Fi50 Reminder and an Inspirational Early Chapter Book

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fi50

It’s that time of the month again – Fiction in 50 kicks off on Monday!  To participate, just create  a piece of fiction or poetry in fewer than 51 words and then add your link to the comments of my post on Monday.  For more information, just click on that snazzy typewriter at the top of this post.  Our prompt for this month is…

button_that-old-wives-tale (1)

Hope to see you there!


Ballerina Dreams: A Tale of Hope, Hard Work and Finding Your Groove…

 

ballerina dreams

Ballerina Dreams by Michaela & Elaine DePrince.  Published by Allen & Unwin, 24th May 2017.  RRP: $14.99

 

The world of early chapter books seems to have expanded greatly since I was a youngling and nowadays there are a plethora of beautifully presented, exquisitely formatted, engaging and accessible stories out there for newly confident readers.  Ballerina Dreams: A True Story by professional ballet dancer Michaela DePrince and her adoptive mother Elaine is one such story.  We received our copy from Allen & Unwin for review and here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

At the age of three, Michaela DePrince found a photo of a ballerina that changed her life. She was living in an orphanage in Sierra Leone at the time, but was soon adopted by a family and brought to America. Michaela never forgot the photo of the dancer she once saw, and decided to make her dream of becoming a ballerina come true. She has been dancing ever since, and after a spell as a principal dancer in New York, now dances for the Dutch National Ballet in Amsterdam.

Beautifully and gently illustrated by Ella Okstad, Ballerina Dreams is the younger-reader edition of Michaela DePrince’s highly moving memoir, Hope in a Ballet Shoe.

Not being a particular fan of ballet, I was a bit trepidatious going into this book, but I was drawn in by the young, brown-skinned girl on the cover.  I happen to have some familial ties with a fantastic blog called FleshTone, that promotes representation of all skin colours in all areas of everyday life, from underwear to toys and beyond.  FleshTone, driven by its founder, Tayo Ade, has a particular focus on dancewear for darker skinned performers, because bizarrely, despite the fact that there must be thousands upon thousands of non-white people involved in dancing worldwide, production of flesh-coloured dancewear to suit such people is hard to find.  I immediatley wondered, while reading this book, whether Michaela DePrince has trouble finding flesh-coloured dancewear to suit her fleshtone…but I digress.  Back to the book.

Ballerina Dreams is the early reader version of DePrince’s memoir Hope in a Ballet Shoe.  DePrince herself hails from Sierra Leone, where she lived in an orphanage after her parents were killed in the war there.  Adopted by Elaine DePrince, along with her best friend and several others from the orphanage, Michaela moves to the USA with her new family and is able to pursue the dream she has fostered since finding an abadoned magazine with a picture of a dancer on the front: to learn ballet.

The story touches briefly on DePrince’s struggles as a dark-skinned dancer in a world in which such dancers are scarce, before ending on her accomplishments as a professional dancer and her desire to inspire and encourage other young people of colour to pursue their dreams with hard work and patience.

The book is beautifully presented, with large print and colour illustrations throughout, appearing both as full page spreads and wrapped around sections of text.  As such, the story will be accessible for young readers as both a read-alone or a read-aloud with an adult.  It’s wonderful to see that books – and particularly nonfiction books – highlighting individuals from diverse backgrounds are being published for this age group.

I would highly recommend this engaging tale for young fans of dance and those who enjoy true stories told in accessible ways.

I’m submitting this book for the Popsugar Reading Challenge in category #32: a book about an interesting woman.  You can check out my progress toward the challenge here.

Until next time,

Bruce

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Shouty Doris Interjects during…Into the White: Scott’s Antarctic Odyssey

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Shouty Doris interjects

We’re seeing less and less of Doris lately, but I’m happy to say that everybody’s favourite grouchy ill-tempered opinionated granny  person is joining us today to discuss Into the White: Scott’s Antarctic Odyssey by Joanna Grochowicz.  It’s a re-telling in narrative non-fiction style of Scott’s ill-fated mission to be the first to reach the South Pole and we received our copy for review from Allen & Unwin.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Together, they have taken on the greatest march ever made and come very near to great success; never giving up, and never giving up on each other.

