Thursday, August 30, 2018

Ranger's Apprentice Book One The Ruins of Gorlan by John Flanagan audio book

"In an ideal world I wouldn't put him at risk like this. But this isn't an ideal world. Everyone's going to have to play his part in this campaign, even boys like Will."

Begin here listening to an audio sample from page 3 (The Prologue) up to page 6 . I often tell students to read the prologue twice - as they begin the book and then again at the end as a way to make sense of Morgarath and his desire for revenge. In this section we hear of the Kalkara and later Will meets them:

"a horrific figure crouched, screaming hatred and fury, plucking uselessly at the mortal wound in it's chest that had finally bought it down. Over two and half metres tall, with shaggy, matted, scale-like hair covering its entire body, the Kalkara had long, talon-clad arms that reached to beneath its knees. ... But what they noticed most was the face - savage and ape-like, with huge, yellowed canine teeth and red, glowing eyes filled with hatred and the blind desire to kill."

I have spent a few weeks listening to this gripping story read by William Zappa. I highly recommend this as a good way to discover these characters especially young Will the apprentice and Halt his master. I first read this book in 2004 but there were many parts I had forgotten. You can read more of the plot here and here Ranger's Apprentice is now a series of 12 books. And John Flanagan has other series for you to explore too.

One of the very best events in our school library happened in 2005 when John Flanagan visited our school.  One of our students, at the time, was blind. John bought along his long bow and he allowed this boy to hold, handle and explore this medieval weapon. It was a very special moment for all of us.

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

CBCA treasures from the past

I mentioned in a previous post that I planned to talk about some CBCA winners and Honour books from past years. I have gathered a few special titles.

A pet for Mrs Arbuckle by Gwenda Smyth illustrated by Ann James (Shortlisted 1982)

"Mrs Emmeline Arbuckle needed a pet. ... 'Well of course,' said the gingernut cat. 'You must advertise."  WANTED - A PET FOR A SWEET OLD LADY. VERY GOOD HOME.
Mrs Arbuckle receives seven letters and sets off around the world to interview the applicants. The gingernut cat goes along too, in case she needs a second opinion.  It is these 'opinions' that add delicious touches of humour to the story. Here are some examples.  The armadillo - do you want a ball or a pet? The llama (and her family) - a pet is a pet, and a herd is a herd. Aardvark - Are you going to spend your days finding ants to feed an aardvark? A bear - Take it from me - bear hugs can be very nasty in hot weather.

So what are the qualities of the perfect pet? "A pet should go on and on, day after day. A pet should have regular meals and sleep in the same old corner night after night. A pet should be something you can stroke."  Of course this perfect pet has been with Mrs Arbuckle all along. It is all very satisfying for the book characters and the reader.  Perhaps one day someone will republish this wonderful story which also contains vibrant illustrations by Ann James depicting a range of world settings and emotions. If you have a copy at home or in your library hold it close.  I always include this book in my library program and it is a winner every time.  There are so many little details to discover and discuss. We usually begin by talking about Mrs Arbuckle's husband who she fondly calls Mr A. You could follow or compare this book with A Pet for Miss Wright and Wanted: The Perfect pet.

Arthur by Amanda Graham illustrated by Donna Gynell (Shortlisted 1985)

Arthur is a wonderful book to read aloud with the repeated refrain "nobody wanted an ordinary brown dog ... " Arthur lives in Mrs Humber's pet shop. The shop is filled with all sorts of pets - rabbits, snakes, goldfish, cats, mice, three canaries, a blue budgerigar, a green frog, one sleepy lizard and Arthur! Arthur is desperate to find a home with a pair of old slippers to chew so when he sees people buying the other pets he decides to try being a snake or a fish or a snake with hilarious outcomes. If you need a book that shows the power of story and illustrations working together Arthur is an ideal book. Sadly this is another title that is out of print but many school libraries will have a copy. In our library we also have the big book edition and I have found an itunes version too. There are two sequels to Arthur - Educating Arthur and Always Arthur. Reading all three books in order can be a good way to introduce the idea of a trilogy to younger readers.

