Saturday, March 30, 2019

The Wall in the Middle of the book by Jon Agee

Walls are a controversial/timely topic right now.  
Here are some books about walls:

When I read the ReadItDaddy review of The Wall in the Middle of the Book I knew I wanted to see this quirky book for myself.

The wall in the middle of this book is supposed to protect one side of the book from the other side. Supposed to.

The wall is indeed in the middle of the book. A small knight with his or her ladder arrives to repair a fallen brick. The rhino and tiger on the other side of the wall look quite puzzled. The knight prepares to put the brick back in place while the animals on the other side try to solve the problem of this barrier. The knight is sure he or she is living on the safe side but an astute reader will notice, as the ladder is climbed, down below the water begins to rise. But it might be dangerous on the other side too when a little mouse arrives and frightens the rhino, tiger and gorilla away. Next to arrive, though, is an even more frightening creature, a huge ogre complete with war hammer. If only that little knight took a minute to look around and below. Danger is very close. Where can he turn?

I am looking forward to sharing this book with my Grade 2 reading group but I would also like to show it to some senior primary students and discuss their ideas. I highly recommend The Wall in the Middle of the book. The paperback edition of this book is due out on 1st April, 2019. (I love the idea of linking this book with April Fool's day!).  Having enjoyed this book so much I am very keen to see some other books by Jon Agee.

Here is the trailer - it is just perfect! The reviewer My Storytime Corner has a list of other titles that explore the idea of preconceived notions.  "I love children’s books that make us think about ourselves, the world, and how we see the world."

Here is an insightful interview with Jon Agee where he explains the creative processes behind his decisions for this book.

Read some reviews:

This book is perfect for your visual literacy discussions - read what Horn Book say:
This is a book whose strengths reveal themselves with every page-turn and needs careful attention from start to finish, as the book starts before the title page and important events occur in quick succession. Martha V Parravano

Beautifully symbolic of the divisiveness of our times, this book offers another possibility.  Maybe there are good guys and bad guys on both sides of the wall.  Just maybe there is someone on the other side who might save your life! A Book and a Hug

A wall separates the two sides of a book. But what happens when there is danger on the side that’s supposed to be “safe?” Kirkus Star review

Jon Agee has a knack of creating deceptively simple picture books which pack some punch and this book certainly delivers on all fronts. Picture Books Blogger

On the night of the Shooting Star by Amy Hest illustrated by Jenni Desmond

On the night of the Shooting Star is a deceptively simply picture book with a profound message, all done with joyous illustrations. Take time to notice all the tiny details. I spent a long time on the first few pages. Kindergarten children will enjoy this book but you could also share it with an older group as a way to discuss community and communication.

Bunny lives in her hutch-shaped home on one side of the fence. Her garden is over grown with grass and she has a carrot patch on her roof.  Dog lives in his round house next door. His lawn is neatly mowed and he has a small boxed flower bed. Beyond their houses is a beautiful river with swan boats and gentle rolling hills. It looks like an idyllic place to live.

Inside their homes we discover more about each character.  Bunny's home looks very comfortable. She has a little rabbit night light, rabbit salt and pepper shakers and a bed complete with rabbit ears head board.  She loves to drink cocoa.

Dog's home is also cosy. He has his knitting, a beautiful floor rug with a border of dogs, dog salt and pepper shakers and his night light is a paw print.  He loves to eat biscuits.

Each day Dog shyly observes Bunny and Bunny, equally shyly, looks over at Dog and at night both check for the window lights on the other side of the fence. Seasons come and go but no one says hello "or let's have a picnic today."

Then one sleepless night, when both Rabbit and Dog are out in their gardens, they see a shooting star. This is such an important shared experience.

"On the night of the shooting star, two doors open.
Bunny carries cocoa in cups, carefully to the fence, where Dog is waiting with a basketful of biscuits."

Did I mention Dog was knitting? Wait until you see what he has made!

Huge thanks to my friend at Kinderbookswitheverything for sharing this wonderful book with me.

I was recently listening to a radio interview about modern life and the way neighbours no longer connect with one another.  The commentator blamed our busy lives and life in apartment complexes.  Where I live there are many apartments and I certainly don't know more than one or two people out of more than fifty people who live here. There is no sense of community let alone friendly communication as evidenced by the 'rule' signs around the garbage bins! Perhaps we need a shared experience like the one in this book so our homes and lives might open up to our neighbours.