This is the story of Robert Falcon Scott’s Terra Nova expedition to Antarctica and the memorable characters, who with a band of shaggy ponies and savage dogs, follow a man they trust into the unknown.

Battling storms at sea, impenetrable pack ice, maneating whales, crevasses, blizzards, bad food, extreme temperatures, and equal measures of hunger, agony and snow blindness, the team pushes on against all odds.

But will the weather hold? Will their rations be adequate? How will they know when they get there? And who invited the Norwegians?

Into the White will leave you on the edge of your seat, hoping against hope that Scott and his men might survive their Antarctic ordeal to tell the tale.

into the white

Into the White: SCott’s Antarctic Odyssey by Joanna Grochowicz.  Published by Allen & Unwin, 26th April, 2017.  RRP: $14.99

I only knew the bare bones of this tale of epic adventure –

Shouty Doris interjects

Epic idiocy, you mean.

Yes, welcome back Doris.

As I was saying, before reading this book I only knew the absolute basics of Scott’s mission.  Actually, to be honest, I only knew about the very ending bit, with Oates’ famous, “I’m going out for a walk” quote and Scott’s subsequent death from hunger and exposure-

Shouty Doris interjects

His death from the crushing weight of his own egotism, you mean.

Thanks Doris.

…so finding out about the events leading up to the bit I knew about was both fascinating and completely baffling.

Shouty Doris interjects

There you are, you got to the nub of it in the end.  

So you agree with me, then, that this is essentially a story about a group of blokes on a boys’ own adventure who were supposed to be undertaking proper scientific research but decided to pick out pack ponies based on the colour of their hides?  Doesn’t sound very scientific to me, deary, and look where that got them!  Dead in the snow.  Them AND their unscientifically chosen ponies!

Yes Doris, I do have to agree with you there.  There was a certain sense of frustration that characterised this story right from the very beginning, although this had nothing to do with the writing of the story and everything to do with the facts.  The very first page tips you off, in case you know nothing about the mission, that Scott’s story doesn’t have a happy ending, but to discover the bizarre, avoidable and beginner-level mistakes that were made on the journey –

Shouty Doris interjects

by a third-time Antarctic adventurer no less…

-Quite! – made reading this feel like wading through snowbanks while wearing a wet-suit and flippers and dragging a massive box of rocks behind you.

 

Shouty Doris interjects

Enough of this shilly-shallying.  

Let’s cut to the chase.  

If you want to spend 250+ pages scratching your head, shouting “Turn back you imbeciles!” and hoping everyone gets sucked into an ice chasm, before finding out that it was all for nowt as the Norwegians beat them to it, this is the book for you.

I will admit that I did end the book wondering why Scott’s epic failure has been so lovingly recorded while Amundsen’s story – the leader of the Norwegian expedition that started closer, covered less dangerous terrain, and ultimately resulted in the first flag-planting at the South Pole – has been ignored.

Shouty Doris interjects

It’s because people like to read about people dying in horrible conditions with their toes frozen off.  It’s called Schadenfreude.

You may be right there, Doris.

To focus on the actual writing for a moment, as opposed to the historical event itself, while I found the information quite interesting, the narrative style felt a tad detached for my liking.  This may have been deliberate, in that it certainly contributes to the atmosphere of a long, fruitless slog toward ultimate failure and death, and also allows the reader to avoid becoming too attached to characters that will eventually die, but all in all reading this felt like more of a history lesson and less like something I would read for enjoyment at times.

The book contains chapter heading illustrations throughout and also features actual photographs from the expedition in the centre.  These were a great touch and added the needed link with the reality of the conditions under which the expedition was labouring to bring the story to life a little more.  At the end of the book a collection of appendices includes short descriptions of Scott’s prior attempts on the South Pole alongside Earnest Shackleton, as well as as Shackleton’s later, unsuccessful Antarctic mission.  A short section on Amundsen’s expedition is included here too, which I found most interesting.

If you know any young history buffs in the upper middle grade and YA age bracket –

Shouty Doris interjects

Or people who enjoy a good dose of Schadenfreude, while reading about people dying in horrible conditions with their toes frozen off…

-you might recommend Into the White.  I can’t say I really loved reading it because although the story itself contains plenty of action and setbacks that should have kept me interested, I got caught up in the epic folly of so many of the decisions that were made along the way that resulted in the men’s deaths.  And I just can’t get over their whoppingly unscientific choice of pack pony.