Mr Nick's Knitting by Margaret Wild illustrated by Dee Huxley (Shortlisted 1989)

Mr Nick's knitting is a poignant story about the power of kindness and understanding.  Mr Nick and Mrs Jolly catch a train each day and while they are sitting in the train for forty-five minutes all the way to the city they both knit. Mrs Jolley makes toy animals and Mr Nick knits jumpers for his big extended family.  From the train window they look out at the view of houses and gardens and boats on the harbour. One Monday, though, Mrs Jolley is not on the train. By Thursday Mr Nick hears the news. Mrs Jolley is in hospital. Mr Nick buys some wool and a GET WELL SOON card and sets off to the hospital. Mrs Jolley is lying in a stark hospital bed. Everything is white and there is nothing to look at. Mr Nick goes home and thinks of a wonderful way to cheer his friend.

One of the special aspects of this book is the way the illustrations are framed. The scenes inside the train have formal frames. The hospital page is framed with small tiles in grey and blue but when Mr Nick arrives with his special gift these same tiles change to happy shades of pink. The double page where Mr Nick is seen to be knitting up a storm day and night has no framing which matches the frenzy of his task snatching every moment to complete this project.

Margaret Wild has so many special titles (she has written over 70 books) which you should explore. Put this one near the top of your list. If you are a knitter my friend at Kinderbookboard has a splendid collection of "Yarn Yarns". One aspect of Margaret Wild's work that I really appreciate is the way she and her publishers select different illustrators for each of her books. Some of the names will be familiar to you - Julie Vivas, Ron Brooks, Ann James, Kim Gamble, Freya Blackwood, Stephen Michael King, Noela Young and Kerry Argent.

Scallywag by Jeannette Rowe (Shortlisted 1991)

Are you noticing a theme here in this post of pet stories?  Other shortlisted titles from the Picture Book of the Year section which feature pets are First there was Frances by Bob Graham, My cat Maisie by Pamela Allen, Dog tales by Janet and Andrew McLean, Josh by Janet and Andrew McLean, Buffy : An adventure story by Bob Graham, Reggie Queen of the Street by Margaret Barbalet and Mutt Dog by Stephen Michael King.

Scallywag is the perfect name for this cheeky cat. He lives part of each day with a different family, he enjoys different foods and answers to different names. His life is brilliant.  As Orlando he enjoys salami and cheese. As Darryl he sits with his friend Winsome who loves to cook. Bert loves to spoil Tubby with breakfast each morning and Sylvia and the children share lunch with Brutus. Then one day their cat disappears. Everyone comes together calling all those names not realising they all love the same cat. When Orlando/Darryl/Tubby/Brutus shows up everyone can see what has been happening.  It is clearly time to put this cat on a diet. This might be a good plan for those humans but Scallywag has other ideas.  I would follow Scallywag with Six Dinner Sid by Inga Moore. Jeannette Rowe has an impressive collection of titles for the youngest children.

Henry and Amy (right way-round and upside down) by Stephen Michael King (Shortlisted 1999)

This very special book is a celebration of friendship and of difference. It is also about creative thinking and acceptance of difference and all of these themes are contained in a simply joyous story of two kids who love to play in the rain, fly paper aeroplanes and build spectacular treehouses. Two kids with different views of the world, different life experiences who become true friends.

When you pick up this book flip from the front to the back. Rightway round and back to front. Notice the teapot, birds and dog on the cover.  You will see this dog again in Mutt Dog (2004). Stephen Michael King also loves to pop in a teapot or two. I think there are teapots in nearly all of his books. I have been in love with Stephen's books ever since I picked up his first one - The Man who Loved Boxes.

"Every time Henry tried to draw a straight line it turned out wiggly."  Why?  Is he too creative, or is he too unsteady with his brush, or is he simply a unique kid who does not want to conform? "Amy could do everything right."  BUT "Deep down, Amy wished everything she did wasn't so perfect." Amy can show Henry how to do things, and Henry can show Amy there are other ways that work too.

