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Educational Postcard:  ”The Learning Env by Ken Whytock, on Flickr
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A few books about war for children

Quite a few books for children, published over the past 12 months,  have been stories about wartime experiences. With the centenary of WWI, we have been receiving many books to support the commemoration. There have been some beautiful picture books about WWI and the ANZACs but also some equally good YA books from the Australian and British publishers. Luckily I like reading this style of story

Two of the picture books we recently acquired are:

Lone PineLone Pine by Susie Brown and Margaret Warner (2014). The story begins in December 2008 with a dramatic  image of a lone pine tree being buffeted by a lightning storm in the grounds of the Australian War Memorial. The rest of the book explains why and how it came to be there. The story is simply told but the images and the colours chosen to accompany the story are dramatic and emotive. They not only support the text but add to greatly to it. The last two pages in the back of the book briefly explain  the Battle of Lone Pine, a brief summary about the Smith family who were involved in the story and what happened to the pines grown from the seeds.

Downloadable teacher’s notes by Bec Kavanagh are available via the Hardie Grant Egmont site here. 

The Poppy

The Poppy by Andrew Plant (2014) The Poppy is a story of remembrance and a promise made a century ago. It commemorates a battle fought to save the small village of Villers-Bretonneux from being overrun by the German Army. Australian soldiers fought to save the village during the night and morning of April 24th and 25th (the day we now call ANZAC Day) and it was part of the final German offensives of WWI. Many Australians died and are buried in cemeteries there. The story is not one that describes the battle however but about the rebuilding of the school in Villers-Bretonneux, with help from Victorian children, after the war. It is about how the acts of these Australians are honoured and the links that have been forged by these acts. The text is simple but powerful and the beautiful illustrations are positioned so they seem like images in a photograph album. They ably support the text and add to the story. The image of the poppy, and its significance, is a powerful symbol of remembrance on every page. There are some brief, explanatory notes at the end of the book and the endpapers have a map of the Villers-Bretonneux and the Path of the Poppy Petal.

Downloadable teacher’s notes are available from the Ford St publishing site here.

Mission Telemark

The latest children’s novel I finished on the weekend was entitled Mission Telemark by Amanda Mitchison and tells the story of four teenagers trained as Special Operations agents, by the British in the Second World War, for a dangerous sabotage mission in Norway. Each of the teenage characters has different strengths and all are fully described and easy to identify with. All the teenagers have Norwegian backgrounds. Jakob is a dependable boy who is a natural leader, Ase, the only girl, is small but strong, having trained as a gymnast and Fred is physically weak and clumsy but has an encyclopaedic knowledge and a photographic memory. These three are training together in Scotland when they are joined by the last member of the team, Lars, who is a solitary and silent figure but is their outdoor survival expert. Their mission is fraught with danger, from the environment when they go back to Norway and have to survive for weeks in the freezing conditions of the Hardanger Plateau and then from the Nazis when they finally launch their sabotage attempt on the Norsk power station at Vermok, where the Germans are making heavy water. They are not expected to survive.

The story is told from two perspectives, as Jakob and Asa fill in a journal keeping track of their days in training and then on the mission. It is a great story for anyone who likes war stories, historical fiction or spy stories. The well-researched story incorporated many fascinating real details about the Second World War, including the equipment issued to soldiers, SOE advice about survival and an accurate description of the terrain.

There is an interesting interview with the author about the book here and a video where she introduces her book below.

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CBCA Book of the Year: Older Readers Shortlist 2014

The CBCA short lists came out a few weeks ago and I am always interested to see what the judges have put on the short list. The interesting thing this year is the number of books by younger writers on the list. What a good thing for the Australian YA sector to have debut novels making it to the list.

As usual we did not have the full complement of listed books on our shelves but below is the list, with reviews, of the ones from the older readers list that we do have in our library.

OLDER READERS: (suitable for more mature readers able to cope with challenging themes and controversial characters)

Castagna, Felicity  The Incredible Here and Now (Giramondo Publishing)

  • The way the story is told is interesting. The chapters are like a series of anecdotes/stories from the life of the  main character, Michael.  Set in the suburb of Parramatta, 15-year-old Michael narrates what he thinks, sees and understands the year he turns 15. His world alters more than he expects when he and his beloved brother Dom are involved in a car accident. Dom dies but the story does not dwell on grief. It is about Michael and his growth, from a child to a young man. He is resilient and pragmatic character who has to deal with a lot of things including his grief over the death of his brother and the family turmoil it brings. The world Michael inhabits is described vividly, the characters that are part of that world, his family and friends, are realistic. The reader can relate to their foibles and care about what happens to them in the novel. The writing style is simple and the language suits the character. The chapters short and the events documented are easy to relate to. This a story that most teenage boys could identify with and read with themselves in mind.
  • Website with teaching resources here and reading notes here.  
  • An interview with the author here

Keil, Melissa  Life in Outer Space (Hardie Grant Egmont)

  • Sam Kinnison is happy to be classed as a “geek”. He is an “A” who loves horror movies, the World of Warcraft and all his friends are “nerds”. He is comfortable in his world and knows where he is going, although he is tormented by the jocks at school, his friends are always there for him. Then Camilla Carter arrives at his school. Camilla is more than “cool’. She can be part of whatever group she likes. Sam thinks he can ignore her but her arrival changes everything. People start behaving out of character and Camilla decides that Sam will be part of her life.
  • A debut novel that is funny although there are some sad or difficult moments for Sam. It is a good coming-of-age story that teenagers can identify with.
  • Other reviews: here and an interview with Melissa Keil here

Kostakis, Will The First Third  (Penguin Group)