Any final thoughts, Doris?

Shouty Doris interjects

Needed more women in it to tell the blokes how ridiculous they were being.

Thanks for that Doris.

I’m submitting this book for the Popsugar Reading Challenge under category #14: a book involving travel.  You can check out my progress toward all my challenges for this year here.

Until next time,

Bruce

 

From Sudan to Australia: YA Novel Trouble Tomorrow

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trouble tomorrow

Trouble Tomorrow by Terry Whitebeach & Sarafino Enadio.  Published by Allen & Unwin, 25th January 2017.  RRP: $16.99

 

Given the current global refugee crisis, it is more important than ever that we hear stories of people who have been forced to leave their homes, and YA novel Trouble Tomorrow by Terry Whitebeach and Sarafino Enadio is an absorbing and eye-opening addition to this canon of literature.  We received a copy from Allen & Unwin Australia for review and here is the blurb from Goodreads:

Based on a true story, this compelling novel tells an incredible tale of courage, resilience and hope, about a Sudanese boy who survives civil war, a treacherous journey and many years in a refugee camp before finding peace.

Obulejo dreams he is standing by the stream with his friend Riti, hauling in spangled tilapia fish, one after the other … Tat-tat-tat-tat! Brrrmm! Rrrrr! Ul-lu-lu-lu-lah! Obulejo slams awake, heart racing, and scrambles up off his mat. Gunshots and screams jab the air. Flashes of light pierce the darkness. The Rebels! Run!

Obulejo’s name means ‘trouble tomorrow’ in the Ma’di language, and there is plenty of trouble for sixteen-year-old Obulejo when his town is attacked by Rebel troops. Separated from family and close friends, Obulejo flees into the hills and then makes a terrifying journey, full of danger from wild animals and pursuing soldiers. Once across the border in a refugee camp, he is safer but has no future – until he joins a pioneering peace education program and begins to find ways to create a more hopeful life for himself and others.

Much like Obulejo’s journey to freedom, this story is not one for the faint of heart.  Right from the off it is made clear that violence and hardship will form a large part of Obulejo’s story and within the first few chapters the boy has lost his family, his home and most of the people he knows and trusts.  The book opens on Obulejo’s blind run through the night to escape the Rebel’s gunfire and the possibility of capture, before reverting to tell a little of his homelife before danger descends.

The book can be loosely divided into three stages: Obulejo’s flight from his home toward the safety of the Sudanese-Kenyan border; his first years in refugee camps and his decision to make a better life for himself through education – both his own and others’.  Thus, the first section of the book is action packed, the fear and desperation almost palpable as Obulejo and a random assortment of people he ends up with go to incredible lengths to put themselves out of the reach of the Rebels, with varying amounts of success.  The middle section keenly relates the despair and monotony of life in a refugee camp, as well as the ever-present dangers of starvation, sickness and violence that mar the daily routine of survival.  It was fascinating to see how quickly a person’s ethical code is broken down in times of such enormous stress and fear, as shown by Obulejo’s decisions to steal, fight and generally go against his own personal morals in order to stay alive.

The final section of the book deals with Obulejo’s decision to move away from those actions that cause him such trouble, despite the fact that his stealing meets his basic needs in an immediate way.  His decision to return to education – such as it is offered in the camp – appears to be a life-changing one, not only for him but for many around him as Obulejo becomes a force for good in his own life and in the camp.  The prologue deals briefly with Obulejo’s life after the camp when he and his eventual wife and child are accepted for residency in Australia.

While not always an easy read, Trouble Tomorrow is an important story for all Australians – and indeed, any resident of planet Earth – to explore, in order to better understand the reasons why people leave their homes for a life of uncertainty, and why prosperous nations have an obligation to support refugees in any way they can.  Interestingly, I found not the violence and chaos of the flight from the Rebels the most disturbing part of the story, but rather the endless, tedious monotony of the refugee camps.  To think of young people, children, families having the prime years of their lives leeched away in a state of basic survival, not knowing when, if ever, they will be able to resume a “normal” life, is confronting and deeply saddening.

If you are stout of heart and ready to open your mind to the plight that many people in our world are currently experiencing, I would recommend having a look at Trouble Tomorrow.