Amy Hest is the author of nearly fifty books many of which are brilliant picture books such as the Baby Duck series and books about Sam . She also has two novels -  Remembering Mrs Rossi and Letters to Leo.

A beautiful lyrical story with some truly lovely artwork from blog favourite Jenni Desmond, this is a feelgood story that might just make you sit up and think how nice it'd be to get to know the people you live near or next door to.  Read it Daddy

Friday, March 29, 2019

CBCA Short lists announced

On Tuesday the CBCA announced the short listed books in each of their categories.  Once again I was wrong!  I tried to read all of the Younger Readers notables. I did manage to read 13 of the 20.

Book of the Year Younger Readers  Here are three I talked about previously

 The other three are:

  • Leave Taking by Lorraine Marwood
  • Black Cockatoo by Carl Merrison and Hakea Hustler
  • The Slightly Alarming tale of the Whispering Wars by Jaclyn Moriarty

More about each of these soon. I was sad to see Shine Mountain and Ottilie Colter and the Narroway Hunt did not make the cut. I recommend you read these. Sometimes we get so caught up in the short list other titles can 'disappear.

Book of the Year Early Childhood

I only picked one of the six in this category!

Here is one I talked about earlier:

I was sad A Boat of Stars did not make the cut. I do hope teachers and teacher-librarians still reach out for this terrific poetry book.  I also had high hopes for Beware the Deep Dark Forest.

The other five titles are:

  • Heads and Tails: Insects by John Canty
  • The Dress up box by Patrick Guest
  • Noni the pony rescues a joey by Alison Lester
  • Tricky's bad day by Alison Lester
  • Here comes Stinkbug! by Tohby Riddle (more about this one soon as Tohby is speaking at our IBBY Australia International Children's Book Day event next weekend)

One more book to mention which MUST be a winner - Lenny's Book of Everything by Karen Foxlee. It is in the Book of the Year Older Readers category.

Wednesday, March 27, 2019

Collage by illustrators

Last week I attended an excellent lecture by our wonderful collage illustrator Jeannie Baker. Walker Books hosted the event as a way to share Jeannie's new book - Playing with Collage.

This book will be published in June 2019 and will be an essential purchase for all school libraries.

By coincidence I borrowed this book, last week, from the Prep School library which I am lucky enough to visit each week.

The biggest difference between these two books is in the way collage techniques are explained. In Playing with Collage Jeannie gives young readers ideas for collecting materials and ways to use them in designs with practical tips about preserving flowers and leaves and mounting your picture.  From Walker Books: "There are no right or wrong answers in this treasure of a book, it's all about trusting your instincts ... and playing!"

Lois takes a different approach using examples from her own work. She deconstructs her images showing how she has incorporated different scraps - hence the title. Lois says: "My art technique is called collage. I cut out scraps, like pieces of a puzzle, that I assemble and glue into place."

The other important thing about these two titles is that they are written by two famous children's book illustrators and so can be used as a way to explore their work.

I have a small Pinterest collection of work by illustrators who use collage. Here are a few of my favourite titles which use collage including a book by Ezra Jack Keats and one by Patricia Mullins:

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

The Tough Princess by Martin Waddell illustrated by Patrick Benson

Tuesday Treasure

"Once upon a time ..."

A conventional fairy tale opening for a non conventional tale.

The king and queen no longer live in a castle. Fighting wars and losing badly means they are reduced to living in a caravan in the deep dark wood. When their baby daughter is born they decide she can rescue them. Of course they did expect the baby would be a boy!

Her mother explains: "She will grow up to be a beautiful princess. I will annoy a bad fairy and get the Princess into bother, and then a handsome prince will rescue her, and we'll all go off and live in his castle."

Naturally Princess Rosamund has a different plan and it involves a lot of biffing. She borrows a bike complete with decorative dice, stirrup pedals and a lantern and heads off to find a prince. "Rosamund had lots of adventures .... She did all the things a heroine ought to do, but she didn't catch her prince." Look closely to see these things on the cover illustration by Patrick Benson. You may know his work already from the famous book Owl Babies also by Martin Waddell.

Rosamund returns home. She looks around the forest and in a perfect twist she sees this sign


and they "lived happily ever after, too."

