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The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr Morris Lessmore by William Joyce (Simon & Schuster Australia)

20 Jul

Shaun Tan’s The Lost Thing won best short animated film at the 83rd Academy Awards, based on his illustrated book. In reverse, The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr Morris Lessmore won best animated short film at the 84th Academy Awards and has now been made into a picture book, probably mainly because of its huge success as an interactive app.

The loved characters, scenes and idiosyncrasies are re-visited in the picture book. Morris Lessmore is a profound character who loved words, stories and books. ‘His life was a book of his own writing, one orderly page after another. He would open it every morning and write of his joys and sorrows, of all that he knew and everything that he hoped for.’ It sounds idyllic until the intrinsic rule about a narrative needing conflict disturbs the peace as early as the second page – when the wind blew and blew. Morris Lessmore’s house flew like Dorothy’s in the Wizard of Oz and everything he knew was scattered, even the words of his book. He followed an amiable book to a wonderful library where he became immersed in books.  At one point Morris is lost inside the books and dangles from the letter ‘J’ because he is so intent on his reading. Students could be directed to these metafictive pages, where attention is drawn to story itself as an artefact to question the relationship between fiction and reality. This device is also used by Jodi Picoult and Samantha Van Leer in Between the Lines and they use the letter ‘J’ as a hook for a character to hang from as well.

There are few books for children which successfully feature an adult main character. This book achieves this, partly because Morris Lessmore has child-like qualities. Read this poignant picture book which, along with the movie and app, celebrate and cherish stories and books.

by Joy Lawn, Children’s Literature Consultant

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Grace Beside Me by Sue McPherson (Magabala Books)

13 Jul

Published literature for young adults by Australian Indigenous authors has taken a significant step with Grace Beside Me. The storytelling is compelling, while thoughtful, and the voice is memorable. We discover Fuzzy Mac (named for her hair) and her life in episodic chapters which form a whole narrative. Fuzzy is an authentic character: a character that seems impossible not to find living in a country town somewhere in the mountains.

Because her mother died from a heroin overdose, Fuzzy lives with her grandparents: Pop who loves words and is understanding and wise, and larger-than life Nan who has strong opinions and language, and grounds Fuzzy in the facts and truths of life. As Fuzzy get older, Nan gives more information about her mother, the sweet Koorie girl who took the wrong path but loved her baby daughter. Fuzzy’s sense of identity and strength is honed by her grandparents. She shares their ethos about community and avoids some of the traps set for teenage girls with no lack of authenticity, and real angst in one shocking scene. Grief is also genuine about racism and the treatment of Indigenous people and Kevin Rudd’s Apology forms a core of one chapter, ‘Sorry Day’.

Fuzzy and her family are all guardians of stories, believing that, ‘It’s the listening and telling of these stories that bring our people close, both young and old. Stories keep our culture strong and our faith alive.’

 

The Interrogation of Ashala Wolf (first in ‘The Tribe’ series; published by Walker Books) is another new recommended novel by an Indigenous author, Ambelin Kwaymullina. It is aimed at a younger readership and the style is very different from the realism of Grace Beside Me. Ashala Wolf is set in a post apocalyptic world after the Reckoning, 300 years earlier, which caused some people to develop special abilities. Ashala is the sixteen year old leader of The Tribe, a group of Illegals with abilities. Like the characters in Grace Beside Me, Ashala and her tribe believe that the world can’t be changed with violence, but through ideas.

by Joy Lawn, Children’s Literature Consultant

Broken by Elizabeth Pulford, illustrated by Angus Gomes (Walker Books Australia)

