Thursday, May 29, 2014

10 Great New Books for Children Aged 7-14 Years

1. 'Crooked Leg Road' by Jennifer Walsh (Allen & Unwin)

Whispered secrets, a missing boy, a hidden shack and a mysterious family ... the stage is set for another exciting, real-life adventure from the author of 'The Tunnels of Tarcoola'. 

It's the end of a long, hot summer, and mystery is the last thing on the minds of friends Kitty, David, Andrea and Martin. Then Andrea spots a strange van parked behind David's house, and a few days later, he disappears. Kitty is convinced he's been kidnapped - and that the secretive new boy has something to do with it - but David's family say he's safe. Only why won't they say where he's gone?

The friends don't know it, but they've stumbled on a sinister plot involving a criminal gang, a planned kidnap, and a school event that could go very, very wrong. This is an excellent and gripping tale that children aged 10-13 will enjoy.

2. 'Alexander Altman A10567' by Suzy Zail (Black Dog Books)

Alexander is a fourteen-year-old Jewish boy who has been sent to Auschwitz concentration camp during WWII. Here like others he must learn to trust others in order to survive. Like many Holocaust novels it is based on a true story. Like other Jewish people captured and imprisoned by the Nazis, Alexander's identity is taken from him and a number tattooed on his arm that he knows by heart - A10567. He knows that to survive Auschwitz, he has to be tough and at first trust no-one. But when he is given the job of breaking in the commander's new horse, he sees that their survival is linked to the survival of the soldiers' horses. Alexander sees the fear in the animals and seeks their trust. If he wins their trust he might just survive. 

This is a beautifully written and challenging story from an emerging writer that children aged 11 to 14 years will enjoy. Suzy Zail was previously a litigation lawyer, but now she writes full time. Her first novel for young adults, 'The Wrong Boy', was short-listed for the 2013 Children's Book Council of Australia Book of the Year Award in the Older Readers category.

3. 'No Stars to Wish On' by Zana Fraillon (Allen & Unwin)

A little boy's spirit shines amid some dark truths in this tender and memorable novel about being taken from home and put in an orphanage.

This is a fictional story that draws on knowledge of the experiences of institutionalized children; often called 'Australia’s Forgotten Generations'. Jack is a positive boy who is deaf and reads lips. In spite of his disability he remains optimistic about his possible return to his family. Like the other children in orphanages of the time, he has been taken due to the lack of care he had received at home. The Nuns who run the institution where Jack lives offer them a tough life where punishment is common.

There are many interesting characters in the novel, no doubt based on the experience of children in care. We meet Samson who was sent there by his mother, and Charlie who works in the laundry where he is regularly burnt by the copper used to heat water and clothes. Some children are even used for medical experiments. The work in the kitchen is hard and injury is common.  Jack's job is to clean the 'holes' where children were detained for additional punishment. This is a well-written book that tells an important story. It will be difficult to read for many but it is an important book that will help many to understand what once happened to orphaned and neglected children and the need to guard against such abuses in the future. The book will challenge children aged 10 to 13 years.

 Zana Fraillon was born in Melbourne, but spent her early childhood in San Francisco. She now lives once more in Melbourne with her family.

4. 'The Billy That Died With Its Boots On: And Other Australian Verse' by Stephen Whiteside (Walker Books)

I tend to be hard to please when it comes to collections of short verse for children. There are so many already that it is hard to find something new. Stephen Whiteside has managed to put together a collection of very funny and original work. I've tested the work with some of my grandchildren and they agree, there is some funny stuff here. Like 'I'd Like a Pet Brontosaurus', 'The Dragon at the Chookhouse' and the poem that gave us the book title 'The Billy That Died With Its Boots On'. As you can see, there is a decidedly Aussie slant to this collection, but children from other countries will enjoy finding out what a 'billy' and a 'chook' are, the story of Simpson and his donkey, and much more. There is some wonderful read aloud material here that any teacher of children aged 7-12 would love to have and share.