I have loved this book for a long time and so I decided to purchase a used copy for myself because, yes you have already guessed, this book is sadly out of print. Tonight I made a startling discovery - my copy has been signed by Martin Waddell himself!

Another modern fairy tale about an assertive female, achiever, in this case leavened with the sort of ebullient good humor that sensibly whisks problems away as fast as they arise. Kirkus

In the late 1990s I completed some post graduate study in Children's Literature. For the final subject we were expected to complete a mini thesis (10,000-15,000 words) and this book - The Tough Princess was my inspiration. My topic - The Modern Princess Tale. I have surprised myself that I had not previously explored this book on my blog.

Some of the books referred to in my mini thesis:

  • Princess Smartypants by Babette Cole
  • The Worm and the Toffee Nosed Princess by Eva Ibbotson
  • The Paper Bag Princess by Robert Munsch
  • Sleeping Ugly by Jane Yolen
  • The Karate Princess by Jeremy Strong
  • The Princess who hated it by Robin Klein
  • Snow White in New York by Fiona French

Monday, March 25, 2019

Spoon by Amy Krouse Rosenthal illustrated by Scott Magoon

Spoon is a wonderful picture book for all ages. It has humour, pathos and a very satisfying emotional arc. Spoon is having doubts about his worth. He comes from a large family filled with spoons of all sizes and shapes.  Today I took along some odd spoons to share with my reading group and they especially like the shell shaped spoon - there is one in this story.

One boy thought this spoon would be useful as a clay mold. Before we started reading we talked about spoons in stories and within minutes every child recalled the famous rhyme "and the dish ran away with the spoon!"  How perfect because this also gets a mention in the story of Spoon. The back cover (seen above) also gave us some good hints about what might happen in this book. We probably should have spent more time talking about facial expressions.

All is not well with spoon. He is felling a little blue (sitting beside a bowl of blueberries) and his mother notices he looks out of shape. Spoon has begun to compare his purpose with the others who live in the cutlery drawer - knife and fork. Knife can cut and Fork never goes stir crazy. What Spoon doesn't know is that Knife and Fork think Spoon is the lucky one.

Spoon can play silly games like bashing pots, spoon is used for measuring and best of all spoon can dive into dishes of ice cream. My favourite illustration is when we see spoon relaxing in a hot cup of tea and chatting to a tea bag!

Early in the book make sure you notice poor little spork (in Australia we call this a splade) who is pictured with the extended family of spoons but standing slightly to the side with a sad face. 

I found a picture book about Spork (by a different author) perhaps we should read that as our next book.

Amy Krouse Rosenthal also has a book called Chopstick.

Spoon is absolutely a ten out of ten book. It is a delight to read aloud and offers plenty of scope for discussion. If you haven't seen Spoon take a look at this video. You can see other books illustrated by Scott Magoon here and you can see all of Amy's books here. Sadly Amy died in 2017.

As I mentioned I am working as a volunteer with a group of Grade Two children who are part of a remedial reading group. The idea is to read these eight children a picture book or two each week. So far every book has been a winner which is a bit of a surprise to me!

List of books read so far:

Pog by Lyn Lee
The Lollipop Tree by Cherney Berg
Spoon by Amy Krouse Rosenthal
A bike like Sergio's by Maribeth Boelts
One is for one by Nadia Wheatley - this one has been the most popular!
Press Here by Herve Tullet
Crazy Hair Day by Barney Saltzberg
Smelly Socks by Robert Munsch
Billy's Bucket by Kes Gray

Sunday, March 24, 2019

Fairy Tales for Feisty girls by Susannah McFarlane

If you want your children to be intelligent, read them fairy tales. If you want them to be more intelligent, read them more fairy tales. Albert Einstein

"They may be small, but they're big of heart-
kind and cheerful, brave and smart.
And so with courage, hope and laughter
they make their own 'happily every after."
Prologue poem verse four

Fairytales for Feisty girls is one of the twenty CBCA 2019 Notable titles for Younger Readers. I am so happy to see a book for younger students from grade one up, and I am happy to have a new collection of short stories to share. 