23 Jun

BrokenApparently many years in the making, Broken is a gripping, finely crafted ‘mise en abyme’ – a story within a story where the inner story, set inside a comic book world, is framed by the outer story of Zara who is in a coma. A newspaper article at the start of the book lets us know that Zara was on the back of her brother Jem’s motorbike when he swerved to avoid a toddler. Hailed as a hero by the toddler’s parents and the media, Zara doesn’t know that Jem, the keeper of her secrets, has died and she is still searching for him in her comatose state. She enters a comic-book world which is shown in graphics and with a different typeface. Here she encounters Jem’s favourite comic superhero, Hoodman, and the angel hero, Dark Eagle. Chased and confronted by the evil Morven, she uses her artistic gifts to draw and erase doorknobs and windows as she seeks and escapes. Her coma state doesn’t stop her from some awareness of the real world, where conversations are shown in italics, and her terrifying back-story is also merged into the narrative with extraordinary skill. Images of doors, especially a  blue door, rooms, a cupboard, a pathway of shells, water and glass and dark and light provide clues as to what has gone before and develop the tale without interrupting the lucid style.

Walker Books has also recently published another book for mid secondary readers which celebrates the power of art to unlock and enhance life; The Colour of Trouble by Gerry Bobsien. Both these novels are deserving of very wide readerships and Broken, in particular, should be lauded as an exceptional work.

by Joy Lawn, Children’s Literature Consultant

Metro Winds by Isobelle Carmody (Allen & Unwin)

12 May

Metro WindsAlthough there are subtle differences between place and style, the stories in Metro Winds explore the archetype of the quest through the lens of speculative fiction. The fantasy stories, ‘The Wolf Prince’, ‘The Girl Who Could See the Wind’ and ‘Metro Winds’ are the book’s highest points. Perhaps incidentally, these three stories have female protagonists but they also emulate the conventions of ‘quest fantasy’. Significantly, they describe a search for identity and place. For example, the girl in ‘Metro Winds’ is wrenched from her home beside the ocean and taken to the city, where her windows are painted shut. She later experiences an epiphany and discovers her true self in the surreal, untamed metro.

The three stories with male protagonists are linked by air travel in the real world. Each of the protagonists has travelled from Australia, or a similar place, to Europe. Airports are waiting places. These stories share that weariness: time has changed and folded; a task must be achieved. In ‘The Dove Game’, the man is keeping a rendezvous in place of another man who died amongst the eucalypts. ‘The Stranger’ is in search of vampires in Greece and ‘The Man Who Lost his Shadow’ enters an even darker place. All the men are seeking, and all believe they must cross time and space to fulfil their quests. Their worlds are those of ‘real’ places while the fantasy stories, particularly ‘The Wolf Prince’ and ‘The Girl Who Could See the Wind’ move from the real world to the secondary world of fantasy. Willow, the girl who could see the wind, is taken to an Australian-like place from her northern hemisphere home by her grieving mother. This new place becomes home but the park she sees from her window, and is not meant to enter, is not in a dimension that most others can see. The young woman in ‘The Wolf Prince’ becomes a princess in the land of faerie, which sits physically beside her Venetian-like city. She is able to move between the two places after fulfilling the tasks that allow her to transform her prince but where does she truly belong?

Many of Isobelle Carmody’s themes, motifs and concerns from her acclaimed Obernewtyn Chronicles appear in Metro Winds. These include dreams, secrets, beasts and misfits. Some of the short stories are for older readers – mature secondary and adults, but the others will beguile all readers of sophisticated speculative fiction.

by Joy Lawn, Children’s Literature Consultant

The Fault in Our Stars and other novels by John Green (Penguin Books)

21 Apr

Fault in Our StarsHazel is only 17 but dying of lung cancer. She watches lots of America’s Next Top Model and attends a cancer support group for teenagers. Half-blind Isaac brings his mate, Augustus, along to the meeting before his only sighted eye is removed. Augustus had recovered from osteosarcoma cancer so seems to be in a good place but doesn’t stop staring at Hazel. In anyone but such a hot guy it would be creepy. They become friends and then even closer but it is difficult to see a future with Hazel’s condition. Her favourite book is An Imperial Affliction but it has no ending. She has futilely contacted the author to discover what happens to the characters but Augustus uses his cancer-sufferer ‘wish’ to take her to Amsterdam to meet him. The story then takes unexpected and poignant turns.

