Saturday, November 30, 2013

AusReading Month - Tomorrow, When the War Began by John Marsden

When Ellie and her friends go camping, they have no idea they're leaving their old lives behind forever. Despite a less-than-tragic food shortage and a secret crush or two, everything goes as planned. But a week later, they return home to find their houses empty and their pets starving. Something has gone wrong--horribly wrong. Before long, they realize the country has been invaded, and the entire town has been captured--including their families and all their friends. Ellie and the other survivors face an impossible decision: They can flee for the mountains or surrender. Or they can fight.

It’s hard to believe that this book is 20 years old this year!    I was a little unsure as to whether or not I should even include a 20 year old book old enough to be considered a classic?  So, in true modern style I Googled "How old does a book have to be,  to be considered a classic?" and wiki answers came up with this, which I couldn't have said better myself:

Classic books are like cult movies. They shape new concepts in our society, have something special to offer in an educational way. It is more these aspects of a book that make it a classic.. not how long ago it was published.

Friday, November 29, 2013

AusReadingMonth - Ash Road by Ivan Southall

The blurb:

It's hot, dry and sweaty on Ash Road, where Graham, Harry and Wallace are getting their first taste of independence, camping, just the three of them. When they accidentally light a bushfire no one would have guessed how far it would go. All along Ash Road fathers go off to fight the fires and mothers help in the first aid centres. The children of Prescott are left alone, presumed safe, until it's the fire itself that reaches them. These children are forced to face a major crisis with only each other and the two old men left in their care. The best selling Ash Road is an action-packed adventure story, so evocative of rural Australia you can taste the Eucalyptus.

This was the one book I was most looking forward to re-visiting for AusReading Month.  I can't remember when I first read it, Uni probably, but it's always been there in the back of my mind as a book I loved.  20+ years on, it wasn't quite what I remembered, less action, but more suspenseful story with a real growing sense of dread as the story reaches its climax.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

AusReading Month - Playing Beatie Bow by Ruth Park

I actually didn’t read this book in the technical sense, I listened to the audio book.  I think that reading this book as an adult has given me a slightly different perspective compared to when I would have read it as a teenager.  As a teenager I am sure I could identify with the character of Abigail, with the idea that life isn’t fair, feeling hard done by and NO ONE really understanding her. As an adult, I found the Abigail a little bit annoying and whiney, this may have had something to do with the narration of the audio book, not that the narration was bad, but because it really brought the character of Abigail to life!

This book has a little bit of everything, teenage angst, coming of age, history, time-slip, family drama, romance and a little touch of creepy.  The creepy element again may have had more impact listening to the story as an audio book, but when the children are playing Beatie Bow and ….sees the little furry girl, it is quite creepy.

One of the main aspects of my job is working worth schools and librarians, and the National Curriculum is now a big part of that.  I now find it hard to read any historical Australian novel and not wonder how it would fit into the curriculum.  This book does, and it doesn’t fit the curriculum in my mind.  It does because it is a wonderful insight into everyday life of a family living in Sydney in 1873, it looks at the education, working conditions, lack of plumbing, expectations of females, the food they ate, jobs they had and even what it smelled like.  The reason I don’t think it’s a perfect fit is because that part of the history curriculum is Year 4/5, and the book is probably too old for that age group.  Most of it’s fine, but along with all of the interesting parts of history, there’s also the more seedy side to things, like when Abigail is snatched from the street and taken to a house of ill repute, where she’s told ‘ ‘tisn’t such a bad old life.  Better than starving on slop work in the factories, any old how’ (page 90).  It doesn’t actually spell out what these women are doing for money, but it’s worth noting if you plan to use it in the classroom.

During her 9 months in 1873, Abigail can’t help but think how much better life is in her time.  Strangely though not everyone she meets is that interested or enthusiastic about the changes she describes, in particular Judah, as we can see in this exchange below:

‘I don’t think there are many ships,’ said Abigail.

“things like wool come in trains.’

‘We’ve got steam trains,‘ said Beatie proudly.