I am going to focus on one of the four tales here - Rapunzel.  The Grimm Brothers version of Rapunzel is a complex fairy tale with many elements. There is the rapunzel plant which the expectant mother craves, there is the bargain by the witch where she demands the new born child, their is the relationship with the young man who visits the tower and his subsequent blindness and there is all that hair.  In this version Rapunzel is not a passive girl sitting in a tower. She is an inventor and problem solver and so is Susannah McFarlane. Why is the tower impenetrable?  Susannah has it covered in climbing roses that work like barbed wire. What does Rapunzel do all day in the tower? In this version the enchantress fills the room with  beautiful things - furniture, clothes and cushions. How does Rapunzel cope with the weight of all that hair? Using her problem solving skills she converts a chest into a cart so she can simply pull the hair along behind her. She even makes a periscope so she can see the outside world.  Her new view of  the world means of course she has to escape. She does meet a boy outside the tower but this time the happy ending is not about getting married. Her actions actually help the whole village when the curse from the enchantress is lifted and so "everyone lived happily ever after."

With a group of older students it would be interesting to compare this book with other versions of the same fairytales. The discussion point could be did Susannah achieve her purpose which was to 'tilt' the well known tale. You can discover more about this here. I have included one edition for each tale here. I have selected quite sophisticated versions with especially beautiful illustrations:

Rapunzel retold by Brothers Grimm illustrated by Paul O Zelinsky

Little Red Riding Hood retold and illustrated by Trina Schart Hyman

Cinderella retold by Charles Perrault and illustrated by Roberto Innocenti

Thumbelina originally by Hans Christian Andersen illustrated by Lisbeth Zwerger

There are some teaching tips you can download along with a colouring sheet on the Allen and Unwin web site. There is also a video interview with Susannah McFarlane and a trailer.

These girls are problem solvers. They're assertive, proactive, and independent. Kids' Book Review

Saturday, March 23, 2019

Sonam and the Silence by Eddie Ayres illustrated by Ronak Taher

Music is forbidden, but that's when we need it most. 
But you can only hear music if you listen 
with all your heart. page 10

I am going to begin talking about this book by focusing on the musical instrument played by Sonam. There are much deeper themes in this book but I was so interested to make some discoveries about the rubab.  At the back of Sonam and the Silence book Eddie Ayres, who works for ABC Radio, says:

"Just think, without the rubab we wouldn't have the violin."

These words lingered with me long after reading this book, as did many other aspects of this moving and important story.

I have done a little preliminary research about the rubab. First off there are a few different spellings depending on where the instrument is found - rubab, rabab and rebab. The instrument that predates our modern violin was played with a bow. You can see it in action here. The original rubab comes from Afghanistan, it is a lute-like instrument and the word rebab means "played with a bow."

Music is all around us in the modern world. In supermarkets, in cars, through headphones on a bus, at concerts and in homes but in Afghanistan in from 1996 until 2002 music was prohibited. Eddie Ayres arrived in Kabul in 2015 to work at the National School of Music. This story of Sonam and her discovery of the power of music was inspired by his real life viola student.

When Sonam turns seven she must cover her hair and go off to work selling chewing gum to people travelling in cars. These are dangerous and desperate times. The market place is loud and noisy but amid all this Sonam hears a sound "that seems to come from the trees, from the earth, from the heart. A whisper."  She follows the thread of sound and finds an old man sitting under some trees - pomegranate and mulberry trees. In his hands he is holding a rubab.

"Music. This is what nobody in her country is allowed to hear. This sound which makes Sonam feel she is both up amongst the stars and deeper than than the tree roots, this is music."

The old man gives Sonam the instrument he played as a child. It is carved from a single piece of mulberry wood. Hearing the music, playing the music, gives Sonam hope and happiness but this is short lived. Her brother discovers her secret. He needs to protect Sonam. He takes away her rubab and forbids her to sing or hum. Sonam has lost her protection from the world. She becomes sad and withdrawn. Finally she decides to go back to the garden where she met the old man. He is gone but there is a  piece of fruit on the pomegranate tree. She gathers the seeds and goes home to plant them. Digging in her own yard she makes an amazing discovery. There is a wooden box hidden under the earth. It is her rubab.

I have found two very different sets of teachers notes for this book. Both are well worth exploring and will give you deeper insights into the themes and illustrations in Sonam and the Silence.