This is another book where you need to take time to look at the framing. There are whole page illustrations filled with grass and sunlight which contrast with the page where Amy is feeling sad - a tiny girl with downcast eyes centred on a huge white page. I loved reading the Publisher's Weekly discussion where the reviewer compared Stephen Michael King's figures with one of my favourite illustrators Joan Walsh Anglund.

Image source

I would pair Henry and Amy with The Pros and Cons of being a Frog by Sue deGennaro, A friend like Ed and Pearl Barley and Charlie Parsley by Aaron Blabey.

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Elmore by Holly Hobbie

Holly Hobbie

When you think of Holly Hobbie this image may come to mind :

Holly Hobbie is a name invented by Denise Holly Ulkinskas after she married Douglas Hobbie. Holly Hobbie is both a character and an author.  Her work was first featured on greeting cards. I remember buying one for a wedding in the 1980s. Later there were dolls, fabric, sewing patterns and other quite amazing merchandise.

In more recent times  you may know her as the author of the fabulous Toot and Puddle series. She has written twelve books about this delightful pair of pigs and there was a television series too.

And now we have have Elmore published this year.  Elmore is a porcupine. We don't have porcupines in Australia but children here find them fascinating.

Elmore lives alone in a ancient maple tree and his life is good but it is also lonely even though his mother did explain that the "L" in his name stood for love. Elmore sets about finding some company. He puts up a sign. "Friends Wanted".  But sadly the other forest animals find him too prickly.  "It was true if you got too close, you might get needled, nettled, prickled. Elmore didn't mean it. It just happened."

Elmore is a problem solver.  He needs friends. He understands the problem with his quills but these same quills could provide the solution. "They were there to protect him, like a coat of armor, but protect him from what? Elmore's life was peaceful. He was lucky."

Elmore notices all the quills scattered about his little home. I love the way some have stuck into his soft furnishings. He gathers the quills and puts them into small sets, tying each cluster with string.  Then Elmore puts up a new sign :

Quill pens
100% real 
Porcupine Quills
F R E E 

Everyone loves the quills. "They went like hotcakes."  Elmore suggests the forest animals could make ink from berries and use their pens to write notes to their friends.  On the last page Elmore receives a very special letter too.  Add this book to your collection of books about making friends and the importance of perseverance and problem solving. It is perfect.

I have two other Holly Hobbie books in my own collection.

Sunday, August 26, 2018

Norris - The bear who Shared by Catherine Rayner

Image source

Several years ago I visited the main public library in Edinburgh and saw their newly refurbished children's library where I spied the beautiful art work of Catherine Rayner. Ever since I have kept an eye open for her books and art.

This week I found Norris - The bear who Shared.  This is one of those perfect picture books.  Important topics (sharing and kindness) handled gently (feels like a fable), beautiful illustrations and a poetic text.

Norris was wise.
And being a wise bear,
Norris knew that plorringes
were the best fruit of all.

Don't you love the idea of plorringes.  I adore "invented" words. One of my all time favourite books Hairy Tales and Nursery Crimes by Michael Rosen contains invented words I use every day such as orange wash (orange juice), chocolate kick (chocolate cake), you can eat a sandwitch and put something in your sneezer (freezer). I often tell the children I live in our 'li-berry'.

Back to that plorringe. It is also seen by Tulip (a curious raccoon) and Violet (a tiny mouse).

They clambered closer to the plorringe
and gazed at it.
It looked delicious ...
It smelt of honey and sunny days. ...
It felt as soft as candy floss.

The ripe plorringe is due to fall from the tree and Norris is patiently waiting below. When it falls it bops him on the head WHOMP and now Norris can enjoy his treat but what of Tulip and Violet?

Take a look here at all the books by Catherine Rayner.  This reviewer gives more details about the language in Norris - the bear who Shared and links her comments with the illustrations.

