CBCA Clayton’s Night

This week I was honoured to be invited to talk about Books for Younger Readers at the CBCA Clayton’s Night. We are very lucky to have so many talented Australian authors writing books that make us laugh, spark our creativity, inspire and empower us. It was a big challenge to only choose six of my favourite books from last year!

These are the six books I chose and I have also written about them on the Wild About Books blog…

Tales of Mr Walker by Jess Black

The Mystery of the Magic Stones by Sally Rippin

Natural Born Loser by Oliver Pommavanh

Fearless Frederic by Felice Arena

Everything I’ve Never Said by Samantha Wheeler

His Name was Walter by Emily Rodda

Some other books I would also include are…

The Book of Answers by A.L. Tait

Missing by Sue Whiting

Lenny’s Book of Everything by Karen Foxlee

I wonder which books you would include in your favourite books from 2018…

that doesn't look like me! 365/11

Eric.Ray via Compfigh

Happy reading!

Catch a Falling Star by Meg McKinlay

It’s 1979 and the sky is falling.

Skylab, that is.

Skylab, the U.S. space station is starting to break up and will re-enter earth’s atmosphere. NASA can’t control Skylab’s path or predict exactly where the pieces might land. Western Australia is on its flight path. As everyone focuses on the sky, Skylab brings back memories that 12-year-old Frankie Avery has tucked away of nights in the Space Shack gazing at stars on clear cloudy nights with her Dad an amateur astronomer before he went missing.

As Frankie makes a solar system birthday cake for her little brother Newt, it reminds her of her family. Frankie, Newt and Mum are like the planets rotating around the sun in their own orbits, near each other but not touching. These days Mum is working long hours and doesn’t talk about Dad. Frankie feels like she is the one keeping their family together, cooking meals and watching out for Newt while keeping up with her school work and finding time for her best friend Kat.

Newt is an 8-year-old with a curious mind who inhales facts and loves doing science projects. When he starts obsessively gathering data on Skylab and tracking its every move, Frankie wonders what Newt is up to as she tries to keep her smart, but accident prone brother safe from harm. As Skylab tumbles to earth, Newt is torn between the scientific facts he knows are true and the wish he has in his heart. “Did you know,” he says, “that even if you wish for something really hard … I mean, really really hard… that it still doesn’t make any difference?” 

When Skylab finally crashes to earth it brings Frankie and Newt’s Dad back to their family in an unexpected way.

Catch a Falling Star is a poignant, and beautifully written story about wishing and hoping and holding on and letting go when you lose someone special in your life. It will touch your heart.

Find out more about Meg McKinlay who is a children’s writer and poet who lives near the ocean in Fremantle, Western Australia.

Happy reading!

Teacher notes

A Great Escape by Felice Arena

 Felice Arena takes us on a daring adventure set in Cold War Germany in 1961 when the government built the Berlin Wall that divided Germany into East and West and separated families, friends and neighbours for twenty eight years. 

Imagine your city has been divided by a wall and and your family is on the other side…

Peter stays with his grandparents when his parents and sister go on a trip across the border to the West. They wake to find the government is building a wall through their city. It is guarded by soldiers, tanks and fierce dogs so nobody can get through and people can no longer go to the West. Peter feels trapped and is scared he might never see parents and little sister, Margrit again. Finding a way past the wall will require courage and ingenuity. Peter and his friends Otto and Elke desperately want to escape, but whose daring plan will succeed…

A Great Escape is an exciting adventure story, but it is also a reminder of how strong the love of family can be, even when a wall tries to separate them. Peter’s story will tug at your heart.

United States Information Service, Department of State [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

I was lucky to hear Felice talk about A Great Escape on it’s publishing day and he celebrated  by bringing Peter’s favourite Kalter Hund cake (also known as ‘Cold Dog’ cake!). Despite it’s name, it’s a scrumptious chocolate biscuit cake and you will definitely want more than one slice! Thanks, Felice!

Here’s the recipe if you would like to make it yourself. 

Felice explained that a visit to Berlin sparked the idea for A Great Escape as he wondered what if he had been there when the Berlin Wall was built…how would he have felt and what would he have done if he had been separated from his family? Stories often begin by writer’s thinking “What if….”

By chance, Felice also discovered his neighbour Peter was a guard on the West side of the Berlin Wall, and he could tell Felice about life in Berlin at that time. In fact, Felice named his main character after Peter and Peter’s dog, Otto became the name of Peter’s friend! 

