YA book review. Head of the River by Pip Harry

Head of the River

Head of the River by Pip Harry

Head of the River is not simply a novel about sport. It is about so much more. It is ultimately about friendship, growing up, relationships, identity, insecurities and anxieties when you are becoming an adult and family bonds. Sport is the mechanism but it is not an “issues” book.

It is an interesting read, looking at the pressures placed on young people the world of elite school sport. Money and prestige play a big part in this rather insular world where winning seems all-consuming.

This novel tells the story of Cristian and Leni Posescu who are twins on rowing scholarships. There are high expectations that they will perform well, partly because their parents are both medal winning Olympians and partly because they must maintain high performances to stay at the school. The pressure to do well and win the Head of the River eights, in both boys and girls sections, place almost unbearable pressures on both them and others in their circle.

The narrative unfolds with the voices of Cristian and Leni in alternating chapters as they explain their struggles. Each is trying create a balance in their lives whilst finding a place for study, working out their relationships as well as keeping up with the rigorous training regime in preparation for the final race.  Each finds out that not everything can be achieved the way they want it to.

At the end of the novel, the love they have within their family, and the support they give to each other, leaves the reader with a positive impression of life beyond school.

An interview with the author about this books can be found at http://www.kids-bookreview.com/2014/1…

There is a review here and here.

Teachers notes can be found here for encouraging further discussion.

This book raises some real-world issues that younger athletes may experience when they seek to excel in a sport. The boys are exposed to the use of anabolic steroids and performance enhancing drugs. The consequences of this use comes to light in a way that introduces some topical questions about sporting culture and the detection of drug cheats as well as the pressure placed on young athletes to perform at elite levels

Book trailer for the novel below.

My Gallipoli: Ruth Starke adds another great book to the ANZAC stories

My Gallipoli

My Gallipoli by Ruth Starke, illustrator Robert Hannaford
This very poignant picture book is the second picture book centered around the Gallipoli story that Ruth Starke has  written. The first being An ANZAC Tale (2013) with Greg Holfeld as the illustrator. This book was a CBCA notable book for that year.

This book looks at the history of Gallipoli, from the months immediately before the landing at Anzac Cove in April 1915, through to the Allied retreat and the aftermath of the First World War, and beyond to the present day, where people make pilgrimages to this historic campaign site and take part in increasingly large commemoration ceremonies.

These are rich stories, of courage, valour, bravery, fatalism, despair and loss, told from many different perspectives. There are direct accounts from real participants such as the Australian war correspondent C.E.W. Bean, Turkish commander Mustafa Kemal (Ataturk), the weary Chaplain Bill McKenzie who is trying to give the dead a decent burial, Anzac war scout Harry Freame, sniper Billy Sing and Lieutenant Cyril Hughes, a Gallipoli veteran who was with the Graves Registration Unit, part of the Imperial War Graves Commission.
These stories are intermingled with factually based descriptions from other characters including the exhausted nurse treating wounded soldiers aboard HMS Gascon on the night of 25 April, a young indigenous soldier who was more equal in Gallipoli than at home, a mother seeing her wounded son disembark and realising the extent of his injuries for the first time, and an old Turkish man visiting his brother’s grave at Gallipoli 70 years after his death.
Alongside the Australian stories are stories from participants from the different nationalities who were also part of this campaign. There is the story from a young Turkish shepherd recruited to fight for his country, one from a British seaman who towed the first boats carrying soldiers onto the shores of Anzac Cove in the dawn of 25 April, and stories of the Ghurkas, Afghans and Sikhs who fought in the British Indian Army as well as stories from the New Zealand contingent, soldiers from the Auckland and the Wellington Battalions who took part in the battle of Chunuk Bair.
The final story is that of a young woman visiting the Lone Pine Cemetery, quietly contemplating the Gallipoli campaign and the loss of young lives. It is part of a war, now 100 years ago, that changed how our nation saw itself.
The illustrator, Robert Hannaford, captures the characters and the mood of each story as well as the surrounding landscape.
There is also short commentary about each of the stories in the notes section at the back of the book.

View all my reviews

The beach they called Gallipoli by Jackie French

How can we ever imagine or begin to understand what it was like at Gallipoli in 1915? The beach they called GallipoliThe beach they called Gallipoli by Jackie French  Another beautiful and poignant story about Gallipoli. Many books have been written and lately there have been some exceptional picture books that try to help us understand. One that I reviewed last year was One minutes silence by David Metzenthen and Michael Camilleri The latest book that I have read is The Beach They Called Gallipoli. This is a book about Gallipoli, the place, and what happened on the Gallipoli Beach from April to December 1915. In this powerful book and by using place as a focus the author, Jackie French, can encompass a range of perspectives about different peoples, those who fought and those who defended. Jackie French and Bruce Whatley bring the Gallipoli campaign to life with pages of sparse, but rhythmic, text and collages of real life imagery, created from old photographs, sketches, diagrams, maps, letters, postcards, symbols and more. The colours are muted and the collages create hauntingly sad images, which are not overly graphic, but do feature many fallen soldiers. It is a picture book for older readers and not designed for young children. The focus reiterates the futility of war. The blood that was shed at Gallipoli merges into other stories of battles where there are no winners or losers just people caught up in events of the times.

