Thursday, January 31, 2019

A Song Only I Can Hear by Barry Jonsberg

A Song Only I Can Hear by Barry Jonsberg
Published June 2018 Allen & Unwin


Good evening, Rob. Your first challenge follows. These challenges have nothing to do with impressing Destry Camberwick. They are all to do with Rob Fitzgerald impressing Rob Fitzgerald. Bear that in mind at all times. Challenge 1. You will enter the Milltown's Got Talent competition. This gives you over a fortnight to polish your act and work out strategies to overcome panic attacks. I would wish you luck but the point of this challenge is that you don't need it. 
Introducing Rob Fitzgerald: thirteen years old and determined to impress the new girl at school, but it's a difficult task for a super-shy kid who is prone to panic attacks that include vomiting, difficulty breathing and genuine terror that can last all day. An anonymous texter is sending Rob challenges and they might just help. Or not. Beautifully moving and full of heart and humour, A Song Only I Can Hear is a delightful novel about dreaming big, being brave and marching to the beat of your own drum.

This is, hands down one of my favourites from 2018...and it's another book that I can't actually tell you to much about.  I read a lot, so it's not often that I don't 'see something coming' in books, especially where I know something is coming...but this one got me.

Great characters:

Rob... brave, willing to try anything.  Maybe that's what we all need at times...anonymous messages, challenging us to get out of our comfort zone.

Grandad...who loves a bit of swearing, but it's OK because Rob has edited Grandad's words in the book, so there's a lot of Blankety this and Blankety that.

Andrew... best friend. I love the goalkeeper coaching session. Andrew's advice is this...imagine Destry is standing behind you and they are trying to kick the ball into her face...Rob's job is to protect her face...shouting I WILL NOT LET HER FACE SUFFER.

So while I can't tell you much, all you have to know is this...Rob is a character that you will love, and this book will make you laugh and cry...and both are good things...

I have labelled this as YA, but read it as an adult, and then decide which young people in your life need this book in their lives...I think it's great for age 11/12+...

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

My Brigadista Year by Katherine Paterson

My Brigadista Year by Katherine Patterson
Published April 2018 Walker Books

In an engrossing historical novel, the Newbery Medal-winning author of Bridge to Terebithia follows a young Cuban teenager as she travels into the impoverished Cuban countryside to teach others how to read.

When thirteen-year-old Lora tells her parents that she wants to join Premier Castro’s army of young literacy teachers, her mother screeches to high heaven, and her father roars like a lion. Lora has barely been outside of Havana – why would she throw away her life in a remote shack with no electricity, sleeping on a hammock in somebody’s kitchen? But Lora is stubborn: didn’t her parents teach her to share what she has with someone in need? Shining light on a little-known moment in history, Katherine Paterson traces a young teen’s coming-of-age journey from a sheltered life to a singular mission: teaching fellow Cubans of all ages to read and write. Inspired by true accounts, the novel includes an author’s note and a timeline of Cuban history.

This is the perfect example of a book that opened up a whole chapter of history that I never knew about...that I can't believe I didn't know about...that I think everyone should know about.

When you hear the name Fidel Castro, what does that make you think of?  For me, rightly or wrongly, I thought: Cuban, Communist, bad guy.  This book did however open my eyes to an amazing initiative he was behind, the Cuban Literacy Campaign. 

Between January 1 and December 22, 1961, Castro implemented this campaign to abolish literacy in Cuba. He was determined that everyone in Cuba would learn to read and write.  Many adults living in rural areas had very little schooling, as working was more important than education,this meant that people living in these areas could not read or write.So Castro asked for volunteers, Brigadistas, to spend a year in these communities, teaching them to read and write.  

This is a fictional story of that year, and follows 13 year old Lora, who volunteered,  on her Brigadista year.  She is not welcomed by everyone. There are plenty of older farmers who object to a 13 year old girl being able to teach them anything...but with time, and patience, Lora starts to see results, and more member of the community want to learn.

Before 1959 Cuba's literacy rate was between 60-76% at the end of 1961, 707, 212 adults were taught to read and write, raising Cuba's literacy rate to 96%. That is amazing to me...and to this day Cuba still has one of the highest literacy rates in the world, reported at being between 99.75% to 99.9%.