As Felice was writing his book he gave it a ‘working title’ that eventually changed to A Great Escape. What do you think his ‘working title’ for his story might have been? 

Historical fiction books are portable time machines that can transport us back in time to experience places and events and help us to understand our world and ourselves a little more. 

I wonder where Felice will take us on our next historical adventure…what do you think?

Happy reading!

Mr Bambuckle’s Remarkables on the Lookout by Tim Harris

“So that’s why I needed to run away. I need to change. And the best way for me to turn things around is to be less like Vex Vron and more like you, Mr Bambuckle. I’m going to copy you.”

Vex Vron has run away! He has left a note and its up to Room 12B to work together to find him before his family and Mr Sternblast find out he’s missing. Trapped by the rules she strictly enforces, Miss Frost is not happy about having to help so she can save her job. However, something quite remarkable happens to Miss Frost and her silver hair during the search for Vex.

Canteen Carol once again finds she is no match for Mr Bambuckle, Myra learns a tough lesson about generosity from the Kindergarten kids and Vex Vron reminds us of the importance of being yourself. 

In so many positive and fun ways, Mr Bambuckle has transformed the lives of the students in Room 12B and the teacher we all wish we had, is going to receive the highest teaching award in the country. This means there is no way Mr Sternblast can get rid of Mr Bambuckle now! 

After much anticipation we finally get to see the mysterious Indian spark-maker beetle in action as it helps Mr Bambuckle reveal an important message for Room 12B and also for us…

TOFFLE TOWERS

Tim Harris has a new series called Toffle Towers coming out in August! You can read a short preview at the back of Mr Bambuckle’s Remarkables on the Lookout or read more about it HERE and watch for the front cover to be revealed…

Happy reading! 

The House on the Mountain by Ella Holcombe

The Black Saturday bushfires in Victoria on Saturday, 7 February 2009 were among Australia’s worst bushfire disasters.

Ella Holcombe grew up in Kinglake and The House on the Mountain was her childhood home that burnt down on Black Saturday.  

At the end of her book Ella has written an important message that she would like you to read with a grown-up.

Remembering Black Saturday
There is fire coming, and we need to move quickly. Mum and Dad start packing bags, grabbing woollen blankets, the first-aid kit, torches and then the photo albums. Dad puts Ruby on her lead and ties her up near the back door. My chest feels hollow, like a birdcage.

The House on the Mountain is told through the eyes of a young girl as she remembers the fiercely hot and windy day in February when her family drove down the mountain at Kinglake to escape a raging bushfire. When her family is allowed to return home, she is shocked to see ‘the hills are bald, with black spikes where the trees used to be’. In their street everything is silent and it’s like ‘stepping into a picture book after all the colour has been drained out’. It’s hard to make sense of what remains of their house.

It’s strange living at Nan’s house and returning to school to learn some teachers and kids will never come back because of the fire. Months pass before the family can move back to their block of land where they live in two caravans as they rebuild their house with help from friends. Slowly shoots of green start to appear in the trees and plants poke through the blackened ground as wildlife returns and life moves forward.

David Cox’s illustrations are a special part of this book in the way they capture both the power and destruction of the bushfire and the natural beauty of Kinglake that Ella remembers from her childhood days. David used photos so the house in the book looks exactly like Ella’s mudbrick family home. 

The House on the Mountain is a story of of resilience, healing and hope and a love letter from Ella to her parents.

The Poppa Platoon: Operation Dessert Storm by Danny Katz and Mitch Vane

Operation Dessert Storm is the second book in the funny Poppa Platoon series. This book had me at the word dessert! Yes, I’m that person who goes to restaurants and reads the dessert menu first so I can plan my meal around my dessert (or just have dessert!). Anybody else do the same? 

For weeks, Abbie has bugged her grandfather, major Poppa, to take her to Wibbly the Cheeky Wizard’s Spooky All-You Can-Eat Family Restaurant. Today is the day and Poppa has carefully planned the Poppa Platoon’s dangerous mission to sneak into the restaurant, eat as much as they can for $14.95 and leave plenty of room for dessert. But first, Abbie has to pass Major Poppa’s All-You-Can-Eat Buffet Training Course and Dessert Bar Drills. Now I know why you don’t choose soup at the buffet if you want dessert!

