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…

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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

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

The Bone Sparrow: 100 Books Coming Your Way This Book Week! #read4refugees #openbooksopenminds

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It’s Children’s Book Week here in Australia and I have an beautiful, timely and confronting book to present to you today, as well as an invitation to join in with those using their voices to speak on behalf of those who are being silenced.  The Bone Sparrow by Zana Fraillon highlights the shocking mistreatment and abuse of asylum seekers and refugees who have arrived in Australia by boat and are currently incarcerated in indefinite offshore detention.  The story, though difficult to read at times, is aimed at the 9-12 year old age bracket and sensitively brings to the fore the plight of these forgotten people.  This Book Week, we on the Shelf aim to speak our opposition to successive Australian Governments’ abuse of these individuals’ human rights.  But more of that in a minute.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

 Sometimes, at night, the dirt outside turns into a beautiful ocean. As red as the sun and as deep as the sky. I lie in my bed, Queeny’s feet pushing up against my cheek, and listen to the waves lapping at the tent.

Subhi is a refugee. Born in an Australian permanent detention centre after his mother fled the violence of a distant homeland, life behind the fences is all he has ever known. But as he grows, his imagination gets bigger too, until it is bursting at the limits of his world. The night sea brings him gifts, the faraway whales sing to him, and the birds tell their stories.

The most vivid story of all, however, is the one that arrives one night in the form of Jimmie, a scruffy, impatient girl who appears from the other side of the wires, and brings a notebook written by the mother she lost. Unable to read it, she relies on Subhi to unravel her own family’s love songs and tragedies.

Subhi and Jimmie might both find a way to freedom, as their tales unfold. But not until each of them has been braver than ever before.

In 2002, veteran Australian children’s author Morris Gleitzman published the Boy Overboard/Girl Underground duology, that dealt directly with Australia’s treatment of asylum seekers, with reference to the Tampa incident and then-Prime Minister John Howard’s seminal “We Will Decide” speech that swept his government back into power on the back of fabricated stories designed to villify those seeking our help.  Fourteen years on, and if anything, Australia’s treatment of asylum seekers has become far worse.

It is in this political and humanitarian climate that we find Subhi, innocent victim one country’s irrational fear of difference, and pawn in a sick political race to the bottom on human rights.  Fraillon has done a remarkable job of writing Subhi as an authentic young boy, full of ideas, arguments with his sister, hopes for his future and a taste for adventure.  The other young characters in the camp – Eli and Queeny – are complex and encapsulate the fight between growth and stagnation that is going on for these young teens who, in any other circumstance, would be testing their boundaries, experimenting with identity and making plans for their futures.  The “Jackets” or security staff at Subhi’s camp are also a varied bunch, with even the good guys demonstrating divided loyalties and the natural desire to protect themselves from recrimination.

Suffused into the tale, and reflected in the form of stories from a book owned by Jimmie, is a sense of hope: that despite the overwhelming evidence that these people are invisible and forgotten, Someday they will be free.

This is meant to be a children’s book – a children’s book about difficult and important topics, certainly, but a children’s book.

But stuff that.

If you are an adult above voting age, read this book.

If you are a teen with a thirst for information and a desire to know what’s going on outside your social bubble, read this book.

If you are a person with any sense of common decency, read this book.

If you are an Australian, read this damn book.

Then pass it on to your mates and make them read it.

And to the Australian government: for fuck’s sake, close the bloody camps.

An Invitation For Children’s Book Week

We shelf denizens are proud to say we do not sit on the fence when the abuse of human rights are concerned and for that reason we are inviting you to be part of a super fun and cheeky mission in your local area this book week, August 20-26th.

Mums 4 Refugees, a grassroots advocacy and support group made up entirely of ordinary mothers who give more than two hoots about how asylum seekers are treated in this country, are planning a National Book Drop and would love you to join in!  Here’s the skinny:

This Children’s Book Week, find stories of hope in unexpected places.

#read4refugees #openbooksopenminds

Members of grass roots advocacy group Mums 4 Refugees are taking stories of hope and survival, inspired by refugees and those seeking asylum, into their communities by participating in a national “book drop”.

Mothers across Australia will be joining this national campaign to raise awareness of refugee issues by leaving books focusing on the stories of refugees and asylum seekers in public and high profile locations across Australia. We hope that members of the public will embrace the week as an opportunity to learn more about the plight of refugees and asylum seekers in Australia and worldwide.

To help us out in Book Drop, Hachette Australia kindly (and with an admirable willingness!) provided Mums 4 Refugees with 100 copies of The Bone Sparrow to drop during the week in Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne and Adelaide!!  