What's on my "to read" pile? Old books, new books, award winners and surprises

My "to read" pile never seems to grow any shorter. This month is no exception.

When Jays fly to Barbmo by Margaret Balderson (published in 1968)
Yes this is a very old book but a friend mentioned it with such passion I knew I had to find it. Luckily on Love Your Bookshop Day I found it.
Blurb : "Ingeborg's home was a farm on the remote island of Draugoy, in the far north of Norway ... then came the day when Ingeborg, out ski-ing with her dog Benne, glimpsed a strange vessel lurking in the fjord, and knew it for a German warship. The invasion of Norway had begun and the shadow of war fell over the island ... "

Hello Universe by Erin Entrada Kelly - winner of the Newbery Medal
Blurb : "Virgil Salinas is shy and misunderstood. Valencia Somerset is clever and stubborn. Kaori Tamla tells fortunes and can read the stars. Chet Bullens is the biggest bully in the neighborhood. They aren't friends. They're practically strangers. But when Chet pulls an unthinkable prank on Virgil and his pet guinea pig, Gulliver, these four students are thrown together in incredible and surprising ways. Just a coincidence or are some things meant to be?"

Dolls of Hope by Shirley Parenteau
I loved Ship of Dolls so I am looking forward to  picking up this next installment.
Blurb : "All her life Chiyo Tamura has been told that honor is everything. When she shames her parents and is sent from her mountain village to a city school, she never dreams that she'll go from there to Tokyo to welcome more than twelve thousand Friendship Dolls from America. Or that she'll have a hand in crafting Miss Tokyo, one of the dolls to be sent in return."

Good Dog by Dan Gemeinhart
I read and recommended The Honest Truth by Dan Gemeinhart and one of the teachers in my school loved reading it as a serial story each day to her Grade 6 class. I am keen to read another title by this writer. Also, I do enjoy a good dog story! I am also keen to read this book because Kirkus said "Action-packed, highly suspenseful, and deeply moving. Perfect!"

Blurb : "Brodie was a good dog. And good dogs are supposed to spend the afterlife in peace. It's perfect: as far as the eye can see, with endless room to run, huge ponds to splash in, and all the smells you could ever want to smell. But Brodie can't enjoy it. As wonderful as it seems, he can't forget the boy he left behind - the boy he loved and who loved him in return. The boy who is still in danger."

Front Desk by Kelly Yang and a it received a Kirkus Star review
Blurb : "I used to think being successful meant having enough to eat, but now that I was getting free lunch at school, I wondered if I should set my standards higher. Ten year old Mia Tang moved to the US for a better, freer life, but so far, it's a life where she runs the front desks of a motel while her parents clean rooms And she's not even allowed to use the swimming pool."

Evangeline the wish keeper's helper by Maggie Alderson illustrated by Claire Fletcher
This one appealed to me because I was a big fan of Maggie's column in the Sydney Morning Herald.
Blurb : "Evangeline the toy elephant lies under the bed all day, waiting and waiting for something to happen. If only she could be useful somewhere ... Will her wish be granted?"

Not just another Princess story by Sheri Radford illustrated byQin Leng
Ever since I read The Tough Princess by Martin Waddell I have been attracted to 'feminist' fairy tales and this one sounds very promising.
Blurb : "Princess Candi is no ordinary princess. She loves to do math problems, her mother has been turned into a pickle, and she knows that not just any old prince is good enough for her. So when the king declares it is time for Candi to get married, she decides to carry out a husband search on her own. Not knowing how to find such a creature, she turns to fairy tales for inspiration. But can she really find her Prince Charming by kissing frogs, hosting dragon slaying competitions, and summoning a fairy godmother?"

Watch this space. I will talk in more detail about these titles over the coming weeks.

Thursday, August 23, 2018

Children's Book Council of Australia past Picture book winners

Following  my post about The Bunyip of Berkeley's Creek I decided to look at the list of all the past CBCA winners, honour and short listed books. From these titles I have made a list of treasures - books that I would happily include in my library program, books that should still be in print, books that might be considered classics from the titles up to 1999. This is my personal list you are sure to see others you loved from the list.  I do hope to blog many of the titles I mention here over the coming weeks.