Stephen Whiteside's collection is aided by the delightful black and white paper cut illustrations by Lauren Merrick (a new illustrator). He is an acclaimed Aussie poet who has been writing rhyming verse for over thirty years. His work has been highly acclaimed, including being awarded the Children's Poem of the Year in the 2013 Australian Bush Laureate Awards.

5. 'A Very Unusual Pursuit' by Catherine Jinks (Allen & Unwin)

'A Very Unusual Pursuit' is the first instalment in what should be a wonderful new fantasy series (the 'City of Orphans' trilogy).  It is set in Victorian London, where squalour sat alongside splendour. Where the houses of the rich were not always that far from the houses of the poor, open sewers, a seedy underworld and of course, the gruesome and frightening 'bogles'.

Monsters have been infesting London's dark places for centuries, eating every child who gets too close. That's why ten-year-old Birdie McAdam works for Alfred Bunce, the bogler. With her beautiful voice and dainty looks, Birdie is the bait that draws bogles from their lairs so that Alfred can kill them. 

One life-changing day, Alfred and Birdie are approached by two very different women. Sarah Pickles runs a local gang of pickpockets, three of whom have disappeared. Edith Eames is an educated lady who's studying the mythical beasts of English folklore. Both of them threaten the only life Birdie's ever known. But Birdie soon realises she needs Miss Eames's help, to save her master, defeat Sarah Pickles, and vanquish an altogether nastier villain. Catherine Jinks, one of Australia's most inventive writers, has created a fast-paced and enthralling adventure story with edge-of-your-seat excitement and chills.

The book is also available in the USA with the title 'How to Catch a Bogle'. Readers aged 11-14 will enjoy this engaging fantasy. It has been shortlisted in the Children's Book Council Australia Awards for 2014.

6. 'Song For A Scarlet Runner' by Julie Hunt (Allen & Unwin)

This fantasy adventure is the story of a young girl who is on the run for her life after bringing bad luck to her village. It is a tale of loyalty, survival and the search for freedom and will be enjoyed by readers aged 10-12 years.

Peat is on the run - forced to flee for her life when she's blamed for bringing bad luck to her village. She heads for the endless marshes, where she's caught by an old healer-woman who makes Peat her apprentice and teaches her the skill of storytelling.

But a story can be a dangerous thing. It can take you out of one world and leave you stranded in another - and Peat finds herself trapped in an eerie place beyond the Silver River where time stands still. Her only friends are a 900-year-old boy and his ghost hound, plus a small and slippery sleek - a cunning creature that might sink his teeth into your leg one minute, and save your life the next.

The book has been shortlisted in the Children's Book Council Australia Awards for 2014, as well in the inaugural 'Readings Children's Book Prize, 2014' and the 'Aurealis Awards, 2013'.

7. 'Maxx Rumble Soccer: Knockout' by Michael Wagner and illustrated by Terry Denton (Walker Books)

'Knockout' is the latest of Michael Wagner's funny books written for sports crazy boys aged 8-10 years. The soccer series sits alongside a set of nine Australian Rules books and eight cricket books. In this soccer series there are three books to date. In them you can follow Maxx, Rexx and the Stone Valley Saints through a tough season of soccer mayhem. The series is illustrated by brilliant and popular Australian illustrator Terry Denton.

"Don't worry, Rexxy," I said. "The Giants just THINK they're smart. I bet they're even dumber than us!" "IMPOSSIBLE!" said Rexxy. Eight teams. Three weeks. One winner! That's the Soccer Knockout competition. And the Saints want to be that winner. But before they even reach the second round, they must beat a team of total geniuses!

8. 'The Simple Things' by Bill Condon (Allen & Unwin)

I love Bill Condon's work; it always has an authenticity that is lacking in the work of many writers. But Bill seems to get inside the everyday experiences and minds of children. This delightful novel for younger independent readers is no exception. Stephen has to stay with his elderly Aunt Lola, who he has never met. The only thing he knows about her is that she sends him ten dollars twice a year, for which he always writes a thank you. But what does an eight year old say to a grumpy and scary old lady when he meets her. He wants to turn around and go home, but his mum says he'll need to stay.