Author, John Green, enjoys exploring metaphors here and particularly also in his 2009 novel Paper Towns. He also uses many references to other texts, such as the writings of Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Francois Rabelais and T.S. Eliot.

His novels seem to feature male main characters who are usually skinny and desperate for a girlfriend and sex. The Fault in Our Stars is different because an intelligent female, Hazel, is the protagonist. In the other novels, Green’s young men often obsess after attractive, strong, unpredictable girls who seem to be seeking death, particularly gorgeous Alaska in Looking for Alaska. Alaska, like Green’s early important female characters, is wildly original, outrageous and able to keep boys, especially Miles who is new to boarding school, slathering. She is a match for Margo Roth Spiegelman in the superbly plotted, keep-you-guessing Paper Towns who keeps Q (Quentin) chasing her from one paper town to another when she disappears.

Green’s writing, considering its weighty issues, is still humorous and he writes stories which keep his crossover audience of older teens and adults thinking and wondering. It is impossible to stop at reading only one of his books.

The Fault in Our Stars (Penguin Books) 2012

Will Grayson, Will Grayson (Text) 2010 With David Levithan

Paper Towns (Harper Collins) 2009

An Abundance of Katherines (Penguin Books) 2006

Looking for Alaska (Harper Collins) 2005

by Joy Lawn, Children’s Literature Consultant

The Extraordinaires: The Extinction Gambit by Michael Pryor (Random House Australia)

31 Mar

Michael Pryor has cemented his place as one of Australia’s foremost writers of speculative fiction. His two recent series, the ‘Laws of Magic’, some of which have been CBCA Notable Books, and ‘The Extraordinaires’, which recently debuted with The Extinction Gambit,  resemble the excellent ‘Bartimaeus’ series by Jonathan Stroud.

Set in 1908, the London Olympics are looming – so 2012 is an ideal time to read this book with another London Olympics on the way.

Kingsley Ward has wolf-tendencies and wants to be a magician and escapologist. His first major performance is ruined but he is helped by albino juggler, Evadne, whose ‘quicksilveriness’ suggests that her name may derive from the word ‘evade’. Kingsley’s foster father disappears and his housekeeper is murdered. Kingsley and Evadne must escape to the Demimonde, a half-world of the dispossessed which they enter through a floor between the 4th and nominal 5th levels of an unobtrusive office building.

The Immortals are stealing children’s souls so Kingsley and Evadne must act to save humanity, otherwise all is doomed. They are followed by Rudyard Kipling. What is his interest in Kingsley?

Pryor has created a rich, sensory world. He uses language magnificently. There are many strands in this intricate story that readers in middle school and older will enjoy following.

by Joy Lawn, Children’s Literature Consultant

The Apothecary by Maile Meloy (Text)

24 Mar

Aimed at readers in the last years of primary school and up to about the age of 14 years, The Apothecary is an innovative title which straddles the real and imaginary worlds. Set in 1952 in a London still recovering from World War II and now in the throes of the Cold War, Janie is feeling homesick for Hollywood High until she meets the apothecary and, particularly, his son, Ben. Ben wants to be a spy and his training proves important when his father is kidnapped and he and Janie have responsibility for the apothecary’s book of medicines, the Pharmacopoeia. As they follow up clues, they discover that the gardener at the Physic Garden has been murdered and they are taken by the police to a Dickensian institution. They escape when an elixir in the Pharmacopoeia transforms them into birds. Trying to avoid Russian spies, they need to discover more of the book’s secrets, especially about the nuclear bombing of Japan.

It seems that another nuclear war is looming. Will the polymer net and quintessence from jaival blossom work to contain the radiation?

The unstable political climate of the Cold War – the war of spies and threats – is an ideal backdrop for the menace threatening, not just Ben and Janie, but the world. There are also some intertextual references to Dante and Anna Karenina.

by Joy Lawn, Children’s Literature Consultant