  • The Beach They Called Gallipoli: Jackie French and Bruce Whatley in conversation here
  • Jackie French and Bruce Whatley talk about their research for Inside History here
  • Harper Collins Teacher Notes here 

View all my reviews

Useful links

Feedback by ransomtech, on Flickr
Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 2.0 Generic License   by  ransomtech 

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

The 2014 Inky’s and YASLA Teens’ Top Ten

This week we had the announcement of some YA literature awards. First I was pleased to see the announcement of the winners of the Gold  and Silver Inky Awards. The Inkys are awards for teenage (or YA) novels and are co-ordinated by the Centre for Youth Literature at the State Library of Victoria via insideadog. This year we was the 8th year of the Awards that are voted for online by the readers (who are under 20) of insideadog.com.au who can be from anywhere in the world. You can look at the titles on this year’s long and short lists and also go back to previous years lists and there are links to previous lists from here.  There have been many wonderful titles that have made these lists so all are worth a look even if they are not the eventual winners. The 2014 winners: The First Third by Will Kostakis and   All the Truth That’s in Me by Julie Berry

  • Gold Inky Award (Australian book): The First Third by Will Kostakis The second novel from the author and it is this is both a funny and sad book about families and adolescence. The main character, part of a Greek-Australian family, is 17 year old  BillyTsiolkas.
    • Publisher’s website with teaching notes here.
    • Melina Marchetta interviews Will Kostakis here.
  • Will Kostakis tells us about his book ‘The First Third’ in the video below

  • Silver Inky Award (International book): All the Truth That’s in Me by Julie Berry  Abducted 4 years previously, Judith is back but  has been mutilated by her abductor, who also murdered her friend. Shunned by the people around her she has to decide if she can regain her voice even if it changes everything around her. A very powerful story.  In the video below, author Julie Berry introduces the novel, “All the Truth That’s In Me.”

We have both these books in our library. They have been read students at our school over the last few months and they would agree that they are great stories.

A few days ago the YALSA’s 2014 Teens’ Top Ten titles were also announced. This Teen Choice list engaged Teens’ Top Ten book groups in sixteen school and public libraries around the country in reading and voting. The selected titles will also be included on the  Teen Book Finder App. It is now available for Android as well as iOS devices and anything that helps encourages my students to read is something I encourage. This app also offers a way to broaden the reading lists of my students in Australia by publicizing and promoting a broader range of book titles than they might otherwise see in the local library.

The future is here, almost! Machine Wars by Michael Pryor

Stories about future societies, especially dystopian ones, are high on our “most popular books” lists. Most are about surviving in this new somewhat alien worlds, Hunger Games and Maze Runner, and many are read across most year levels. Other favourites include: Bzrk (#1 of series) by Michael Grant, 0.4 (#1 series) by Mike Lancaster, The Hunt (#1 of trilogy) by Andrew Fukuda and Skinned (#1 Cold Awakening trilogy) by Robin Wasserman. 

Michael Pryor‘s book is set at the beginning, when the hero might just have a chance to stop things before society is forced to change and is enjoyed mostly by our younger students, the 12-13 year olds. The setting is now, today and easily believable.

Machine Wars

14-year-old Bram comes home late and as he arrives at the gate senses something is wrong. It is part of the survival strategy that his parents have drilled into him all his life. Bram’s mother is a brilliant scientist who is a world leader in the artificial intelligence world. She has always been aware that things could go wrong in her field and has planned for it. Bram has an elaborately planned survival plan, called “Scatter and Hide”, that has been designed to give his mother time to find a solution to the disaster. She asks Bram to stay out of the clutches of Ahriman (as the AI calls himself) for 3 weeks. He must not be taken hostage if she is to figure out how to overcome the rogue AI. This turns out to be easier said than done. With the help of his friend Stella and Bob, another AI unit, built by his mother and put into his childhood toy duck, Bram works hard to stay free. It is not easy to stay out of the clutches of a being that controls the internet. In today’s world staying off-line and off the grid is difficult especially when so many everyday activities are dependent on technology without you being really being aware of it. Bram teaches Stella to use a slingshot against some of Ahriman’s creations and Bob has some very useful moves as they try to stay ahead of their pursuer.

Bram is intelligent and a bit of a loner due to moving around a lot due to his parents working arrangements. He has developed various coping mechanisms such as using different character voices to hide his feelings. Stella, his new friend, is independent, thinks for herself and belongs to no single group but is friendly with all. Together, along with Bob, they decide that it is sometimes better to attack than just hide. Their days are spent alternatively hiding and planning then carrying out ways to fight back.

There are some humorous moments such as the description of Bram trying to find a way of keeping up with the news without technology and Stella walking across to a newspaper seller to buy the “old-fashioned” option.

View all my reviews

From the authors site, a page that discusses the novel, the story behind, its writing and links to other information.

Teacher Notes from Random House here.

The Slaves of Socorro: a great story needs a great trailer

Many of our boys love John Flanagan’s Ranger’s Apprentice series and its spin-off the Brotherband series

This year we have had many students enjoying #4 in the series “The Slaves of Socorro“. It is a great story with lots of the sort of action that our boys love. The official book trailer, whilst advertising that the book is out, does nothing to really recommend it. So much could be put into the short trailer to really whet the appetite but this is a really bland attempt. We show trailers of our new books on a screen in our library. I am always looking for something to attract the eye of not only the good readers but especially the less interested students.

My challenge to our students is to come up with a better trailer, one that offers more to the imagination and may bring new readers to the series. We created a guide to the process and a rubric for class assessment several years ago. It has been used (and adapted) by students and teachers,and is available on one of our wikis

 

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