But left to his own devices, and with the help of Lola's neighbour Norm, and his granddaughter Allie, he learns about some simple things in life like fishing, cricket, and climbing trees, not to mention family. And when Lola entrusts Stephen with a special secret, he realises that she has become more than an old aunt, she's now a friend. Readers aged 7-11 years will enjoy this book.

9. 'Flora & Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures' by Kate DiCamillo and illustrated by K.G. Campbell (Candlewick Press)

This brilliant novel is the second book which has won Kate DiCamillo the Newbery Medal, having also won in 2004 for 'The Tale of Despereaux'.

It is an hilarious and unlikely story. It begins with an overactive super vacuum cleaner and a tragic accident that involves Mrs Tickman and a squirrel that never saw the vacuum cleaner coming.  Flora tried to warn her but ... too late! However, Ulysses (the flying 'super hero' squirrel) has not been killed '...but rather is been born anew, with powers of strength, flight, and misspelled poetry..'. Flora too is changed and is about to discover many things about herself. Ulysses joins forces with Flora to deal with her mother.

The 233-page book is a mix of text, full-page fine illustrations and graphic (comic-like) pages, all in black and white. The illustrations of K.G. Campbell are delightful and are a great complement to the story. The book will enchant and engage the most reluctant of 7-12 year old readers.

10. 'My Life as an Alphabet' by Barry Jonsberg

Barry Jonsberg has written a number of very successful books for adolescents and in this case tween readers. This very funny book is no exception. This first person narrative is in a journal/diary form with a twist (the alphabet) and will engage readers 10-13 years. Twelve-year-old Candice Phee manages to amuse those around her despite the bizarre mix-ups and the confusion she creates. In the words of Candice:

This isn't just about me. It's also about the other people in my life - my mother, my father, my dead sister Sky, my penpal Denille, Rich Uncle Brian, Earth-Pig Fish and Douglas Benson From Another Dimension. These are people [with the exception of Earth-Pig Fish, who is a fish] who have shaped me, made me what I am. I cannot recount my life without recounting elements of theirs. This is a big task, but I am confident I am up to it.

Candice takes her through the alphabetical A-Z experiences of her life:
A is for assignment - A recount on her life, how could that go wrong?
B is for birth - "I wasn't there at my birth", well not "as a reliable witness", so what was it like?
C is for chaos - "Classrooms are battlegrounds."
And so on. Each chapter is a recount by Candice of some part of her life, and each is very funny. Barry Jonsberg does a wonderful job communicating an authentic voice for this slightly crazy (well at least quirky) twelve-year-old girl. Ten to twelve year old Girls (and boys) will love this book. It has been shortlisted for the Australian Children's Book Council Awards 2014.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

When Imagination, Story & Creativity Work As One

Lydia reading with her Dad
I've written before on this blog about the importance of children's imaginations being fed and stimulated, and the relationship that this has to story, rhyme, drawing, play, craft, dramatisation and language. One key easy way to bring together many of these things is through imaginative recreation, that is, encouraging children to evoke or imagine past events, stories, memories and so on. This often involves the creation, reconstruction, presentation or retelling of a story in new and varied ways.

Story in its own right is critical to learning, communication and well-being. This is something that I've written about many times (for example HERE & HERE).

From a very early age, children begin in various play situations to experiment with story in the form of literature, song, film or even real-life accounts. My youngest granddaughter Lydia has been fascinated by story since her first year of life. As her Dad said one day, she can create a story out of any inanimate object - clothing pegs, pencils, shoes, cups, buckets, toys, objects, cutlery, food and so on. Not all of her stories are re-creations, many are highly original recounts, songs and rhymes, and involve the use of objects to apply names and roles in situations that she creates. Story for Lydia is stimulated by television (e.g. 'Everything's Rosie', 'Charlie and Lola', 'Playschool') as well as books, experience, play situations with adults, playground adventures, nature walks etc.
'Swiss Family Robinson' game, made by Sam after watching the film

Young children often quite naturally use re-creation as part of their play. Other children need help and encouragement to do this. Re-creation can be seen in children's experience of story in varied ways, for example:
  • Changing rhymes and songs, e.g. 'Baa Baa Black Sheep' to 'Baa Baa White Sheep' as Lydia does often.
  • Acting out 'Little Red Riding Hood' with the resources of the dress-up box and some friends.
  • Dramatizing a well-known children's song from television or CD or a children's picture book.
  • Using art or drawing to imagine a story character, mythical creature or story setting. 
  • Using Lego (or other toys, props and objects) to re-imagine story alone or with others.
  • Creating something new that grows out of an experience of story.