The Picture book of the Year award began in 1952 but no prize was award that year.  The first winner was in 1956 for the book Wish and the Magic Nut.  I have never seen this book but it would be interesting to compare it with a Koala by Claire Saxby illustrated by Julie Vivas which was an honour book from 2018.

Now we jump forward to books you might like to re-discover. You are sure to see some very familiar and famous names here. There are also names you will recognise from very recent short lists and awards. Treehouse fans might be surprised to see Terry Denton!

1978 John Brown Rose and the midnight cat by Jenny Wagner illustrated by Ron Brooks (Winner)
1978 The Lighthouse Keeper's Lunch by David and Ronda Armitage (Highly Commended)

1979 The Oath of Bad Brown Bill by Stephen Axelsen (Commended)

1981 Mr Archimedes Bath by Pamela Allen (Commended)

1982 Sunshine by Jan Ormerod (Winner)
1982 Whistle up the Chimney by Nan Hunt illustrated by Craig Smith (Commended)
1982 A pet for Mrs Arbuckle by Gwenda Smyth illustrated by Ann James (Short listed)

1984 Possum Magic by Mem Fox illustrated by Julie Vivas (Highly Commended)
1984 The Magic Saddle by Christobel Mattingley illustrated by Patricia Mullins (Short listed)

1985 Arthur by Amanda Graham illustrated by Donna Gynell (Short listed)
1985 There's a sea in my bedroom by Margaret Wild illustrated by Jane Tanner (Short listed)
1985 Wilfrid Gordon McDonald Partridge by Mem Fox illustrated by Julie Vivas (Short listed)
1985 The Angel with the mouth organ by Christobel Mattingley (Short listed)

1986 Felix and Alexander by Terry Denton (Winner)
1986 Sebastian lives in a Hat by Thelma Catterwell illustrated by Kerry Argent (Short listed)

1987 Murgatroyd's Garden by Judy Zavos illustrated by Drahos Zak (Honour book)
1987 Animalia by Graeme Base (Honour book)

1988 Where the forest meets the sea by Jeannie Baker (Honour book)
1988 Tucking Mummy in by Morag Loh illustrated by Donna Rawlins (Short listed)

1989 Drac and the Gremlin by Allan Baillie illustrated by Jane Tanner (Winner)
1989 Edward the Emu by Sheena Knowles illustrated by Rod Clement
1989 Mr Nick's Knitting by Margaret Wild illustrated by Dee Huxley

1990 The Very best of Friends by Margaret Wild illustrated by Julie Vivas (Winner)

1991 Greetings from Sandy Beach by Bob Graham (Winner)
1991 Counting on Frank by Rod Clement (Honour book)
1991 Scallywag by Jeanette Rowe (Short listed)

1992 Window by Jeannie Baker (Winner)
1992 Let the Celebrations begin by Margaret Wild illustrated by Julie Vivas (Short listed)

1993 Rose Meets Mr Wintergarten by Bob Graham (Winner)
1993 Grandad's Gifts by Paul Jennings illustrated by Peter Gouldthorpe (Short listed)

1995 The Watertower by Gary Crew illustrated by Steven Woolman (Winner)
1995 Bamboozled by David Legge (Short listed)

1996 The story of Rosy Dock by Jeannie Baker (Honour book)
1996 Old pig by Margaret Wild illustrated by Ron Brooks (Short listed)

1999 The Rabbits by Gary Crew illustrated by Shaun Tan (Winner)
1999 Henry and Amy by Stephen Michael King (Short listed)

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

The Bunyip of Berkeley's Creek by Jenny Wagner illustrated by Ron Brooks

"Late one night, for no particular reason, 
something stirred in the black mud 
at the bottom of Berkeley's Creek."

Do you recognise these words from this classic Australian Picture book? To me they are almost as magical as those well known story words - Once upon a time ...