I loved this book, but it's one that might need to be introduced to readers.  A number of schools that I have visited, the librarians are unsure about it...based on the cover and topic...will kids really care about a Cuban Literacy Campaign in 1961?  On the other hand, when I do book talks, and talk about this book...all of the kids want to read it...

As for an age recommendation on this one, I would say 11+.  There is some violence in the book, as there were groups of counter revolutionaries that terrorised the teachers and students during this time to reduce the support of the campaign.  It's not too explicit or graphic, but it is part of the story.

Monday, January 28, 2019

See You At Harry's by Jo Knowles

See You at Harry's by Jo Knowles
Published October 2013 Candlewick Press


Starting middle school brings all the usual challenges -- until the unthinkable happens, and Fern and her family must find a way to heal. Twelve-year-old Fern feels invisible. It seems as though everyone in her family has better things to do than pay attention to her: Mom (when she's not meditating) helps Dad run the family restaurant; Sarah is taking a gap year after high school; and Holden pretends that Mom and Dad and everyone else doesn't know he's gay, even as he fends off bullies at school. Then there's Charlie: three years old, a "surprise" baby, the center of everyone's world. He's devoted to Fern, but he's annoying, too, always getting his way, always dirty, always commanding attention. If it wasn't for Ran, Fern's calm and positive best friend, there'd be nowhere to turn. Ran's mantra, "All will be well," is soothing in a way that nothing else seems to be. And when Ran says it, Fern can almost believe it's true. But then tragedy strikes- and Fern feels not only more alone than ever, but also responsible for the accident that has wrenched her family apart. All will not be well. Or at least all will never be the same.

I picked up this book for a talk I was doing on LGBTQIA, and it came up in a list, the main character, Fern, has a gay older brother.  I knew it wasn't the whole story...but I had no idea that the book would be the story that it was.

Here's the thing though...the really big thing that happens in this book...the real story of this not mentioned in the blurb at all.  What happens in this book hit me like a tonne of bricks...I am not kidding, I literally had to put the book down and stop reading it for a while...

This is what I have been telling students at schools about this book...I can't tell them what it's about...I get that the whole point of the book is exactly what I experienced...something completely all I can say that it's a book about family, forgiveness, acceptance...and that it's sad...really warned.

Sunday, January 27, 2019

Brontide by Sue McPherson

Brontide by Sue McPherson
Published June 2018 Magabala Books


Rob; (and his brother Pen) white Aussies. Rob is completing Year 12, going to schoolies, working as an apprentice in his dad’s company and loves his dog, Nig. Rob believes real men take risks. Pen; fifteen-years-old, storyteller, graffiti artiste extraordinaire with a penchant for male anatomy. Pen is liked by everyone. Pen and Benny Boy are mates. Benny Boy; fifteen-years-old, Aboriginal, loves drawing, fishing and living with his awesome (white) foster Nan. Benny Boy doesn’t trust Rob. Jack; white, male, finishing Year 12, new to the area, from the bush and adopted into an Aboriginal family. Jack has met Pen and reckons he’s a funny bugger. He has also just signed up as an apprentice working alongside Rob-the-knob. Brontide is a coming of age story about four boys and their lot in life. Recounted through storytelling sessions at their school over a period of five days, these boys chronicle their lives. They are at times demanding, occasionally rude, always funny and unexpectedly profound. The boys like to challenge themselves and the rules, and soon realise that not everything goes to plan…

This has been one of my quickest reads from last year, (I read the whole thing at the hairdressers), but the most powerful.

It's a book that I had looked at, but honestly, I hadn't thought about reading it...I read it for a talk I was doing on Indigenous fiction...and it turned out to be one of the best books, if not the best book I  read in 2018. As I type that I think that I may have said that about nearly every book I have written about on the blog...

In the spirit of full disclosure…I did actually think this was a true story when I read it.  When I picked it up originally I assumed it was fiction, and then I read the Authors note, and thought…’oh, these are actual interviews’  See what I mean, ‘…

I told a lot of people it was a true story, and then I had a comment on Instagram saying ‘I can’t work out if it’s real or maybe based on something that really happened??’, and I started to doubt myself.  So I read a bit more about it, and listened to an interview with the author…and realised I am a twit…it is fiction…just so you know.