But why is re-creation so important? While play has a special value (see HERE) and has an important role in any child's intellectual development, imaginative recreation provides direct support to language and literacy development. It helps children to:
  • Play with and understand the complexities of plot development.
  • Comprehend any story at much greater depth.
  • Understand character development in new ways.
  • Enter 'into' a setting as they create an imagined version of the setting and events of a story.
  • Understand story in three dimensions.
  • Appreciate the way the language of story is shaped by, and in turn shapes, characters, settings and plots.

In short, imaginative re-creation is a powerful learning strategy for children that stretches them as language users and learners. As well, it stimulates their creativity and imagination.

Examples of Imaginative Re-creation by Age Group

a) Toddlers (1-3 years)

  • Being encouraged to be a wild thing as the story 'Where the Wild Things Are' reaches the critical moment when Max declares 'Let the wild rumpus start'.
  • Finger Plays and rhymes ('This Little Piggy', 'Incy Wincy', 'Round and Round the Garden')
  • Retelling Thomas the Tank Engine stories using the various engines that feature in the story.
  • Using dolls or soft toys to act out domestic scenarios.
    Using dress-up clothes in association with well-known stories.
  • Creating a story using toy soldiers, Polly Pocket toys, magnetic boards with characters, fuzzy felt and so on.
  • Joining in the television dramatization of a well-known story on a program like 'Playschool'.

b) Early years (4-6 years)

  • Many of the better story apps for iPad or android devices are an innovative way for multiple re-created experiences of stories (see my recent post on this HERE).
  • Drawing maps, key characters (dragons, people) or scenes.
  • Acting out stories with a group of children or with adult family members.
  • Creating an adapted text to re-create part of a story (e.g. poetry, a character interview, telling the story from a different point of view).
  • Using puppets to re-create a story.
  • Using modelling clay or craft materials to create characters to re-create and retell a story.
Creating knights for storytelling

c) Later childhood (7-12 years)

  • More elaborate dramatization, with involvement in making props and costumes.
  • Simple animations using one of the programs readily available (see my previous post on animation HERE).
  • Using materials like Lego to re-imagine a well-known story. The development of Lego with themes that relate to movies and stories has led to an even closer link between this toy and story making
  • Creating a board game that recreates the plot or a specific part of a story (as Sam did).
  • Creating a complex map or plot summary as a device for others to use.
  • Create a script to be acted for a specific part of a story.
  • Write a newspaper report based on an event within a story.
  • Use a variety of written genres to create a new text ('The Jolly Postman' and 'The Jolly Pocket Postman' are published examples of this).
These are just some of the ways that imaginative re-creation can be stimulated.

Summing Up

Children are capable of incredible imagination and creativity. Story is both an outcome of both of these human capacities, as well as means to stimulate their learning and growth in many areas. When imagination, creativity and story come together, we have a very powerful combination to 'stretch' our children.

Other posts

Posts on creativity
The Power of Story
Posts on Play

Monday, May 12, 2014

2014 Australian Children's Book Council Award Nominations

The Children's Book Council of Australia (CBCA) shortlist has been decided. The awards will be announced in Children's Book Week on the 16-22 August. The theme this year is 'Connect to Reading - Reading to Connect'. As usual, there are many wonderful books. I will review the winners and honour books in Book Week, but below you will find all the books shortlisted and links to help you find them. Some of the books have already been reviewed in my other posts.

The shortlist is a valuable guide to book purchases but there many other wonderful books published each year. As a result the CBCA also publishes Notable Book Lists that have over 100 titles listed. Standards are high so these are always wonderful books as well. Please don't be put off by the fact that some sites list the books as unavailable.