I am submitting this book for the Popsugar Reading Challenge in category #25:  a book set in the wilderness.  You can check out my progress toward that challenge here.

Until next time,

Bruce

Bruce’s Reading Round-Up: Picture Books for Lovers of Libraries, Ballet, Gardeners and Girls with BIG IDEAS…

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Cheerio me hearties!  I’m a little bit behind on my review schedule this week, so apologies that you had to wait two extra days for this round up of worthy picture books.  Since there’s no time to waste we’re going to ride straight in – yaa!

The Night Gardener (Terry & Eric Fan)

*We received a copy of The Night Gardener from Allen & Unwin for review*

Two Sentence Synopsis:

 

William looks out his window one night to discover that the hedge in the yard has been sculpted into a beautiful owl shape.  As the days continue, more hedge shapes appear around the town until William discovers the secret and begins to share in the work of the night gardener.

Muster up the motivation because…

…this is an atmospheric picture book with a story that unfolds through the imagery as much as the text.  Not to be confused with Jonathan Auxier’s middle grade novel of the same name, this book contains many visual cues and clues for the keen-eyed reader to collect on the way to a charming finish.  The palette of deep greens and blues, alternating with sepia page spreads highlights both the sense of mysterious night-time gardening and the historical setting of the characters.  The colour palette changes as the story progresses and we are treated to the glorious browns and golds of autumn, the sweeping whites and greys of winter and the bright, busy colours of spring and summer by the end of the tale.  The mini-fleshlings were mildly interested in the story of William discovering the identity of the night gardener and taking on the secret himself, but were entranced by the illustrations.  This edition came with a dust jacket featuring the cover image above, that hid a beautifully etched drawing of leaves and lawn tools on the hardback cover, and some gorgeous line-drawn endpapers.  The Night Gardener is a visual feast and will bring to life the sense of adventure that goes along with discovering a secret for your mini-fleshlings.

Brand it with:

Terrific topiary; hedging one’s bets; walks in the moonlight

Lucy’s Book (Natalie Jane Prior & Cheryl Orsini)

*We received a copy of Lucy’s Book from Hachette Australia for review*

Two Sentence Synopsis:

 

Lucy loves visiting the library and always checks out her favourite book.  When Lucy tells her friends about the book, they check it out too and take it on all sorts of adventures…until the book is no longer able to be borrowed.

Muster up the motivation because…

…this is one for the book lovers, the library lovers and the lovers of unexpected discoveries that stay with us forever.  If you’ve ever had the experience of finding a wonderful book at the library and have had to come to terms with the fact that other people are also allowed to borrow it, take it away and – gasp! – possibly damage it, you will definitely relate to Lucy here.  As well as the immense joy that Lucy gets from sharing her favourite story with her friends, and thus multiplying the level of joy she finds in the book, there is also the lingering sense of irritation that she doesn’t get to have the book with her all the time.  When Lucy arrives at the library one day to find that the book is no longer in circulation, and subsequently, out of print – oh the horror! – Lucy discovers that while other books and stories may temporarily fill the gap in Lucy’s bookshelf, nothing will ever plug the special story-shaped hole in her heart that the disappearance of her favourite book has left.  I won’t spoil the ending for you, but it will restore your faith in the support found in the bookish community and have you believing the claptrap that The Secret tries to have us believe.  This is definitely one for the mini-fleshling of your acquaintance who has that special appreciation of time spent with a favourite story.

Brand it with:

Lost and found; Try Abebooks; Neverending book club

Little People, Big Dreams: Marie Curie (Isabel Sanchez Vegara & Frau Isa)

Little People, Big Dreams: Agatha Christie (Isabel Sanchez Vegara & Elisa Munso)

*We received copies of both of these titles from Allen & Unwin for review*

Two Sentence Synopsis:  

 

These two books are from a series of narrative nonfiction picture books about the lives of famous women.  Other books in the series focus on the lives of Maya Angelou, Emilia Earhart, Ella Fitzgerald, Audrey Hepburn, Frida Kahlo and Coco Chanel.  You can check out the full list of titles at Goodreads here.