‘These would be electric or oil driven, I think, ‘ said Abigail, ‘and then a lot of goods come overland in huge semi-trailers…that’s a kind of horseless carriage, ‘ she added hastily.

Judah listened politely. ‘Seems a sad waste of good money when the sea and wind are free for all,’ he remarked
(From page 140)
In re-reading all of the books for AusReading month, one of the things I have been considering is whether the book works as well today as it did when it was first published. This book is tricky, in that the part of the story set in 1783 absolutely stands up to any historically based novel written today, it's the part of the story set in present day that might not ring true with today’s readers. Present day in this book is 1980, so 33 years on, teenagers act and speak quite differently, so while 1980 might not seem particularly historical to some of us, teenage readers today may considered the whole books a piece of historical fiction!

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

AusReading Month - Picnic at Hanging Rock by Joan Lindsay

The blurb:

In 1900, a class of young women from an exclusive private school go on an excursion to the isolated Hanging Rock, deep in the Australian bush. The excursion ends in tragedy when three girls and a teacher mysteriously vanish after climbing the rock. Only one girl returns, with no memory of what has become of the others ...

Well...  November is nearing its end, and I have yet to publish my posts for AusReading month!  Better late than never, I will get them all in by the end of the month...just by the skin of  my teeth!

This title has been released as an Australian Children’s Classic, but I am not sure I would sell it as a children’s book.  As you can see by the new cover it looks like it’s suitable for younger readers, but I would say it’s more of a teenage/adult title. 

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Carnivores by Aaron Reynolds and illustrated by Dan Santat

The Blurb:'s lonely at the top of the food chain. It's difficult to fit in when plant eaters can be so cruel—just because you ate a relative of theirs that one time! What's a carnivore to do? Aaron Reynolds's roaringly funny text is perfectly paired with Dan Santat's mouthwatering illustrations, creating a toothsome book that's sure to stand out from the herd.

So, here's my favourite picture book of the year.  It is more than a little bit wicked, but then, they are my favourite kind of books.  The humour starts right with the cover, it might not be clear at first glance, but it becomes clearer when you see the back of the book...the animals are packed like meat!

Reminisent of the 'vegetarian sharks' in the animated movie Finding Nemo, the lion, wolf and shark in this picture book are suffering from a bit of guilt.  The trio love meat, but are starting to feel guilty, so they form a support group, and try to forgo their meat eating ways.

My favourite line in the book is from the wolf, when trying his hardest to eat only berries proclaims...
Every single berry bush seemed to have a bunny inside.”

So, it's not going to be everyone's cup of tea, but I dare anyone with a sense of humour not to laugh out loud at some point when reading this one.

Carnivores food pyramid

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

AusReading Month - Taronga by Victor Kelleher

Blurb taken from

A bleak but compelling look at the future beyond the nuclear holocaust. Ben, who has a telepathic ability to control animals, leads a hazardous existence in the bush west of the Blue Mountains. Hopeful of a kinder life in the city, he escapes to Sydney - only to be futher disillusioned. Then, at the heart of the city, he comes upon Taronga Zoo, which has been strangely unaffected by the general chaos. Or has it? Is it an island of safety in the midst of so much danger? Or is it really the most sinister place of all?

I thought I would start my AusReading blog posts with Taronga, as I think it may be the one book out of my 5 that people are the least familiar with, and it just so happens it might be my favourite of the 5!

The novel opens with Ben, in the bush, using his skills to ‘call’ animals.  In this instance Ben is using this skill to lure the animal out, so it can be shot by Greg, an older boy who is using Ben and his skill

It might seem like an amazing skill to have, to get into the mind of an animal and make it do what you want it to, but to Ben it’s a curse.  It’s wrong to force any living thing to somthing against its will.

What happened before, ‘the last days’ is never fully explained, but that’s part of the beauty of this book, and the thing that makes it work as well today as it did 20+ years ago.

