Tag Archives: memoirs

Tell Me Why for Young Adults – Archie Roach

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  • Simon & Schuster Australia
  • (March 3, 2021)
  • ISBN13: 9781760858865

I can say unreservedly that this is one of the most powerful memoirs I have read in recent years and for young adults this is a book worth promoting heavily.

Archie’s life story is at times harrowing and confronting but also uplifting and inspirational. Taken away from his family at the age of 2, he was placed in foster care – initially, in a very distressing situation – but later in a family home with foster-parents who were both kind and loving. But an unexpected letter received in his teens, alerted Archie to his lost family and his search for his own people began. As it was, and has been, for many First Australians the impact of the Stolen Generation was devastating with long-term effects still being felt, Archie’s struggle to re-connect with his natural family and his culture was a roller-coaster of emotions, highlights and low periods.

Archie does not hold back on his battles with alcohol and the often tragic circumstances that punctuated his life as he endeavoured to find his place within his culture. His recollections of his life with his much-loved, and also highly acclaimed, wife Ruby Hunter are poignant and utterly heart-rending as both fought their own war against booze and depression.

His determination to rise above the often sordid events of his life was helped and accelerated by his music, something which had always sustained and nourished his spirit. As this confidence in his music grew so did his mission to awaken all Australians to the issues and tragedies of his people and culture. This career has seen Archie rise to the heights of respect not only within the industry but across the nation as more and more people develop an understanding of and empathy for our First Australians.

Archie’s ongoing goal to promote healing for his people and his personal resilience and inner strength is truly admirable and this history, both the personal and our nation’s past, is vital for all our young people at a time when society is faced with much unrest, uncertainty and division.

I cannot recommend this memoir highly enough – I was completely gripped by it (and read way past my bedtime as I was so engrossed with hit). I will certainly be promoting it actively to my young readers from Year 7 upwards.

Thank you Archie for sharing your life – the good, the bad and the ugly – with us all.

The Fire Never Goes Out: a memoir in pictures – Noelle Stevenson

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Harper Collins Australia

April 2020

  • ISBN: 9780062278272
  • ISBN 10: 0062278274
  • Imprint: HarperCollins – US
  • List Price: 34.99 AUD

I have to be quite frank here. I’d never heard of Noelle nor her best-selling graphic novel Nimona which as attracted a legion fans around the world. My bad :'(.

This is an insight into Noelle’s life between teen and now with the highs and lows of her personal and professional life. Her struggle, punctuated with mental health issues, body image anxiety, sexuality, vulnerability and failed relationships over a period of eight years is both poignant and joyful.

A combination of mini-essays (mostly a short recap of each year she composed in New Year’s Eve relfections) along with mini-comics, cartoons and photographs this is a very beautiful revelation for readers into the ‘making’ of one hailed as a creative genius.

Coincidentally I have been searching out relevant, contemporary and inspirational memoirs and biographies for my library collection (to oust the dreary, dated and totally unappealing ones that took up valuable shelf real estate!) and this is going to be such a beautiful addition to that newly rejuvenated collection.

As there are some potentially contentious themes I would suggest this for your middle to senior secondary students and I highly recommend it for astute and sensitive readers from around 14 years upwards.

To the Moon and Back – Bryan Sullivan with Jackie French

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Harper Collins

May 2019

ISBN: 9781460757741

ISBN 10: 1460757742

Imprint: HarperCollins – AU

RRP 16.99 AUD

In our library we marked the 50th anniversary of the moon landing before the holidays and I was quite taken aback to find that not only did we not have a copy of this 2005 winner of the Eve Pownall Award but that no one was even familiar with it. So I was doubly thrilled to have the opportunity to review this new revised edition which of course has been re-issued to time with the occasion.

For many Australians the movie The Dish is the extent of their acquaintance with the work of our intrepid pioneer boffins and the part they played in the Apollo 11 mission. However The Dish is fictional and Bryan’s recount of the work at Honeysuckle Creek is written from his own experience and that of his colleagues. Long before the technology tsunami swept the world up, a few dedicated geeks were paving the way for what would become the normality of today’s society.

Bryan affords us insight into his early interest in computer science from his first encounter with a computer in 1958 through the construction of the (then) advanced and ambitious station at Honeysuckle Creek and the ensuing work of all those involved.

Interspersed with Bryan’s narrative the reader will find many fascinating facts about space, the race to the moon, astronauts and of course the question that every kid asks any time this topic arises – how do you go to the toilet in space? *grin*

These were the largely unsung heroes of the Apollo mission/s and it was this that prompted Jackie and Bryan to produce the book originally. Thus it is timely at this point in time to inform another generation of readers that the space missions were not all about the USA and Russia: that a little but significant base in a dusty bush setting near Canberra played not only a valuable but an essential role in the first moon landing.

If your library is also lacking this marvellous book, you should rectify that immediately. With the impetus of the anniversary you will be sure to have many young readers who may also set their eyes, as well as their dreams, on the universe.