This week all over Australia we are celebrating Children's Book Week. This celebration has two parts. Events in schools and school libraries and the announcement of the CBCA Book of the Year winners.  In 1974 the winner was this truly special book - The Bunyip of Berkeley's Creek by Jenny Wagner illustrated by Ron Brooks.

Why do I love this book?  There are so many reasons.
Illustrations - the way the sizes and framing build from a small centred square to a double page spread and back down to the small square image at the end. I love the way this matches the path of the story from the bunyip emerging from the billabong, then moving through the bush to ask about his identity and then back to the billabong again.

Now take a look at the front cover - it should remind you of our Australia coat of arms.

Identity - at its heart this is a book about identity. Who am I? asks the Bunyip. He receives a variety of answers but none are really satisfactory until he finally meets another bunyip.  I love the way our little bunyip perseveres with his question even in the face of the most horrible answer from the man (with no imagination) who declares bunyips "simply don't exist".

Voice - reading this book aloud is a joy.  The repetition of the key question What am I? begs to be read with different emphasis. WHAT am I? What AM I? What am I?  He asks this question six times. The platypus provides an answer but the Bunyip presses on. What do I look like? Finally when the man says he does not exist the Bunyip repeats sadly "What a pity," he murmured. What a pity, what a pity."

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder - "No one can see me here. I can be as handsome as I like" he declares. He unpacks his bunyip bag which contains his bunyip comb and mirror. Like the swagman from Waltzing Matilda, the bunyip puts his billy on to boil. Then, in a perfect bookending of the plot, the text from the beginning is repeated "Late that night, for no particular reason, something stirred in the black mud at the bottom of the billabong."

Mood - this moves from optimistic, to hopeful, to devastated, to resignation and back to happiness all in a 32 page picture book!

You can listen to a part of the story here read by Nick Cave for The Storybox Library.  With an older class it might interesting to compare The Bunyip of Berkeley's Creek with the 2018 winner from the same category - A Walk in the Bush.  Here is a detailed review of The Bunyip of Berkeley's Creek from the UK. I was interested to read the 1977 Kirkus review which seems to have completely missed all the amazing features of this truly special book.

Here is a student made trailer which gives you a good sense of the story if this book is new to you.

You can read more about Bunyips here.

In 1994 Australia Post issued a stamp with an image from The Bunyip of Berkeley's Creek.

Take a look at this post from my friend at Kinderbookswitheverything where she shares her lesson content reading this book to her youngest students from K-2.

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Book Week - Find your Treasure

Book Week Celebration ideas

If you are looking for some different ideas some of these might appeal. I like to plan Book Week Challenges. I have talked about this on other occasions.



You have a treasure box but to open it you need a special key. You have seen the key once but it was long ago. You have been asked to make a new key or if materials are scarce prepare a diagram for a trusted locksmith to make a new key. Let's hope it works.

In your hand you are holding a tiny box. Inside is a treasure. This box can only be opened when someone recites three qualities (they could be magical) of the treasure. Even though the box is very small the treasure can be any size huge or teeny tiny. That is part of the magic. Make the tiny box and attach a label with the three (magical) qualities.

Design or draw a maze (it could be three Dimensional) that shows the way to the treasure hidden in a faraway land.

Design a poster offering a reward for anyone who finds your lost treasure. The poster should describe the treasure and explain how to claim the reward.

When we think of treasure we think of pirates. Draw a labelled diagram of your ideal pirate and give him or her a name. Add some props – a parrot would be an example of a pirate prop.

There is an important treasure hidden in your classroom or another place you choose. Where is it? What is it? Why is it hidden? Why is it important? Write a set of clues or a map or a diagram on one side of your page and the answers to these four questions on the back.

One book you have read or own is truly a treasure. Write a letter to the author or illustrator or publisher explaining why this book is one you really treasure.

Use the slogan "Find your treasure" or some of the short listed titles to make a puzzle or game e.g. find a word, dot to dot, cross word or a mystery code.

