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

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.