The other major character in this story is Raja, the male tiger.  He is the only animal that mentally fights Ben when he tries to get into his head. Throughout the course of this story we see the resistance lessen and both Ben and Raja realise that they are actually the same, both being held prisoner, both being forced against their will.

I hope I don’t put anyone off by saying that I think this book will appeal to readers of the Hunger Games.  It’s not the same storyline by any stretch, but there’s something about the survival instinct and the determination of Ben and his desire to do the right thing that reminds me of Katniss.  There’s also the idea that human life is expendable.

Brona mentioned the questionable cover of this new edition, and I would have to agree with her.  This is at times quite a violent and dark story, but this new cover makes it look like it might be a nice story about a boy and a tiger.  The other thing about this new edition is that it’s a hardback.  A hardback is great for people that want a nice edition of a classic novel, but I’m not sure it’s the right choice for giving this book a new lease of life with teenage readers.  See below for earlier cover images.

1986               1988                      2014

Sunday, November 17, 2013

The Abominables by Eva Ibbotson

Last year I read Eva Ibbotson's last book, One Dog and His Boy, so imagine my surprise and joy to find a NEW Ibboson title released this year.

You can read in full about how this manuscript was uncovered here, but the short version is that Eva's son Toby found the shelves manuscript and it was close to being a final draft.  With the help of Marion Lloyd, Eva's editor, they worked together to bring one more Ibbotson story to life.

The blurb:

A hundred years ago, in the Himalayan peaks of Nanvi Dar, the daughter of an English earl is kidnapped by a huge hairy monster. In a secret valley Agatha Farley is introduced to a family of motherless yetis and devotes her life to their upbringing. She teaches them to speak, tells them stories and insists on polite manners. But as the decades pass, tourists come to the mountains, a hotel is built and yeti-hunters arrive. Agatha knows that there is one place in the world where they would be protected - her ancestral home at Farley Towers. When a boy and his sister stumble upon her hidden valley, she knows she has found the courageous people who will carry out her plan. The excited yetis are smuggled into the bridal suite at the hotel. A freezer lorry is waiting to put them into semi-hibernation on the long trip home. But the baby yak that has fallen in love with the youngest yeti foils the refrigeration plan and they set off on a hugely entertaining road trip half way across the world. In the Sultan of Aslerfan's kingdom the yetis release all the animals from his zoo. In the Alps they rescue a lost child in a blizzard. In Spain, the yak creates chaos at a bullfight. But when they arrive in England, a terrible shock awaits them at Farley Towers...

This is a book of pure enjoyment.  Reading this story, I wanted to believe in the Yeti, and I wanted to believe that it was possible to live for 100 years in their hidden valley.  I think it would make an excellent choice as a book to share in the classroom, because it's fun, but it also has substance.  It has themes of friendship, loyalty, kindness, integrity and a look at what happend when the built world begins to encroach on the natural one.
Like One Dog and His Boy, this story shows all facets of the human condition.  There are those who are kind and selfless, and then there are the greedy and selfish, and it is a nice change to read a story where the good guys might actually win. It's a story where good really does triumph.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Mr Mo supports Movember

The blurb:

Mr Mo is one of the nicest and most helpful residents in all of Dillydale. Then one day, he visits the barber for his regular snip, and falls fast asleep in the chair. When he wakes he discovers his mo is long gone - and so too are his manners. All of Dillydale is thrown off kilter, but as Mr Mo's moustache starts to grow back, the balance is restored.

As I mentioned in my forts post for November, I can't actually participate in Movember in the moustache growing capacity, but that doesn't mean there aren't other ways to support the cause.

Which brings me to Mr Mo, a brand new hardback Mr Men title, released especially to support Movember.  As the blurb states, Mr Mo is the nicest person in town, he has the best manners, and he is kind...he is a gentleman.  These attributes are in part due to the fine moustache Mr Mo sports, and when he accidentally gets it cut off he becomes thoughtless and rude. 
As his moustache grows back, his kindness returns, and he encourages the other men in town to try growing their own Mo's.  The result is noticeable better manners and a lot of marvelous moustaches!