Archive | January, 2012

The Best Day of My Life by Deborah Ellis (Allen & Unwin)

28 Jan

Deborah Ellis has carved a significant niche as an author of well researched and written issues-based books for children and young adults set in some of the world’s hotspots. She is most well known for the ‘Parvana’ (or ‘Breadwinner’) trilogy, based in Afghanistan; and other stand-outs are The Heaven Shop and Diego, Run!; both for older readers.

Valli is a child who picks up coal in Jharia, India, to survive. On the best day of her life she discovers that the people she believed to be her family had been given money to take her in when her real parents died. She is free, now, to change her life and so leaves. She gets a ride in a truck and is taken to a brothel in Kolkata but the prostitutes recognise something disturbing about her and throw her out quickly. Valli becomes a street kid, although finds joy in life, particularly when she has something she can pass on to help someone else. She has the opportunity to get treatment for her ‘magic feet’ from a kind doctor but she prevents her own path from running smoothly.

Aimed at middle school readers (upper primary or junior secondary), although primary school teachers should perhaps read the allusions to prostitution in Chapter 3 first, this is an easily-read novel with a thinking protagonist and insight into a very different society from that of mainstream Australia. Deborah Ellis is right when she states that her books reflect ‘the heroism of people around the world who are struggling for decent lives, and how they try to remain kind in spite of it.’

 by Joy Lawn, Children’s Literature Consultant

Darius Bell and the Crystal Bees by Odo Hirsch (Allen & Unwin)

28 Jan

Darius Bell and the Glitter Pool deservedly won the CBCA Book of the Year: Younger Readers in 2010. It generated admiration and affection from both the judges and child readers.  We again meet ‘every boy’, Darius Bell, on his beloved Bell Estate. His father, Hector Bell, is a man of literary sensibilities rather than those of science. He is the eccentric figurehead of a subsistence community operating on the estate, where Mr Fisher the farmer gives a proportion of his produce to the Bells; the Deavers give honey and others barter labour and supplies. Science and the ingenuity of Darius, however, come to the fore when the bees disappear and die. In spite of outrageous treatment from his school principal and the mayor, Darius finds a way to scientifically and communally save the Bell Estate and its people.

Across his body of work, Odo Hirsch’s young characters are never afraid to tackle adult injustice with dignity, responsibility and persistence. Humour and imagination add appeal. This is a recommended resource for mid to upper primary science on bees and pollination, as well as an enjoyable and affirming read in its own right.

by Joy Lawn, Children’s Literature Consultant

Icefall by Matthew J. Kirby (Scholastic Press NY)

20 Jan

IcefallIcefall is an exemplary original Norse tale. It is a highly recommended psychological thriller, set on an icy piece of land which is bordered by the impassable mountains and the frozen winter sea. The young heir, Harald, and his two Norse princess sisters have been sent to this harsh place for safety by their father, the King, but things start to go wrong and it seems that their sanctuary has been infiltrated by an enemy. The king had sent them with a small team of guards and his bezerkers arrive just before the ice freezes for the winter, so there are multiple suspects even within their own group, let alone outsiders. A skald, Alric, arrives with the bezerkers and he sees talent in Solveig, the second and overlooked sibling, as a bard. He begins her training, where her background as a storyteller helps her because she is familiar with many of the old Norse tales about Loki, Asgard and Odin. When her goat, Hilda, is killed by the bezerker leader, Hake, he tries to makes amends by giving her a raven and its presence on her shoulder while weaving her stories gives her confidence and authority. Solveig is a very well-drawn character, whose doubts about her place in her father’s affections and about her ability; position this book above being simply being a riveting story. As soon as it is available in paperback it would be an excellent class novel or title for literature circles for both boys and girls in middle school. In the meantime, libraries and homes must have it.

by Joy Lawn, Children’s Literature Consultant

A Single Shard by Linda Sue Park (University of Qld Press)

20 Jan

Linda Sue Park won the prestigious Newbery award for A Single Shard in 2002. I read it then and always remembered it as an important, original and reflective story. UQP have reissued this tale about Korean orphan, Tree-ear (named after mushrooms that grow without parent seeds) in the 12th century. He was fascinated by master potter; Min’s, work and, after inadvertently breaking one of his creations, begins labouring for him to pay back the debt. The work is hard but Tree-ear longs to make pots himself. Will Min ever allow someone other than his son to learn his tightly-held skills? When his acclaimed celadon pottery has the chance to earn Min a royal commission, Tree-ear embarks on the journey to court with two faultless vases. Will they all arrive safely? Tree-ear’s friendship with one-legged Crane-man provides opportunities for the philosophical questions that enhance the fable-like qualities of the novel. The writing is apt for this thoughtful style. UQP has also recently published Linda Sue Park’s novel, A Long Walk to Water, set in Sudan, and both of these fine books are highly recommended for close study in upper primary or junior secondary classes.

 by Joy Lawn, Children’s Literature Consultant