Muster up the motivation because…

…these little gems are the perfect way to introduce mini-fleshlings to the biography format and the lives of some truly inspirational ladies in an engaging way.  I originally requested the Agatha Christie one for obvious reasons, but was sent both and I am highly impressed by the quality of information and the gorgeous illustrative styles. Each book seems to be illustrated by a different person, so while the books are part of a series, each book has its own individual style.

agatha-christie

Little People, BIG DREAMS: Agatha Christie by Isabel Sanchez Vegara and Elisa Munso.  Published by Allen & Unwin, 22nd February 2017.  RRP: $18.99

 

Agatha Christie’s edition relies heavily on black and white with splashes of red and a certain Deco flair.  I particularly enjoyed the page recounting the number of books Christie wrote, accompanied by an image of the lady herself looking over a field of tombstones – each carved with the name of a victim from her novels!  Marie Curie’s edition is awash in shades of blue, green and brown and cleverly, yet subtly, highlights the struggles of Curie as a woman making her way in science.  I actually learned a lot from this little picture book.  I knew the basics of Curie’s life of course – her work in discovering radium and so forth – but expanded my general knowledge in discovering that she is the only woman to have so far won two Nobel Prizes in two separate subjects – Chemistry and Physics.  Each book also includes a short timeline at the end featuring actual photos of the women along with some important dates in their lives and a quick overview of their lives in traditional non-fiction style.  If you have a mini-fleshling about the place who is interested in nonfiction (or even one who isn’t, because these don’t read like your typical nonfiction picture books), you should definitely leave some of these lying around in plain sight.

Brand it with:

All the awesome ladies; little people, big brains; narrative nonfiction

Where’s the Ballerina? (Anna Claybourne & Abigail Goh)

*We received a copy of Where’s the Ballerina? from Allen & Unwin for review*

Two Sentence Synopsis:  

wheres-the-ballerina

Where’s the Ballerina? Find the Hidden Ballerina in the Ballets by Anna Claybourne and Abigail Goh.  Published by Allen & Unwin (HardieGrantEgmont), 25th January, 2017.  RRP: $19.99

If you have been waiting for the day when information about classical ballets is combined with a search and find picture book, then wait no longer!  This book retells the stories behind famous ballets from around the world along with fun search and find scenes related to each ballet.

Muster up the motivation because…

…as well as a fun search and find book, this book cleverly provides brief, illustrated retellings of famous ballets from around the world.  From Swan Lake and the Nutcracker to India’s La Bayadere and Spain’s Don Quixote, each ballet is retold in a beautiful double page spread, and followed by an eye-popping double page illustration in which mini-fleshlings are encouraged to find particular characters.  The double page illustrations bring to life the colours and settings of each ballet, so young readers can clearly see the differences in each story and come to understand that not all ballet involves pink tutus and dying swans.  This would be a fantastic gift book for a young one who is entranced by dance and wants to know more about ballet in particular, while enjoying a fun activity at the same time.  Similarly, this would be a great book for a classroom library, to trick  entice youngsters in with a search-and-find activity before they realise they are actually learning something.

Brand it with:

Dance like someone’s scrutinising every page; international ballet; fun with tutus

Clearly you will forgive my lateness in posting given how stunning these titles are and I will graciously accept that forgiveness and promise not to get behind on my schedule again.  Until the next time I have too many books and not enough time.

Tally ho my friends!

Bruce

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bruce’s Reading Round-Up: Picture Books for the Open Minded…

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Saddle up my friends, because I have four picture books for you today that will open your mind, test your heart and generally stretch your imagination!  Let’s ride on in!

A Perfect Day (Lane Smith)

*We received a copy of A Perfect Day from PanMacmillan Australia for review*

Two Sentence Synopsis:  a perfect day.jpg

As a collection of animals and one young boy go about an ordinary day, they all seem to find the one thing that makes them most happy.  Until, that is, a big hairy bear comes along to spoil the perfection.

