, teens and adults, Jackie French, and what a privilege for me to have the opportunity to read the last of the Matilda saga well before its release date.

So many of us have followed the travails of Jackie’s characters both historical and fictional, spanning a century, and now the narrative comes full circle encompassing both the past and the contemporary. The characters with which we have engaged and loved have made the past come alive and the present realised in a sweeping story of strong women particularly and vivid history.

Those readers who are familiar with the series (who isn’t?) will expect that this last volume will continue our connection with Jed and Sam, Scarlett and William plus Alex, as well as Nancy so I don’t really feel the need to expand on the plot – because clearly you will want to read it for yourself. What I want to focus on is the scope of this body of work – as Charlotte would say, arguably Jackie’s ‘magnum opus’. By saying that I would not imply that Jackie has reached her peak or we can expect any less in the future but to my mind this series represents and encapsulates so much of what Jackie strives to achieve and bring to her audience as well as embodying so much of herself in so many ways.

Jackie’s unequalled ability to place her readers firmly in the period of which she writes and the skill with which she connects us to the characters is unparalleled. But even more so is her deftness with interweaving so many threads of historical narrative throughout her work: to do so over a series of nine books is to my mind a superb accomplishment. This final volume of the series not only continues the narrative but expertly brings in the references to earlier books and the exquisite blending of fact and fiction is enthralling. Of course, as readers we hang on waiting to know the fate of Jed and Sam, as well as Scarlett, but now we are also privy to the amazing love story of Clancy and Rose – as well as the unfulfilled connection between Clancy and Matilda. As a long time devotee of Banjo Paterson (thanks Dad!) this blending of history and imagination just delights me so much and Jackie has the innate skill of making the events and circumstances so utterly believable.

My regard for Jackie goes well beyond her unerring skill as a storyteller, a diligent researcher and an accurate historian. I know her to be a warm, generous and caring human with a drive that is enviable and a nature that is beautiful. She is truly an admirable Australian whose passion for our history – whether good or bad – and our unique culture is to be celebrated.

In case you haven’t picked up on it – I cannot recommend this highly enough – and all I can say is if you haven’t read the first eight books – shame on you