Magpies magazine volume 34, issue 1, March 2019 contains a wonderful interview with Eddie Ayres and Ronak Taher by Joy lawn. I was amazed to discover Eddie and Ronak have never met although did extensively collaborate on this book. Sonam and the Silence is an important book and an emotional and uplifting story. This book is one of the twenty CBCA Picture book of the Year Notable titles for 2019. Surely it must be selected for the CBCA Short list (announced 26th March). I would share this book with a group of older Primary students but it is included on the Grades 3 and 4 Premier's Reading Challenge list.

There is also an iTunes ebook version of Sonam and the Silence.

You could follow Sonam and the Silence with Ada's Violin by Susan Hood, Silence by Lemniscates or for an older class The Red Piano by Andre Leblanc.

Image source:

Friday, March 22, 2019

Swimming against the storm by Jess Butterworth


I do enjoy survival stories and oddly I also really enjoy books set around swamps. Swimming against the Storm fits the bill perfectly. Grab your wet weather gear and your courage - you will need both when you enter this book!

Eliza, her sister Avery and their mum and dad live in Coteville, Louisiana. Their backyard is the bayou. Mum and dad make their living from shrimping. As this story opens Eliza has turned twelve. This is the day Eliza can go shrimping. Her sister is only ten and so she is left behind. Avery is deeply disappointed and upset.

 Eliza has imagined this day for years but she is not prepared for the reality of the by-catch. There are crabs, fish of all sizes, plastic debris, shrimp of course and a beautiful sea turtle all caught up in the nets. Eliza is distressed to see the turtle is hurt and while her parents do gently put him back many of the beautiful fish are left to die on the floor of the boat. Eliza had no idea shrimping also meant the death of so many precious sea creatures.

The sisters have a great relationship but jealousy over the shrimping outing is a real threat. Avery tells Eliza she and her friend Grace have found something mysterious and interesting on a small island in the swamp. After the disaster of the shrimping outing Eliza is keen to reconcile with her sister so the two set off. First they travel in a small motorboat and then jump into a pair of kayaks. Avery leads her sister across a small island to a footprint.

There is a legend in the bayou of a creature called a Loup-garou. Have they found evidence this creature really exists?

Meanwhile an oil company are advising all residents to leave the area and find a different place to live because the land is subsiding and sea levels are rising. Leaving the area will mean the end for this small, close knit community.

This area is also famous for wild hurricanes. Eliza, Avery, Grace and their friend Huy decide to investigate the mystery of the Loup-garou. If this creature does live in their swamp then maybe they can save their home. This is an action packed atmospheric story. You will feel the wild wind lashing at your hair, the mosquitoes biting your exposed skin and the mud of the swamp sticking to your clothes and hair. I loved final scenes which are filled with tension as the hurricane rages and the kids race home ready to reveal the truth. The title is perfect. There is the real storm, the storm of corruption by the oil company and the storm between the two sisters which Eliza is desperate to heal.

Swimming against the Storm will be available in April this year. I would follow this book with titles by Carl Hiaasen such as Chomp and The Explorer by Katherine Rundell.

I also very keen to read these two earlier titles by Jess Butterworth:

Thursday, March 21, 2019

Beware the deep dark forest by Sue Whiting illustrated by Annie White

This place is creepy, 
thought Rose.
And she opened her eyes
till they were as round as the moon.

Tinky is just a tiny pup. He doesn't understand the warning to stay away from the deep, dark forest. When he runs off Rosie has to conquer her fear and plunge in after him even though she is warned about the venomous snakes and carnivorous plants that lie in wait to attack her.

In the spirit of We're going on a Bear Hunt, Rosie bravely sets off into the unknown.  She does not encounter any carnivorous plants or venomous snakes but she does have to sneak past a ferocious sleeping wolf, make and swing on a vine rope across a chasm because the flimsy bridge is broken and finally confront an enormous and hungry troll. There is NO WAY Rosie will become dinner for this troll.

She grabs hold of her pup and then:

She swung across the dizzily deep ravine.
She slipped past the bristly brute of a wolf.
She squelched back through the deep and dark and muddy forest.

Here is a set of detailed teachers notes which focus on the story structure, characters and most important of all the language devices used by Sue Whiting such as alliteration and repetition. Annie White makes good use of font size and form along with huge bold capital letters when Rosie yells at the troll "I'M NOT DINNER! I'M ROSIE! I also love the colour palette she uses with lots of bright green and with splashes of red.  You can read how a young boy in a cape inspired this book.