Muster up the motivation because…

…this is one picture book that proves that perfection depends entirely on perspective.  The beautiful pastel palette of the illustrations reinforces the gentle unfolding of an ordinary day, made special by the simple things.  Of course, in the second half of the book, things become a lot less perfect – unless you’re a big burly bear looking for somewhere to snack, play and nap of course – and there’s a certain delight in seeing the bear making dirt angels in the flowerbed, splashing in the wading pool, flashing a corn-cob smile and generally enjoying himself in a bearish fashion.  The emphasis provided by the font as bear spends his leisure time inadvertently ruining everyone else’s also contributes to the humour and would be perfect for teaching younger independent readers how to take cues from the text when reading aloud.  The final illustration depicting the animals and little boy inside the house looking out, accompanied by the text, “It was a perfect day for bear,” opens up the text for conversation with little ones about how the other characters might feel.  The edition I have received shows a similar image to that of the last page as its cover and I think this image gives a better sense of the book’s content than the one above.  All up, this is a delightful reading experience that is visually appealing and the perfect choice for sharing a gentle giggle before bed.

Brand it with:

Bears in them there hills; Bear necessities; simple pleasures

Old Pig (Margaret Wild & Ron Brooks)

*We received a copy of Old Pig from Allen & Unwin Australia for review*

Two Sentence Synopsis:  

A grandmother and granddaughter pig share their days and nights in a comforting rhythm of chores, food and relaxation.  When grandmother pig begins slowing down, the two confront together the spectre of a final goodbye.

Muster up the motivation because…

…this 20th anniversary edition classic children’s tale is almost achingly poignant in places and deftly broaches that hardest of topics, the death of a loved one.  As it becomes apparent that Grandmother Pig is facing her final days, the two pigs take solace in spending time together and appreciating the small, simple things in life and the rhythms of each day.  While death isn’t explicitly mentioned, it is obvious that the book is about leaving and leaving behind.  The final illustration, featuring granddaughter pig on her own is awash with hope, and allows the reader to leave the story on an uplifting note.  As much as this story would be a useful tool in gently opening up discussions with young readers about reality of death, it is also a celebration of a life well lived and the connections that we make with those dear to us.  If this book doesn’t tug at your heartstrings and make you appreciate the small moments of joy in the mundane, then you must have a colder, stonier heart than even I do.

Brand it with:

Grief, sensitively handled; quality of life; inter-generational connections

There’s a Tiger in the Garden (Lizzy Stewart)

*We received a copy of There’s a Tiger in the Garden from Allen & Unwin for review*

Two Sentence Synopsis:  theres-a-tiger-in-the-garden

In an attempt to cure her granddaughter’s boredom, a grandmother casually mentions that there is a tiger in her garden.  The resulting, fruitful search is enough to dent the certainty of even the most sceptical of child explorers!

Muster up the motivation because…

…this is the kind of book that will have you doing exercises to expand your imagination.  While the concept of children “discovering” untapped worlds in the garden isn’t new to picture books, the ambiguous ending of this story provides a fun twist.  As Nora and Jeff (her toy giraffe) take a turn about the garden, the illustrations become more and more detailed and jungle-like, blending a sense of magical realism with the richly coloured sense of adventure inherent in nature in all its glory.  The deep greens that permeate most of the illustrations are so lush and inviting that I just couldn’t help plunging on in to this story. Within Nora’s imagination, her grandma’s small garden morphs into the home of butterflies the size of birds, a grumpy polar bear fishing in the pond and some extremely robust (and hungry) plants.  Young readers will love trying to spot the tiger in the earlier pages of the book and there is plenty of visual humour for older ones to notice and enjoy also.  If you have a young explorer in your midst, they will revel in this tale that celebrates things that are more than they seem on the surface.

Brand it with:

Wild green yonder; imagine that; grandma’s secret garden

My Friend Tertius (Corinne Fenton & Owen Swan)

*We received a copy of this title from Allen & Unwin for review*

Two Sentence Synopsis:

my-friend-tertius

My Friend Tertius by Corinne Fenton & Owen Swan.  Published by Allen & Unwin, 22 February 2016.  RRP: $24.99

A WWII code breaker working in Singapore for the British takes a gibbon for a pet.  When the war forces him to leave Singapore, he makes the decision not to abandon his friend, but smuggle him along on the journey.