This mission is very important to Major Poppa who declares “Today we fight in the name of Cherry n’ Cream Cheese Strudel!” and this is his plan…

1.We go into the castle.
2. We sit down, there’s no hassle.
3. We join the buffet line (Poppa first, us behind).
4. We eat until we can’t eat more.
5. When we’re done we’re out the door!

Not all quite goes to plan because Grandpa, Abbie and Flynn don’t have a table booking and have to sneak past the ugly Door-Witch with red beady eyes. Crawling past hairy legs under sticky wooden tables and being caught in a messy food fight against an All-You-Can-Eat Buffet Professional and her Freckly-Twin Chicken-Balancing-Buffet-Bandits makes their Operation Dessert Storm almost a mission impossible. It’s up to Abbie to bravely complete her first Solo Mission and eat as MUCH dessert as she can as QUICKLY as she can in 5 minutes. Forget plates, cutlery and manners when you’re a Dessert Warrior! Will Abbie avoid being captured by the Door-Witch and The 12th Armed Wizard Brigade and what will the Major Poppa discover about Wibbly the Cheeky Wizard?

Operation Dessert Storm will have you laughing out loud and make your sweet tooth tingle and your tummy rumble! It might also have you cooking up a storm in the kitchen creating desserts like Bleeding Heart Jellies, Marshmallow Ghost Pie, a ten-storey Spooky Cupcake Tower or creative desserts of your own that you could serve at your spooky restaurant.

If you have read or watched The Little Lunch series then you will already know the talented husband and wife team of author, Danny Katz and illustrator, Mitch Vane. Danny’s wacky humour and Mitch’s quirky cartoons make The Poppa Platoon books fun to read, especially aloud!

Begin the laughs with the first book,The Poppa Platoon: In World War Chew on a trip to the Royal Melbourne Show on a dangerous mission to the crowded Showbag Pavillion to buy a Chunky Choco Cherry Chew Showbag. 

Happy Reading and dessert eating!

Wakestone Hall by Judith Rossell

When you return to school shortly, consider yourself lucky you’re not orphan, Stella Montgomery whose horrid aunts have sent her to the grimly strict boarding school, Wakestone Hall so she can learn how to be obedient. The school has rules for everything such as  ‘No Girl Shall Traverse the Main Staircase under any Circumstance’ which  poor Stella broke in the first ten minutes of arriving and had to copy the rule fifty times in her best handwriting. Girls who misbehave are sent to the mysterious Headmistress, Miss Garnet who has a cruel secret.

                                   Wakestone Girls, so straight and true,
                                   Always do as we should do.
                                   Marching on with main and might,
                                   Always Righteous, Always Right.

When Stella’s new friend Ottilie goes missing, Stella and fellow student, Agapanthus are determined to find her. With help from Joe, a young scrapper, the girls track down the evil Gabbro brothers, but there are more mysteries to unravel. Why did the Gabbro brothers kidnap Ottilie and who are they working for? How is their cruel Headmistress, Miss Garnet and her greedy brother, Thaddeus involved? In their search for answers, Stella and her friends journey deep underground to The Wake where Stella bravely faces her nightmare, the King of the Mountain and makes a discovery that will both give her answers and change her life forever.

Wakestone Hall is the third and final book in Judith Rossell‘s Stella Montgomery series. I enjoyed being transported once again to the world of Victorian England and sharing another  adventure solving mysteries with Stella and her friends with an ending that is also a happy new beginning for Stella…

Being a big fan of the colour purple, I loved the purple text and illustrations, stunning purple endpapers and purple ribbon bookmark! Judith has a magnificent colour illustration of Wakestone Hall on the front cover and the book is filled with Judith’s intricately detailed illustrations of characters, places and objects of the Victorian time.

Happy reading!

Lenny’s Book of Everything by Karen Foxlee

Karen Foxlee, will take your feelings on a roller-coaster ride when you read Lenny’s Book of Everything as Lenny and her brother Davey burrow their way into your heart and remind you of the wonder and preciousness of life.

On the day Davey Spink was born his mum had a ‘dark heart feeling’ and felt ‘something’s not right’. Her feeling is right when Davey turns five and starts growing faster than he should. Davey is diagnosed with gigantism, a rare condition that causes him to keep growing. By the time Davey is seven he is man-sized and this is harmful for his health. Lenny is very protective of her younger brother, but she has her own challenges and it’s not easy being the sister of ‘the giant’. 