Children in my school library often ask for 'scary books'. I think Beware the deep dark forest will meet this criteria. The troll is huge and perhaps a little frightening but the way Rosie scares HIM is sure to make a young audience howl with delight.

I do hope this book is selected for the CBCA 2019 short list along with Boat of Stars and Rainbow Bear.

That most of us will go to any lengths to save the thing we love, is the dominant theme in this book. It is a story of courage played out by a young girl who wants to save her young impetuous pup who doesn’t know what danger is, and is bent on discovering the world beyond his boundaries. Kids' Book Review

Beware the deep dark forest is a 2019 CBCA Notable book (Early Childhood).

Image source Cockburn Libraries :

I would pair Beware the deep dark forest with Scary Night by Lesley Gibbes and Dragon Quest by Allan Baillie.  With a group of older students you could compare this book with Into the Forest and/or The Tunnel by Anthony Browne. 

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Sherlock Bones and the Natural History Mystery by Renee Tremel

When I saw one tiny museum item in this book – the Junonia shell from Florida I knew I would enjoy this romp. Years ago I read* Junonia byKevin Henkes and I have long wanted to find this special shell.

Sherlock Bones and the Natural History Mystery is not a book about shells but the pages are littered with museum artifacts.

When the Royal Blue Diamond is stolen from the museum Sherlock Bones decides to investigate. Sherlock Bones is a Tawny Frogmouth (an Australian Bird). He enlists the help of Watts – an Indian Ringneck parrot. Sherlock Bones, as you may have guessed (bones is a giveaway), is a skeleton and Watts is a taxidermy specimen. Also living in the museum is, of all things, a raccoon. She is alive after being delivered to the museum by accident inside a pile of pelts for the Colonial America exhibit. 

The Royal Blue Diamond must be found or the museum will close. Sherlock Bones is desperate to solve the mystery.

You need to notice every tiny detail in this graphic novel. There are plenty of laughs and twists. This is a book that is perfect for fans of Captain Underpants, The Bad Guys by Aaron Blabey, the Treehouse series by Andy Griffiths and Weirdo by Ahn Do. 

Sherlock Bones and the Natural History Mystery will be published in April. I imagine it might the first in a series. I didn’t expect to enjoy this book but I truly did. This would be a terrific book to give to a reluctant reader - the graphic novel format, slapstick humour and feel good heroes will be sure to sweep them along through all 260 pages!

Take a look at other picture books by Renee Treml - you can see her raccoon on the cover of the book Please.  Also you might notice the cover of Sherlock Bones and the Natural History Mystery is similar to the Australian Coat of Arms - I love this visual joke.

* I have just made a very sad discovery - Junonia by Kevin Henkes has been discarded from my former library. This is a book I loved to recommend to sensitive readers in senior classes. Decisions about weeding books cannot be based solely on frequency of borrowing.

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

My Brown Bear Barney by Dorothy Butler illustrated by Elizabeth Fuller

Tuesday Treasure

My Brown Bear Barney was first published in 1988 so the 21st Birthday sticker on this copy is from 2009. My Brown Bear Barney is out of print but I did notice one supplier listing a new printing due in May, 2019 although the listed ISBN is from 2011.

My Brown Bear Barney is the perfect book to read sitting side by side with a young child and it is one to enjoy reading over and over again. I certainly did this many young children. Barney is a patient friend who accompanies the little girl to the shops, the beach, on a bike ride and to a sleep over at grandmas but mum explains he cannot go to school.

"When I go to school, next year or the next, I'll take
a new school bag, some lunch, my dinosaur badge and a pencil with a rubber on the end.
But not my brown bear Barney.
My mother says that bears don't go to school.

We'll see about that!"

The accompanying illustration will make you smile. This little girl has no intention of leaving her faithful companion at home no matter where she is going.

One of the strengths of this book, written by New Zealand reading advocate Dorothy Butler, is the brilliant rhythm of the words:

Shopping - my mother, my little brother, my yellow basket, my red umbrella and my brown bear Barney.
Riding - my bike, our old dog Charlie, two apples from our tree, my gumboots and my brown bear Barney.
Grandmas - my pyjamas in a suitcase, a flower in green paper, a tasty tidbit for her cat, some carrots from my garden and my brown bear Barney.