Muster up the motivation because…

…for one thing, there certainly is a dearth of war related picture books featuring a gibbon on the market, so My Friend Tertius fills that niche nicely. The washed out colour palette is reminiscent of the tropical heat of the southern hemisphere, and there are many historical clues hidden in the pictures for keen-eyed young readers to inquire about – the radio set in Arthur’s room for instance, Arthur’s neatly initialed gladstone bag and the fact that most pictures of people show at least somebody smoking a cigarette.  This was a bit of a strange beast of a tale for me – on one hand, it is fascinating, unexpected and had me immediately questioning the hows and whys of the story. On the other, the picture book format meant that I didn’t get the answers I was looking for. The narrative begins abruptly with a question that presupposes a knowledge of the social context of war generally – that people might have to leave – and the War in the Pacific specifically – that people did have to leave Singapore, with or without their loved ones.  The book has no afterword giving more information about Arthur Cooper and the eventual fate of either man or gibbon, and the book finishes on the rather cryptic statement “He [Tertius] taught me how to love.”  This is cryptic because nowhere in the previous pages of the book is there any mention of Arthur having any particular difficulty with human emotions, so I found myself asking, “How? How did he teach you to love? And why didn’t you know how to love in the first place?!” These questions, as well as my inner pedant’s shock at Arthur’s laissez faire attitude toward animal quarantine issues, meant that this wasn’t a particularly satisfying read for me as an adult reader, and I wonder how it might be received by the upper primary age range for which it is intended.  To be honest, I would have loved to have seen this story told in a chapter book format because I suspect there is so much more to the story than is being shown, and it is a pity not to be privy to it.

Brand it with:

Monkey business; BFFs in wartime; gibbons on the run

Bet you weren’t expecting any of those mind expanding picture books, were you?  I hope there is something here that tickles your synapses and causes you to add it to your TBR pile.

Until next time,

Bruce

 

 

 

 

 

Boomerang and Bat: The Story of the REAL First XI…

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It’s time for some picture book love today and we were lucky enough to receive a little gem from Allen & Unwin (thanks!) that is informative, entertaining and a brilliant conversation starter for the sports fans among you.  Boomerang and Bat: The Story of the Real First Eleven by Mark Greenwood and illustrated by Terry Denton, tells the story of the first Australian cricket team – made up entirely of Indigenous men – to tour England.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

The first Australian cricket team to tour England was a group of Aboriginal stockmen. This is their story. In 1868 a determined team of Aboriginal cricketers set off on a journey across the world to take on England’s best. Led by star all-rounder Johnny Mullagh, and wearing caps embroidered with a boomerang and a bat, they delighted crowds with their exceptional skill. From the creators of Jandamarra, this is the remarkable story of the real first 11.

Boomerang and bat

If you’re looking for a cracking (sorry, couldn’t resist the pun) narrative non-fiction picture book for the reluctant, sports-mad, mini-fleshing in your life, you should certainly get a hold of Boomerang and Bat.  Pitched at the middle to upper primary age range, the book takes an engaging look at the first Australian cricket team to tour England.  I found the story fascinating as an adult reader, with plenty of questions springing to my mind – not least of which, why is this event not more widely acknowledged and why are Indigenous people nowadays conspicuous only by their absence from our national cricket teams? – and I’m sure young cricket fans will get a kick out of seeing cricket “in the olden days”.  (No Rocket Man at these matches!)

The story has an incredibly subtle undertone that depicts aspects of life for indigenous people of the time.  While the team is received well as cricketers, there is still an undercurrent of “look at the performing natives” that is conveyed through the text and imagery.  I can imagine the book being used to excellent effect in the classroom to stimulate discussion around the social issues of the time – how would the men have felt, being lauded for their sporting skills, but not counted as citizens?  Did circumstances change for the men when they returned to Australia?  Did the men feel the trip was worthwhile, considering the death of one of their teammates?

The presentation of the book is gorgeous, with Terry Denton’s illustrations bringing the text to life.  The beautiful map that adorns the front endpapers is matched by the final endpapers depicting images of each of the team members, with their names, nicknames and a piece of information about their role in the team.  It’s hard to imagine Terry Denton as a separate entity from the Griffiths/Denton Juggernaut, but it’s wonderful to appreciate a more realistic illustrative style in this tome.

I will admit to enjoying this book enormously as an adult reader and being drawn in to the mystery of this event being lost in the annals of time.  I’m interested in finding out more – did these men have descendants?  If so, what do they think of their great-grandfathers’ sporting achievements? Could their perspectives have been included in this book somehow?

