Black Dog Gang: a story of Sydney life in 1900’s. Book review

We are always looking for books to engage our boys. The Premiers’ Reading Challenge is being promoted to classes this week,. It has been a good time for revisiting some of the literature we have added to our collection and promote books that appeal to our boys. Robert Newton‘s books Runner and The Black Dog Gang are two great Australian stories.

If you are interested there is a review here and some teaching notes from Penguin here

The Black Dog GangThe Black Dog Gang by Robert Newton My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a fast paced and gritty historical novel set in Sydney in 1900. It is also a story about friendship, loyalty and the bonds that can form in harsh conditions. The world the boys in the book inhabit is full of poverty, dirt and hard-work. Frankie Maguire relates the story of his gang. There are 5 boys from shabby inner city Sydney who form a friendship and bond together. They experience bullying and violence and name their gang after a pirate from the “Treasure Island” story.
At this time Sydney is panicked by an outbreak of Bubonic Plague and there is a bounty of 6 pence on rats. The boys set about making money by finding and catching rats. They come up with an interesting money-making scheme along the way. The era has been well-researched and the characters are believable and likeable. There are wonderful descriptions of school and family life and a rather gross description of the rats eating cats (our boys rather like that). The dialogue is also rich with colloquial language and terms of the time.
This is an interesting story about a time in Australian history that most us know little about today.

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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.

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Reading in 2015 and Clariel and Young James Bond

It is the start of the school year and there are many English classes coming in to find something to read. I have been reading quite a lot over my summer holidays and have tried to be disciplined enough to write something about all the YA books I read.  One of the books I finally got around to reading in January was Clariel by Garth Nix. I loved Sabriel when it first came out and enjoyed the other books in The Old Kingdom series. It was interesting to read a new book about The Old kingdom after so many years.

I have also challenged myself to read 100 books in the Goodreads 2015 Reading Challenge. The challenge  for me is not simply the reading but making sure I review/comment on each of the books as I finish them.

One review of the Clariel  is here and a longer one here. There is also a teacher’s review can be downloaded from Allen and Unwin.

Clariel (Abhorsen, #4)I greatly enjoyed this new fantasy and my Goodreads review of Clariel by Garth Nix

As it is billed as a prequel, this book provides a completely different view of the Old Kingdom from the previous three stories. The Abhorsen and the royal families are less vigilant and lazier than previous publications and there is a lot more political intrigue.
The main character, Clariel, is a part of the Abhorsen family. She is alone and isolated in her new home in Belisaere, the capital of the kingdom, and is frustrated and angry. Her parents have brought her to the city with the expectation that she will comply with their schemes for promotion and wealth. This behaviour is familiar to Clariel but she misses her home and the solitude of the Great Forest. The city is also a dangerous place that seethes with intrigues that seemingly involve almost everyone. The thwarting of her desires stir an anger that she has struggled to control in the past but now realises that it is part of her heritage. If it can be harnessed it is a very powerful weapon that might be used to her advantage. The appearance of a dangerous “Free Magic” entity is the catalyst for events escalating with catastrophic results. For all her growing power, Clariel finds herself more trapped than ever. She starts to question the motivations of not just everyone around her but also herself.
This fourth Old Kingdom novel is set 600 years prior to the birth of Sabriel, the first story. Although it is published as a prequel to the Old Kingdom series, Clariel an also be read as a standalone novel. Note: Clariel is a character has surfaced before and is known under another name in Lirael, as is another of the “free magic” creatures.
This is a satisfying story of a courageous and talented young woman who is surrounded by other equally colourful characters.

Another YA book I read this summer was number 6 in the Young Bond series. I have enjoyed all the previous stories written by Charlie Higson and was interested to see that Stephen Cole has written the latest.  We have quite a few books by Steve in our library and he has captured the “derring do” of the previous books in the series very well.

Shoot to Kill (Young Bond, #6)Shoot to Kill by Steve Cole
In the sixth book, young James has left Eton and is at a loose end waiting to begin the next phase of his education.

Action is never far away and before long James finds himself travelling from the England to Los Angeles, via a zeppelin. The intrigue begin straight away as James discovers that he has become caught up in a web of blackmail and murder. There are American gangsters, dastardly plots and friends in danger. It will be a good book for our younger student who like spy and action stories
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“For the Term of his Natural Life” now has an app

Last week (Thursday, 1st Aug) on ABC’s Radio National Books and Arts Daily (presented by Michael Cathcart) there was a program with some news about the classic Australian novelFor the Term of his Natural Life.It was written in the 1880s and it has never been out of print. Now there is an e-book app which the creators hope will extend its life into the future. The app is a condensed version of the novel interspersed with segments of the mini-series, interactive footnotes, historical documents, video notes, bios, maps, and photos and there’s even a bonus song from the 1927 silent film. ”

If you are interested – you can listen to the discussion podcast and/or go to the website. 

The website offers some good information with a books synopsis, information about the mini-series and also links to where you can purchase the app and the mini-series as a DVD or from iTunes, The app looks to be a great resource and may bring a new audience to this Australian story. I am only disappointed that (at for the moment at least)  the app is available for iPads only.

For the Term of his Natural Life

David Metzenthen on writing, YA literature and Jarvis 24

The 2 videos below are of a David Metzenthen interview (2009) where he discusses writing, his way of writing for young adults and also Jarvis 24, one of the 2010 CBCA short listed books. David answers questions about his approach to writing very honestly and thoughtfully. 

There is also a very readable review of Jarvis 24 on the Fiction Focus (CMIS) blog