Dorothy Butler wrote 32 books for children, she died in 2015 aged 90. There were several sequels to My Brown Bear Barney:

The simple, nicely cadenced text by the well-known New Zealand author of Babies Need Books gives the illustrator a perfect opportunity to portray the important places and things in a little girl's life--what she wears, the items named ... and more complex scenes that incorporate many more identifiable details--and always Barney himself, joining in as a good friend should. Kirkus

Monday, March 18, 2019

Sweet Adversity by Sheryl Gwyther

"Addie gasped. ... Through the front window was a magnificent sight. A huge arch spanned the inlet - the new Sydney Harbour Bridge, its curved spans almost joined in the middle. Up on its highest point, bridge builders climbed over the span like tiny ants. 'People will be able to walk to the other side of Sydney one day' Addie said ... "

Adversity is the perfect name for the main character in this book. Adversity McAllister is only twelve years old but her life is filled with adversity.  She is living in an orphanage and, as is the usual way with orphanages in stories, this place is filled with cruelty and injustice. Addie is told her mother and father are dead. Her parents are Shakespearean actors and they think they have left Addie in a safe place while they try to make enough money to survive during the hard days of the Depression in 1930s Australia. The orphanage is awful but Addie has worked out ways to survive and has befriended the cook and the gardener. Later they will prove to be important allies. The other children adore her storytelling and acting especially with her co-performer, a cockatiel, called Macbeth.  His outbursts of Shakespearean quotes make everyone, except Matron Maddox of course, smile and laugh.  Acting out the plays her parents performed makes Addie so happy but Matron has rules - there will be NO FRIVOLITY, NO SINGING AND NO DANCING.

Addie is constantly at war with the Matron. Addie tries to protect the younger children from Matron's angry outbursts and from dangers such as the laundry boiler. Matron, however, has her own plans for Addie. She makes money selling children to unscrupulous dealers. Addie has a beautiful singing voice and she has recently won the Coal Country Eisteddfod. An evil showman called Mr Barnett E. Scrimshaw arrives and he is determined to get his hands on Adversity and exploit her talent. Matron is very willing to sell Addie if the price is right.

I love the Shakespearean chapter headings in this book:

  • This above all: to thine own self be true
  • Something wicked this way comes
  • My kingdom for a horse
  • Exit pursued by a bear
  • If music be the food of love, play on

A class could research the origin of each chapter heading - there are 33 of them.

I also thoroughly appreciated the inclusion of historical references and the way they are gently introduced in context. I find so many stories with an historical base try too hard and way too many 'facts' are included in ways that detract from the plot. The opposite is true for Sweet Adversity. There is a true flavour of 1930 here in Australia and especially in Sydney with references to a swagman looking for work, notice of evictions in The Rocks area of Sydney, building of the Sydney Harbour Bridge and the general poverty Addie encounters as she tries to escape from Matron Maddox and the evil Mr Scrimshaw. The Reading Time reviewer said "The research, while extensive, is woven in seamlessly, never hindering the narrative."

Here is a set of very detailed and very useful teachers notes by Robyn Sheahan-Bright. If you pick up this book and need a text preview read Chapter 19 - it is filled with tension.

Read some reviews (click on each link):

Kids' Book ReviewSheryl Gwyther gets it right. Her ability to immerse young readers into worlds of yesteryear with such a clear strong presence of today is exemplary. Her narrative slides along as alluringly as a sweet mountain brook, mesmerizing readers with plenty of action and emotion.

Just so StoriesThis is a tale of courage and resilience set against a backdrop of extraordinarily difficult times and seemingly insurmountable odds. Addie is an impressive hero. Despite her youth and her troubles, she refuses to bow to the immense pressures and evil predation put upon her.

The Book Bubble: In Sweet Adversity, Sheryl Gwyther has produced an adventure story with a strong female hero, a touch of history and some fantastic bad guys who keep the story interesting. 

Sweet Adversity is listed as a Notable CBCA book (Younger Readers) for 2019. I am working my way through the twenty titles.  I have now read twelve. I especially like Shine Mountain, Ottilie Colter and the Narroway Hunt and this book from today - Sweet Adversity.  I also think His name was Walter and The Slightly alarming tale of the Whispering Wars (which I have just started reading) will also make the final list of six.