I think the mark of a good non-fiction book is to stimulate further curiosity about the topic. Boomerang and Bat has certainly achieved this for me as an adult reader and I can see it doing the same for mini-fleshlings.  Teachers in particular, get your grabby hands on this one and get it into your classrooms: stimulating discussion will be guaranteed!

Until next time,

Bruce

 

Oddity Odyssey Reading Challenge: Trashed…

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Today’s offering in my quest to scale the dizzying heights of oddity is a graphic novel narrative non-fiction tale about that most indispensable yet oft-maligned occupation – rubbish collection.  Trashed by Derf Backderf follows the exploits of a couple of ordinary guys thrust into the extraordinary world of civic garbage disposal through a lack of other opportunities.  Peppered throughout this unexpectedly engaging read is a plethora of information and statistics about the garbage-generating habits of Americans (for the most part) and the not-so-ingenious ways that humans have come up with in order to keep their detritus out of sight and out of mind.

I received a copy of this one from the publisher via Netgalley, and I will be submitting it in the category of books with odd subject matter.  To find out more about the challenge (and join in!) click here.  But let’s not sit around like a stinky old bag waiting for collection day! Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Every week we pile our garbage on the curb and it disappears—like magic!

The reality is anything but, of course. Trashed, Derf Backderf’s follow-up to the critically acclaimed, award-winning international bestseller My Friend Dahmer, is an ode to the crap job of all crap jobs—garbage collector. Anyone who has ever been trapped in a soul-sucking gig will relate to this tale.

Trashed follows the raucous escapades of three 20-something friends as they clean the streets of pile after pile of stinking garbage, while battling annoying small-town bureaucrats, bizarre townfolk, sweltering summer heat, and frigid winter storms.

Trashed is fiction, but is inspired by Derf’s own experiences as a garbage­man. Interspersed are nonfiction pages that detail what our garbage is and where it goes. The answers will stun you. Hop on the garbage truck named Betty and ride along with Derf on a journey into the vast, secret world of garbage. Trashed is a hilarious, stomach-churning tale that will leave you laughing and wincing in disbelief.

trashed

Apart from numerous “ew”-inducing scenes and the unrivalled hilarity that is a piano being crunched in a rubbish compactor (oh, the symphony!), there are some incredibly thought-provoking instances in this unexpectedly fascinating read.  At first it felt a bit weird to be presented with nonfiction sections slap in the middle of your typical graphic novel, but these informative little snippets actually raise the book above the common graphic novel herd.  The facts presented about the ways and means of rubbish generation and disposal are both stupefying and scandalous. Reading about the enormity of humanity’s collective garbagey woes gave me pause for thought about the  unimaginable scale of any effort that would have to be undertaken in order to reverse the environmental harms already inflicted and enact positive change for the future.

These sobering facts are deftly balanced by the down-to-earth problems of the main character and his co-workers as they battle exploding maggots, back-breaking hard rubbish items, despotic managers and the problems that come with extremes of weather (ie: garbage bags freezing to the footpath).  Seriously, being splashed with a bit of bin water is the least of their worries.  The characters seem to be vying for the title of “least personable individual”, as along with the aforementioned despotic manager, we meet a collection of garbage workers each with their own idiosyncratic irritating habits (and nickname), a delightfully bizarre cemetery worker, the scariest dog-catcher ever created and a host of citizens who just don’t appreciate the finer points of putting out the correct type of rubbish on the correct day.  By about the end of the first quarter of the book, I can guarantee you will have developed a whole new level of sympathy for those who collect your refuse.

Or at least, those who used to collect your refuse, if you are an Aussie.  Our trucks are all fitted with automatic robot arms to empty the bins – gone are the days of the loveable “garbo” running your rubbish bin to the truck, with the unwritten promise of a six-pack left out at Christmas time as a reward for their essential services.  Honestly, kids of today wouldn’t believe you if you told them – “You left beer out for the garbage man? WTF? That’s so random!”

I would highly recommend having a look at Trashed if you are in the mood for something that will satisfy both your escapist and cerebral urges.  There’s a lot to laugh at in the storyline – in a schadenfreude,
“Gee, I’m glad that’s not me” sort of a way – as well as a lot to ponder.  Just remember to pop it in the recycling bin when you’re finished.

Progress toward Oddity Odyssey Reading Challenge Goal: 14/16

Until next time,

Bruce