Archive | February, 2012

Picture Books by or about Australia’s Indigenous People

24 Feb

Magabala Books publish indigenous texts. Their 2011 title, Once There Was a Boy by Dub Leffler was probably the most beautiful Australian picture book published last year. Its tropical island setting, colour palette and exotic and nuanced story have achieved both Australian and universal appeal.

This year Magabala has so far published The Mark of the Wagarl and Dingo’s Tree. With the school curriculum’s emphasis on many aspects of Australia’s Aboriginal people, these books will have particular application for schools, as well as for Aboriginal communities. They are important for recording and honouring Aboriginal culture, and also being bridges to the wider community.

The design of The Mark of the Wagarl is simple but the full page illustrations by Janice Lyndon beckon the reader into the atmospheric river settings. Author, Lorna Little, tells the story of the Wagarl (rainbow serpent guardian of rivers in Nyoongar Country) with understanding and interest.

In Dingo’s Tree, the animals won’t share any of the space under their trees so Dingo draws a tree on a rock. It grows tall. As Country is despoiled by mining and there is no rain, the animals become dependent on the last tree. Although there is a strong moral about sharing, this book’s predominant message about the devastation caused by man is chilling and makes the book more suitable for readers older than the very young. The author, Gladys Milroy, is the mother of awarded writer, Sally Morgan.

Kick it to me is published by One Hill Day. Its author, Neridah McMullin, and illustrator, Peter Hudson, give a fascinating insight into the origin of Australian Rules Football; deriving from Marn-grook football played by the Djab Wurrung tribe in the Gariwerd Grampians. The picture book is based on the true story of important Australian sportsman, Tom Wills and his boyhood friendship with the tribe.

by Joy Lawn, Children’s Literature Consultant


Wonder by R.J. Palacio (Alfred A. Knopf N.Y.)

18 Feb

August is a ten year old boy who has always been home-schooled. He was born with a badly deformed face and tells us, ‘I won’t describe what I look like. Whatever you’re thinking, it’s probably worse.’ His parents and sister, Via, don’t think of him as ordinary even though they love him very much. He is probably the only person who knows how ordinary he really is inside.

Now starting school, August has to contend with the staring and the mean kids. Julian is one of a small group who show him around before school starts. He is a kid who acts one way in front of adults but differently to kids and he leads the campaign to make life difficult for August. Jack sits beside him in most classes but what does he really think of August? Summer befriends him even though she is told she would be in the popular group if she kept away from him.

One of the teachers has monthly Precepts, many of which encourage the kids to be kind, such as ‘When given the choice between being right or being kind, choose kind.’ (Dr Wayne W. Dyer) How far will the teacher and principal’s promptings help the school accept August?

The book begins with August’s point of view but diverts into those of other characters such as Via, Summer, Jack and some kids who don’t seem so friendly. These give interesting and enlightening insights into the whole picture.

The author has a light and affirming touch, especially considering the severity of August’s appearance and the book is an easy read which boys and girls in upper primary and junior secondary will devour. It is also a recommended novel for close study.

by Joy Lawn, Children’s Literature Consultant

Australian Series for Young Girls

18 Feb

Anna Branford has recently penned Neville No-Phone but she has also written one of the best regarded Australian series for young girls in recent times. Violet Mackerel’s Brilliant Plot (Walker Books) was a CBCA Book of the Year: Younger Reader shortlisted title in 2011 and its follow-up, Violet Mackerel’s Remarkable Recovery, is just as assured. Hopefully Branford can regain the high standard of these two books. Illustrator, Sarah Davies, plays an equally important role in creating Violet’s endearing vulnerability.

The ‘Walker Stories’ are of interest for the young as they can be read aloud to children, or reasonable readers in junior primary could read them alone or with some help. Each book contains three short stories or chapters and some are humorous, such as Mr Tripp Smells a Rat and Mr Tripp Goes for a Skate by Sandy McKay and Ruth Paul.

The ‘Billie B Brown’ (Hardie Grant Egmont) series of easy-to-read books for girls in junior to mid primary have large font and tap into the interests and feelings of girls in that age range.

More complex is the ‘EJ12 Girl Hero’ series (Lemonfizz Media, Scholastic). These secret agent stories take code-breaker specialist, Emma/EJ12 to exciting places in Australia and beyond but also cover realistic issues with her friends.  Technology is up-to-date and within the experience of the mid to upper primary girl readership.

Probably the most original of these series for young girls is ‘Kumiko’ by Briony Stewart, beginning with Kumiko and the Dragon and, most recently, Kumiko and the Shadow Catchers (UQP). Perfect for 2012’s Year of the Dragon, Kumiko blends east and west in an Australian setting with a fantasy element.

For girls in mid primary and up into mid secondary, Scholastic has released Raven Lucas: Missing, a Conspiracy 365 alternative for girls by Christine Harris. Raven’s father is missing and she thinks she sees either him or someone else wearing his coat and hat. Red herrings and dead ends litter the trail of suspects in this suspenseful mystery.

by Joy Lawn, Children’s Literature Consultant

Neville No-Phone by Anna Branford and Kat Chadwick (Walker Books)

18 Feb

Neville exaggerates to his parents that he is the only person in his class who doesn’t have a mobile phone. He tries everything, including playing the ‘self-esteem’ card. His family do offer some alternatives: their old mobile which the dog buried in the garage, his discarded baby monitor and the old two paper cups with string attached ‘telephone’. When Neville and his best mate and neighbour, Enzo, find a mobile, what will be the outcome? This book is very funny, with some positive messages as a bonus. Its ideal readership is boys in mid primary up to Grade 5 but could have appeal to those a little older and younger, as well as to girls.

by Joy Lawn, Children’s Literature Consultant