I’ve twice had the pleasure of visiting Jackie and Bryan at their beautiful property. Jackie’s graciousness is well known but rest assured that Bryan is equally gracious and very unassuming about the important role in history he played.

Highly recommended for readers from ten years upwards – grab your copy NOW!

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To Siri, with Love – Judith Newman

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Hachette

AUG 29, 2017 | 9781784298319 | RRP $32.99

Subtitled: A mother, her autistic son and the kindness of machines, when I first looked at this I felt confronted because of the subject matter. For those who know, my Small has various issues some of which closely align to children on the spectrum.

This was hilarious and poignant, lively and serious and above all is saturated with the immensity of a mother’s love and protection of a vulnerable child.

The author is by no means conventional. A successful New York journalist who keeps a separate apartment to her retired opera singer husband and conceived her twins late in life, Judith has two teenage boys – Henry and Gus. Gus is autistic and there are few things in his life which resonate quite so significantly as he readily ’employs’ Siri, the Apple personal assistant. Siri is always ready to answer Gus’ endless questions or remind him to speak clearly or to simply respond to him with a different kind of human-ness to which his autism can relate.

Throughout, as well as the ups and downs of just one year in their lives, Judith shares valuable information about the latest research and most recent developments in supporting children and adults with autism.

There were moments I felt myself laughing with the recognition of similar incidents or conversations and then there were moments when I was teary understanding all too well Judith’s concerns for  Gus’ future.

I cannot recommend this highly enough to you particularly if you have a family relationship with a similar child or are an educator or simply would like to understand more about this very pervasive and often isolating disorder. To my mind, it is a ‘must read’.

Peter in Peril: Courage and Hope in World War Two – Helen Bate

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Walker Books Australia

ISBN: 9781910959572
Imprint: OTTER-BARRY BOOKS
September 1, 2016
Australian RRP: $27.99

There is always a need for memoirs or biographical texts in a simpler format for younger students. There is also always a great demand, in my experience, for true stories of bravery especially during times of conflict. The enduring popularity of true stories around the Holocaust is evident. Not because the young readers enjoy the horrible or gruesome history but because they are continually inspired by the resilience of the human spirit. When these stories are told from a child’s POV they become even more powerful.

This graphic novel is based on the recollections of Peter, who was six at the time when Budapest fell to the Nazi regime. For Jewish families such as Peter’s this marked the beginning of a long, difficult and dangerous period of history.

The dangers and the stark reality of living in fear and hiding are minimised but there is no doubt that children will still grasp the enormity of the situation in which Peter and his family found themselves.  Throughout these dark times there were still moments for Peter to still just be a child and these make for real contrast to the grimness of his environment.

Thankfully Peter and his family survived and continued to make Hungary their home after the war, when there was still as much struggle, poverty and lack of food.

The last few pages of the book relate some background to Peter’s story along with a summary of the family’s situation. A photo of adult Peter, now living in Austria, with his children and grandchildren provides a fitting ending to this story of one little boy’s war.

Highly recommended for readers of around 10 upwards.

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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The Unexpected Professor: an Oxford Life in Books – John Carey

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SBN: 9780571310920
Australian Pub.: May 2014
Publisher: Faber
Imprint: Faber Non Fiction
Subject: Autobiography

RRP $35.00  Hardcover. 334 pages.

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When you read the foreword of an Oxford don’s memoir and he tells you that a friend had suggested to him he should write a history of English Literature but he soon realised that that would involve far too much work (and besides, ‘it’s all on the internet already’) and instead he decides to just write an account of how he came to become involved in the English Literature field, you know it’s going to be fun.

John Carey’s memoir relates his childhood, beginning in the dark days of World War II, and his early experiences with his education, National Service and his scholarship to Oxford – often with many hilarious anecdotes.  Reading this was one of those occasions when you suddenly guffaw and your partner looks at you quizzically (raising an eyebrow in the way that Italians seem to do so well) and you just have to read out the passage to explain!

Carey is Emeritus Professor at Oxford and at age 40 was appointed to Oxford’s oldest English Literature professorship. To read about dinners with such illustrious names as Tolkien, Lewis and Auden makes one seethe with envy but Carey is no traditionalist nor a respecter of ‘Names’ for names’ sake.  He is ruthless about depicting the snobberies and archaic rituals of 50s Oxbridge academia.

Often viewed askance for his outspokenness and unconventional philosophies, Carey takes us on a journey that is aimed purely at booklovers.  For forty years he reviewed books for The Sunday Times in addition to his workload as a professor and a writer. He has also presented on radio and tv, and been on the judging panel for the Booker/Man Booker prizes. This is essentially a gentle introduction to the glory of the greatest works in English literature, very accessible to any reader who finds joy in reading.

Other books by Carey include works about Donne,  Dickens, Thackeray and William Golding – find them here.