If that weren’t enough, there will be 10 copies of YA new release When Michael Met Mina by Randa Abdel-Fattah dropped in Brisbane thanks to PanMacmillan Australia! 

when michael met mina

Author of Ziba Came on a Boat, Liz Lofthouse, is also getting behind the action, donating copies of her CBCA Shortlisted picture book for dropping! 

ziba

If you would like to join the action, there is a public Facebook Event Page here, where you can upload pictures of books you have dropped or found.  If you are wondering what books might be suitable, here is a list:

CHILDREN’S BOOKS:
The Little Refugee (Anh Do)
Refugees (David Miller)
Ziba Came on a Boat (Liz Lofthouse)
Boy Overboard (Morris Gleitzman)
Girl Underground (Morris Gleitzman)

Plum Puddings and Paper Moons (Glenda Millard)
Home and Away (John Marsden)
Flight (Nadia Wheatley)
Rainbow Bird (Czenya Cavouras)

YOUNG ADULT FICTION:
The Bone Sparrow (Zana Fraillon)
When Michael Met Mina (Randa Abdel-Fattah)
Soraya the Storyteller (Rosanne Hawke)
The Arrival (Shaun Tan)
Jumping to Heaven (Katherine Goode)

ADULT NON FICTION:
The Happiest Refugee (Anh Do)
Walking Free (Munjed Al Muderis)
Lives in Limbo (Michael Leach & Fethi Mansouri)

If you would like to drop a book, you can stick this bookplate inside the front cover:

M4R bookplate

So join in if you can, share the action if you can, tell others, and make this Book Week a week of action for change!

Yours in hope,

Bruce

 

 

Adult Fiction Read-it-if Review: What Milo Saw….and a Fi50 Reminder…

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imageAhoy and avast, ye shelf-lubbers! Today I have a book for grown ups, told from the perspective of two of my favourite fleshling-types: children and old people.  Actually, it’s told from multiple points of view, but we’ll get to that later.  And before I go any further, allow me to remind you that Fiction in 50 for July will be going live on Mondayand this month’s prompt will be…

path to enlightenment

To find out more, just click on that attractive button over there.  We’d love to have you play along!

Now, back to business – today’s offering is What Milo Saw by Virginia MacGregor.

Nine-year-old Milo suffers from retinitis pigmentosa, which causes him to see the world as if looking through a pinhole.  But Milo often spots things that others miss.  When Milo’s beloved Gran moves out of their home and into Forget-Me-Not nursing home, it seems that Milo is the only one that can see how Nurse Thornhill mistreats the patients.  With his mother reeling from the recent, girlfriend-and-new-baby laden departure of his father, the only one Milo can rely on is his pet pig, Hamlet.  Then Milo meets Tripi, a Syrian refugee and the cook at Forget-Me-Not, and things start looking up.  As Milo digs deeper into the scandal at the nursing home, he will need all the help he can get to expose Nurse Thornhill and her brutal ways and save the day – as well as saving his Gran.

what milo sawRead it if:

* you believe pigs (and elderly Grans) are for life, not just for Christmas

* you’ve ever wondered why nursing home patrons never look like they’re having any fun

* you’ve ever found a new friend in a very unlikely place

* you thoroughly enjoy stories in which old people get to break free from the shackles of advanced age and live a little

I seem to be bringing you a lot of books with elderly protagonists lately – and why not, I say! I love them, generally (the books that is, not necessarily the old people.  That’s on a case by case basis).  What Milo Saw is a one part mystery, one part humour, and one part relationship novel with beguiling characters who are all handicapped by their situation in one way or another.  Milo has a problem with his eyesight, Gran’s mind is fading, Sandy (Milo’s mum) is having a hard time after her relationship break-up and Tripi is a refugee with no papers who has left his twelve-year-old sister behind in Syria.  As individuals, they have great difficulties overcoming their various problems, but when they start working together, problems seem to be quickly resolved.

I really enjoyed reading this book mostly because of the genuinely likeable characters,  but I never got to the point of really loving it.  While the plot was reasonably complicated, with the lives of various characters overlapping in interesting ways, the overall telling of the story was somewhat formulaic.  I felt that a few of the elements, such as Milo’s eyesight problems and the inclusion of the pig, were a bit contrived and didn’t necessarily add anything to the story overall, apart from a quirky hook in the blurb.  Similarly, while the characters were likeable, they were mostly quite two-dimensional.

Nevertheless, despite these niggling issues, the book was a fun, engaging read and had plenty of humour to spark things up.  The use of multiple points of view to tell the story also helped my enjoyment of the book, as it allowed for a few twists in the story that would otherwise have been missing.

Overall, I think this would be a great holiday read, or a book for those times when you don’t want to have to work too hard and are looking for something with a bit of heart and humour.  What Milo Saw is due to be released on July 29th.

Until next time (get those Fi50 ideas churning!),

Bruce

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