Some books to use with short listed titles:

What the Jackdaw Saw by Julia Donaldson
The Race by Christobel Mattingley

Neville by Norton Juster
Footpath flowers by Jon Arno Lawson
The curious Garden by Peter Brown
The boy who painted the Sun by Geoff Hocking
Last tree in the city by Peter Carnavas

The second Sky
Leonardo’s dream by Hans de Beer
A wish for wings that work by Berkley Breathed
Filbert flies by Karl Ruhmann

I’m Australian Too by Mem Fox
Whoever you are by Mem Fox
My Two Blankets by Irene Kobald

The great rabbit chase
James by Ruth Park
Ducky’s Nest by Gillian Rubenstein
Little Rabbit lost by Harry Horse
Finding Monkey moon by Elizabeth Pulford
A hen for Izzy Pippik by Aubrey Davis

Goodnight owl by Pat Hutchins
Owl Moon by Jane Yolen – for a total contrasting book about the beauty and mystery of owls
The Hunt by Narelle Oliver
Take away the A by Michael Escoffier
The Silly book by Babette Cole
The nonsense show by Eric Carle

A walk in the bush
My Little world by Julia Cooke
Up in the garden and down in the dirt by Kate Messner
With Nan by Tania Cox

Here is a poem which links with the slogan

From :

Eve Pownall Award (Non Fiction)
Do not Lick this book

Picture Book of the Year
A Walk in the Bush 

Book of the Year Early Childhood
Rodney Loses it!

Younger Readers

Monday, August 20, 2018

Just a Girl by Jackie French

"Because you have strength, girl. You and Baratha. You bought meat to your family. You girded your skirts about your loins, even though the women scoffed. You fought for your family. I saved you because you have the strength of love. You were never just a girl."

Actually the title of this book needs to be changed to NOT just a girl because Judith's work ethic, ingenuity, problem solving, care of her family and resourcefulness are inspirational

In the middle of the night Rabba, the grandmother, wakes Judith and demands to be carried away from their home, away from the village, out to the wadi. Judith is told to also take her little sister Baratha and the family's goat.  When she returns for their sleeping pallets she sees Romans arriving. They break down the gates to her village and begin their attack. As Judith watches she sees them kill her mother and cries silent tears as her sisters abducted.

It seems Rabba knew an attack would come. The wadi contains so much food. "It was a cave, the biggest I had seen ... crammed with chests and pots and giant amphorae all stopped with clay or wax."

The little group can survive but what of their future?  To complicate things a young man arrives. Caius is a slave on the run. Judith knocks him down with her slingshot not knowing he will become an important ally. Caius is a Christian. Rabba, Judith and Baratha are Jews.

Running alongside the story of Judith, her grandmother Sawtha Rabba and little sister Baratha is the story of Mary, Joseph and Jesus. Mary is not "just a girl".  Rabba knew Mary, known as Maryiam, as child in Jerusalem. As she recounts stories of childhood we gain a different view of this famous woman Mary, mother of Jesus, beyond the story of the famous birth in a stable.

One real strength of this story comes from the vivid way Jackie French creates each scene. Here is an example where Judith is attacked in the wadi by wolves.

"I sat up and saw the flash of red eyes peering through the cave's opening, glinting in the dim firelight. ... A black shape slinked across the cave .. A second wolf leaped over me in a foetid reek of fur and urine. I felt its fur brush my face."

Here is a brilliant set of teaching notes from Robyn Sheahan-Bright. You can also find a list of further reading including an extensive list of web sites. Here is a detailed review. I will make an early prediction that this book - Just a Girl - will be short listed for our CBCA awards in 2019 in the Older Readers category.

One of the first books I ever read by Jackie French was Tajore Arkle. I still count it among my most favourite books. In my mind there is a strong connection between this earlier book from 1999 and this new title Just a Girl. I do hope the publishers might consider reprinting Tajore Arkle. Here is a review of Tajor Arkle.