The format is interesting too...all written as interviews, so there's not too much text on the pages.  This makes it a particularly good choice for teenage boys who, 'don't want a thick book' or 'can't find anything good to read'.  The fact that the characters are so realistic, means that these teenage boys are no angels but each one of them has heart and personality in abundance. I think most boys will either see some of themselves in the characters or at least recognize their friends and classmates in them.

I loved this book.  I am telling everyone to read it. While these characters are not real, they are based on real interviews, and I think that the author has created some of the most memorable characters that have come into my life.

Monday, January 21, 2019

Fish In a Tree by Lynda Mullay Hunt

Fish In a Tree by Lynda Mullay Hunt
Published 2015 Puffin

An emotionally-charged, uplifting novel that will speak to anyone who's ever thought there was something wrong with them because they didn't fit in. Everybody is smart in different ways. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its life believing it is stupid. Ally has been smart enough to fool a lot of smart people. Every time she lands in a new school, she is able to hide her inability to read by creating clever yet disruptive distractions. She is afraid to ask for help; after all, how can you cure dumb? However, her newest teacher Mr. Daniels sees the bright, creative kid underneath the trouble maker. With his help, Ally learns not to be so hard on herself and that dyslexia is nothing to be ashamed of. As her confidence grows, Ally feels free to be herself and the world starts opening up with possibilities. She discovers that there's a lot more to her-and to everyone-than a label, and that great minds don't always think alike.

This is an example of a book I knew nothing about, except that all of a sudden schools started ordering it, class sets of it, so it quickly moved to the top of me TBR pile.  As you can see it's not a new book, published in 2015, I am three years late to the party...but better late than never, because I loved this book.

Ally feels dumb every day.  She knows she is actually quite smart, but the fact that she can't read, and struggles to write make life pretty tough.  She is from a military family, so has had to change schools a lot.  This has meant she has kept these issues a secret, teacher's just think she doesn't try, and she doesn't let on that there's more of a problem.  Then she gets a new teacher,  Mr Daniels, and it doesn't take long for him to figure out what the problem see, Ally has Dyslexia.

In my job I hear about Dyslexia a lot, but this book made me really stop and think what it was like to BE dyslexic, and the struggles children have, and how it can make them feel so useless.

See this passage to see what I mean:

Page 138
“Look, “ I say. “When you get on your bike, don’t you expect it to hold you up? Not fall apart when you pedal?”
“Yeah. So what?”
“Imagine if every single time you got on your bike, you had to worry that the wheels would come off.  And every time you ride, they do. But you still have to ride. Every day. And then you have to watch everyone watch you as the bike goes to pieces underneath you. With everyone thinking that it’s your fault and you’re the worst bike rider in the world.”
“Why in the world are you talking about bikes and wheels coming off?”
“My brain, “ I say, leaning my forehead against the cold wall. “My brain will never do what I want it to do.”

And this one.. giving an explanation of the title of the book.

Page 159
“Now, don’t be so hard on yourself, okay?  You know, a wise person once said, ‘Everyone is smart in different ways.  But if you judge a fish on its ability to climb a tree, it will spend its whole life thinking that it’s stupid.’”

It's not just a book about dyslexia though.  It's about friendship, and finding 'your people'.  Ally starts to realise that everyone has something going on in their lives that, at times, might make them feel different or 'less than'...and having the right people around you can make all the difference.

Lynda Mullay Hunt has an amazing way with characters and voice, and Ally is one of those characters that will stay with me always.

If you're a fan of books like Wonder or Out of Mind you should give this one a go.

Sunday, January 20, 2019


So, this was my first week back at work...well I worked three days...perfect way to start the year if you ask me. I had 3 weeks off, I didn't do any of the things things  on my virtual 'to do' list.  I do feel very well rested though, and ready to take on 2019.

I say that I don't make New Years resolutions...but I (silently) decided that I would be more proactive on the blogging/Instagram front.    It's January 20th and this is my first post.  Not bad, but I can do better.

For the rest of January I will post the many half written posts, which I had every intention of posting last year..but you know...didn't.  They won't be half written when I post them, I will finish them...ready to start fresh when my New Year really February...