Lenny, Davey and their mum who works two jobs don’t have much, but they have each other. Their mum wins a free subscription to Burrell’s Build-It-At-Home Encyclopedia and Fridays become the highlight of the week when each new volume arrives. The encyclopedia transports Lenny and Davey to places beyond the walls of their tiny apartment and brings knowledge and the wonder of the world into their lives. 

The B volume fuels Lenny’s fascination for beetles and her dream to become a coleopterist and the bird section introduces Davey to golden eagles. He even invents his own imaginary eagle called Timothy who sits on his shoulder and he feeds him imaginary crumbs. When the C volume arrives they discover Canada. Lenny as ‘chief imagineer’ imagines them travelling to Bear Lake. Planning their adventurous trip there and the log cabin Davey wants to build, carries them through the ups and downs of Davey’s health until the day Lenny and Davey squeeze goodbye in Morse Code.

Karen Brownlee exquisitely weaves the story and its characters together using the volumes of Burrell’s Build-It-At-Home Encyclopedia with Lenny as the narrator. As you read, think about how Karen’s words make you feel, how she describes her characters or the images she creates in you mind with her carefully chosen words.

If you have read Wonder by R.J. Palacio or Ugly by Robert Hoge you might also like Lenny’s Book of Everything. Auggie, Robert and Davey’s stories give us an opportunity to walk in their shoes and help us to understand a little more some of the challenges of living with a disability. 

Click HERE to read this National Geographic Kids’ interview with Karen Foxlee.

Look closely at the front cover. How does the image connect to the story? Click HERE to see how the cover was created. This is a rare novel with endpapers. Why do you think they have been included?

Click  HERE to read an extract of Lenny’s Book of Everything.

Happy reading and a BIG TISSUE ALERT!

Teacher notes

Everything I’ve Never Said by Samantha Wheeler

Ava has Rett syndrome, a rare genetic disorder that leaves her unable to speak or walk and she needs help with moving and eating. She is a regular 11 year-old girl on the inside who hears, sees and understands everything, but Ava can’t communicate because she is trapped in her body that won’t work properly.

How do you say you want jam and not vegemite on your toast, that your favourite colour is pink not purple or tell your big sister that you don’t want to be an embarrassment and just want to hang out with her like sisters do?

Ava has a disability, but she is also strong, feisty and funny, and as the narrator of the story she gives us an insight into the challenges of every day life with Rett syndrome as well as the challenges it can also bring to a family.

One day I’ll talk like Aimee.
One day I’ll find a way.

Thanks to the encouragement of her new friend, Aimee and the determination and problem solving of Kieran, her occupational therapist, it is Ava’s eyes that provide the key for her to be heard at last. You are going to be cheering Ava on alongside her family when she communicates with them for the first time!

I didn’t know about Rett Syndrome until I read this book. Samantha Wheeler has written this story with so much heart and understanding because her own daughter Charlotte was diagnosed with Rett Syndrome when she was fourteen. 

If you enjoy books that give you an opportunity to walk in somebody else’s footsteps and experience a life that is different to yours then Everything I’ve Never Said is a perfect choice.

“Everyone has something to say, whether they communicate in a conventional way or not. We just need empathy and understanding” (Samantha Wheeler)

Happy reading!

Total Quack Up! edited by Sally Rippin and Adrian Becks

Total Quack Up! is a collection of short stories from some of Australia’s funniest children’s authors guaranteed to have you quacking up and laughing out loud! So be careful where you read this book…

Sally Rippin and Adrian Beck are the editors of Total Quack Up! They wanted to help raise money for Dymocks Children’s Charities who work very hard to make sure kids across the country get their hands on great books and develop the skills they need to read them. Sally and Adrian asked eight author friends if they would like to write a funny story and James Foley to be the illustrator. These generous people donated their story and illustrations to create this book and all of the proceeds from Total Quack Up! will go to Dymock’s Children’s Charities.

Buying a copy of Total Quack Up! is a ‘win-win’ because you get a funny book to enjoy AND you will be helping other kids to have books so they can enjoy reading too!

Here’s a taste of the stories in Total Quack Up!…

After reading Total Quack Up! you might be inspired to write your own funny short story…

Happy reading!