Shortlist for 'Older Readers' category (Young Adult Readers)

The Incredible Here and Now (Felicity Castagna, Giramondo)

Life in Outer Space (Melissa Keil, HGE)

The First Third (Will Kostakis, Penguin)

Fairytales for Wilde Girls (Allyse Near, Random House)

Wildlife (Fiona Wood, Pan)

The Sky so Heavy (Claire Zorn, UQP)

Shortlist for 'Younger Readers' category (Independent Younger Readers)

Violet Mackerel’s Possible Friend (Anna Branford, illustrated by Sarah Davis, Walker Books)

Song for a Scarlet Runner (Julie Hunt, A&U)

A Very Unusual Pursuit (Catherine Jinks, A&U)

My Life as an Alphabet (Barry Jonsberg, A&U)

Light Horse Boy (Dianne Wolfer, illustrated  by Brian Simmonds, Fremantle Press)

Shortlist for 'Early Childhood' category (Preschool and beginning readers)

I’m a Dirty Dinosaur (Janeen Brian, illustrated by Ann James, Viking)

Baby Bedtime (Mem Fox, illustrated by Emma Quay, Viking)

Banjo and Ruby Red (Libby Gleeson, illustrated by Freya Blackwood, Little Hare)

Kissed by the Moon (Alison Lester, Viking)

The Swap (Jan Ormerod, illustrated by Andrew Joyner, Little Hare)

Granny Grommet and Me (Dianne Wolfer, illustrated by Karen Blair, Walker Books)

Shortlist for 'Picture Books' category (Varied ages, Birth to 18 years)

The Treasure Box (Margaret Wild, illustrated by Freya Blackwood, Viking)

King Pig (Nick Bland, Scholastic Press)

Silver Buttons (Bob Graham, Walker Books)

Parachute (Danny Parker, illustrated by Matt Ottley, Little Hare)

The Windy Farm (Doug MacLeod, illustrated by Craig Smith, Working Title Press)

Rules of Summer (Shaun Tan, Lothian)

Short list for 'Eve Pownall Award for Information Books' category (Varied ages, Birth to 18 years)

Big Red Kangaroo (Graham Byrne, text by Claire Saxby, Walker Books)

The Bloodhound Boys Book 1: The Great Blood Bank Robbery (Andrew Cranna, Walker Books)

I’ve An Uncle Ivan (Ben Sanders, Thames & Hudson)

The Nerdy Birdy (David Snowdon, text by Danielle Wheeldon, self-published).

Related links

Previous posts on children's book awards (HERE)

Thursday, May 1, 2014

6 Picture Books Not to be Missed!

I thought I'd share six wonderful picture books that have just landed on my desk. As with all of my posts I receive no payments for reviews and only feature books that I believe are worth reading and sharing.

'My mum says the strangest things' by Katrina Germein and illustrated by Tom Jellet (Walker Books)

This delightful book is all about language play and picks up on how our metaphorical use of words and imagery must seem confusing and ambiguous for very young children.

Will children really 'get square eyes' from watching too much television?
Am I really 'away with the pixies' when I'm daydreaming?
Could mum really 'land an aeroplane on my bottom lip' when I'm grumpy?
And can I believe the things my mum says? Does spinach make me strong?
But of course every child knows that their mother's love them 'all the way to the stars and back.'

Beautifully and cleverly written and delightfully complemented by Tom Jellet's line and wash drawings with perfect expressions on every bemused face. Readers might remember the previous book 'My Dad thinks he's funny' from the same writer/illustrator team.

The book will be a great bedtime story, classroom shared read, or perfect springboard for a language unit in the classroom. Ideal for readers aged 3-7 years.

'Tom and Tilly Fly Away' written and illustrated by Jedda Robaard (Walker Books)

This is a wonderful piece of fantasy for preschool readers.

'Tilly and I went on an adventure.
We flew over the sea of lost things
and down into a field of roaring lions.
We woke some terrifying creatures
but quickly spread away over a well-guarded fort....'