  • Only the second novel from the author this is both a funny and sad book about families and adolescence. The main character is 17 year old  Billy Tsiolkas and he is part of a Greek-Australian family.  He is the middle son, in a single-parent family and loves his idiosyncratic grandmother, Yiayia. She is a great character in the story and to roughly quote Yiayia’s outlook on life from the novel “Life is made of 3 parts: at first you are embarrassed by your family; in the second part you make your own family and thirdly you embarrass the family you’ve made.”  Yiayia becomes ill and so she gives Billy her list of things to do, her bucket-list. It is a short list of three things but they basically they amount to Billy getting his family, which has drifted apart, back together again. This is a big task and Billy has to deal with all sorts of situations as he tries to follow Yiayia’s instructions. There are many situations and characters that readers would identify with as they read this realistic portrayal of adolescent life in Australia today. I like they way Billy’s character described the Melbourne’s laneways, when he and his friend “Sticks” make a flying visit, to an address supplied by Yiayia.
  • Reviews from Insideadog  
  • Publisher’s website with teaching notes here.
  • Melina Marchetta interviews Will Kostakis here.

Near, Allyse Fairytales for Wilde Girls (Random House) Not in our library and so I have yet to read this novel

Wood, Fiona Wildlife (Pan Macmillan) Not in our library and so I have yet to read this novel.

  • Teacher’s notes here

Zorn, Claire The Sky so heavy (UQP)

  • Apocalyptic novel set at the beginning of a nuclear winter. There were elements that reminded me of books I read when at school or starting out in libraries, titles such as Z for Zachariah, Brother in the Land and Children of the Dust come to mind. It is not a simple copy of these stories however and the Australian setting along with many current issues underpin the story. Ideas explored here include the heavy reliance of the modern world on electricity and a lack of understanding about living with the natural world and the treatment of refugees, in this case due to an environmental disaster. Many other elements are there as well, survival, starvation, mental strength, bullying and racism.
    It begins like any other day for Fin, a fairly normal Australian teenager. He is living in a small town in the Blue Mountains, N.S.W. where everything and everyone is familiar. It it all goes downhill from here. Nuclear missiles detonated after a conflict between two unnamed countries on the other side of the world spell disaster for everyone in Australia. Plunged into a nuclear winter Fin and his younger brother, Max, separated from their parents, have to survive. They are alone with food and water becoming more scarce and cold and darkness setting in. The normal way of behaving changes as people become sick and desperate for food, medicine and fuel. There is nothing coming out from the authorities and any hope of some sort of rescue fades. Suspicion, paranoia and rancour become more and more evident throughout the once friendly neighbourhood. Fin and Max decide to head to Sydney, with some friends, to try find their mother.  The journey to Sydney really brings home the enormity and finality of what has happened to Fin. The realisation that things will never go back to “before” hits home. He and Max are refugees in their own country on the wrong side of the barrier. As the story progresses Fin has many increasingly difficult choices to make and each one has consequences. He is not perfect and his character reacts in very understandable ways. This is a survival adventure story that appealed to a number of our boys. It is a good addition to the apocalyptic story genre.
  • Teacher notes are available here
  • Author interview here

It is interesting to compare the list to the INKY awards (Australian books chosen by young readers) Gold Inky Award long list (Australian books):

  • Zac and Mia by AJ Betts
  • All This Could End by Steph Bowe
  • Steal My Sunshine by Emily Gale
  • The Whole of My World by Nicole Hayes
  • These Broken Stars by Amie Kaufman & Meagan Spooner
  • The First Third by Will Kostakis
  • Every Breath by Ellie Marney
  • Fairytales for Wilde Girls by Allyse Near
  • Run by Tim Sinclair
  • The Sky So Heavy by Claire Zorn

Useful links

  • Europeana 1914-1918 – Explore stories It is a treasure trove of unique sources for anyone interested in WWI. Timely with the 100th anniversary upon us. The site offers access to digitized films from the period, institutional cultural heritage and official records alongside thousands of stories shared by the general public, illustrated with digital images of objects, letters, personal diaries, photographs, and other items from the period of the First World War.
  • Teacher Resources for Learning about Copyright and Fair Use ~ Educational Technology and Mobile Learning  Post from Ed tech and Mobile Learning Blog. “It is important we teach our students to be good digital citizens. They need to understand how to properly credit sources and documents they grab from Internet, and it is not always straightforward. The University of Texas offers a course entitled “Copyright Crash Course” that outlines in a very clear and eloquent language the different things we all need to know about copyright.” Links are given to a few important sections.
  • Legendary Lands: Umberto Eco on the Greatest Maps of Imaginary Places and Why They Appeal to Us | Brain Pickings “Celebrated Italian novelist, philosopher, essayist, literary critic, and list-lover Umberto Eco has had a long fascination with the symbolic and the metaphorical, extending all the way back to his vintage semiotic children’s books. Half a century later, he revisits the mesmerism of the metaphorical and the symbolic in The Book of Legendary Lands (public library) — an illustrated voyage into history’s greatest imaginary places, with all their fanciful inhabitants and odd customs, on scales as large as the mythic continent Atlantis and as small as the fictional location of Sherlock Holmes’s apartment.
  • Inside The Most Interesting Man In The World’s Personal Library [31 Photos] | The Roosevelts  ” Jay Walker made a lot of money starting Priceline.com. He spent his money collecting. The collection, dubbed the Library of Human Imagination, has grown into something epic that rivals any museum on Earth. the 3,600 square foot, three story facility features multilevel tiers, “floating” platforms, connecting stairways, glass-paneled bridges, dynamic lighting and is bursting at the seams with artifacts of all types. A truly amazing collection that celebrates human endeavour and preserves it for future generations.

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