A little boy (Tom) heads off on an adventure with his teddy (Tilly). This imaginative child heads off on amazing adventure in a paper plane (made from a map) Tilly. They pass over roaring lions and sunflowers (or are they?). Terrifying creatures (bats?). A fort (but is it a hen house?). Surely the dragon IS a dragon.... But as with many good stories Tilly ends up back home safe.

Complete with a plan for making a paper aeroplane, this simple book will be a favourite with readers aged 2-5 (and their parents and preschool teachers). A delightful and simple fantasy tale that will stretch the imagination.

It is of course a follow on from Jedda Robaard's previous book 'Tom and Tilly'.

'Alphabetical Sydney' by Antonia Pesenti & Hilary Bell (Newsouth Books)

This alphabetic picture book is a fine example in the long tradition of books that introduce readers to words, places, animals, places, things, in fact anything can be an excuse for a good picture book that is structured around the alphabet.

However, this is a little different to most and is a little more complex because it uses a combination of a poetic form and the alphabet. The poem centres on the many sites and landmarks of my hometown of Sydney and incorporates them within the poem in alphabetic order. It begins with a poem, let me share a little.
This is our Sydney. We'll show you the sights.
From Allawah over Bonnyrigg Heights,
Through Cattai to Dee Why and on to East Ryde,
Past Five Dock and Glebe, Hurlstone Park, Ingleside.
And so..... 
The poem is then followed by a double page based on each letter and a focus on a topic that has a relationship to Sydney. On the first double page the reader learns about the Luna Park Amusement centre, on the second double page we meet the flying foxes (Bats) of Centennial Park, and so on.

The images that are used are also stunning and combine drawn line and colour wash with photographs of iconic places and sites in Sydney. This is very much collage-like and is a wonderful complement to the wonderful text.

An added bonus for me is that the book has been published by my own University's press (Newsouth Books). This is a great book for children aged 4-8 years.

'I Have A DOG (an inconvenient dog)' written and illustrated by Charlotte Lance (Allen & Unwin)

I have interviewed Charlotte before on this blog as well as reviewing what was her first authored and illustrated book, 'A Very Super Hero'. Once again, she has produced a delightful picture book for readers aged 3-6 years.

As the title suggests, this is no ordinary dog!

"When I wake up,
my dog is inconvenient.
When I have breakfast,
my dog is inconvenient.
When I put my socks on,
my dog is inconvenient."

But of course even an 'inconvenient' dog can be adorable, and warm and cuddly. While a puppy can be a great friend and playmate, it can always cause challenges as well. This warm and delightfully illustrated new picture book will resonate with any reader who has had a pet, especially a dog.

'Waiting for Later' written and illustrated by Tina Matthews (Walker Books)

I love this book! What child hasn't been frustrated by a parent or teacher's comment, 'Later'? 'I'll do it later', 'you can do it later', 'maybe later'. Tina Matthews plays with the idea of the concept of time 'later'. What do we mean when we use it and how is it heard.
Nancy asked her mother;
"Will you rock me back and forth on your lap? I like that."
"Not now," said her mother.
"When, then?" said Nancy.
"Later," said her mother.
 Tina Matthews' text covers numerous examples of life's use of the term 'later' and the illustrations help to bring the contexts to life. Children will love sitting on your lap and listening to this book.

Surely this will be a book that no parents will dare fob off with the words, "I'll read it later". This will be a great read for children aged 2-5 years.

'A House for Donfinkle' by Choechoe Brereton and illustrated by Wayne Harris (Walker Books)

"Up high in the grasslands
where Wooble Beasts roam,
Donfinkle Vonkrinkle
is building his home."

This tale about some mythical fantasy creatures will stretch the imaginations of young readers. The language and rhyme is wonderful, twisting the tongue and delighting the ears. We are drawn along by the words and the image. Children want to look closely at each page to drink in the wonderful images of strange creatures and the sound of the tale. Donfinkle's house emerges from his labours. "The mud walls are perfect, the door just divine, the windows are beech, the porch is all pine." But the Flooble comes with troublesome talk of design flaws, poor material choices. Donfinkle is 'fuddled' as the Flooble's whine, " changes the roof, and the walls and the pine. 

This is a special book that children aged 2-6 will want read again and again and again.

All my posts on picture books HERE