When grief threatens to overwhelm life …

as stras fallTITLE = as stars fall

AUTHOR = CHRISTIE NEIMAN

GENRE = FRIENDSHIP, FAMILIES, RELATIONSHIPS

INTEREST LEVEL = YEARS 10+

Robin’s happy farm life has been replaced by a rather lonely city existence. On the night of a threatening fire, her parent’s marriage has been shattered and the fallout for Robin has been equally heart-breaking: a new tiny house in a new strange city, a new school and the need to make new friends…. One of whom could be Delia ….but….

Delia’s life has also been shattered, on the same night and by the same fire. The loss of her mother has caused Delia to withdraw, her older brother (Seth) has turned to drugs and her father has turned to alcohol.

The common link between the two girls (unbeknownst to them) is not only the fire but also a strange and rare bird. Can this bird draw the two girls together … before it is too late for them … and for Seth??

This is a beautifully written book which brings alive the countryside of Australia, in all its terrible beauty. The characters are credible and their dilemmas are heartfelt whilst allowing different characters to take turns in telling the story from their point of view, is both clever and magical (when the narrator happens to be the bird).

A wonderful blend of warmth, sadness, beauty and complexity; mature readers will love this book.

Highly Recommended (dma) *****  

An entertaining story about circus life in Australia’s past

gundagai 2TITLE = THE ROAD TO GUNDAGAI

AUTHOR = JACKIE FRENCH

GENRE = CIRCUS, RELATIONSHIPS, DEPRESSION ERA, FRIENDSHIP

INTEREST LEVEL = YEARS 8 +

Although this is the third book in the “Matilda Saga”, readers do not need to have read the previous 2 stories to enjoy this book – it works perfectly as a stand alone book. Set during the zdepression in Australia w e follow the misfortunes of Bluebell Laurence. AT the tender age of 16 she has no sooner lost her parents and younger brother in a shipwreck than she is caught in a dreadful fire in her home. Badly burnt and scarred, Blue’s legs have been fused by the fire. She decides to run away to the circus when she believes that her life may be in peril … and so we follow her adventures along the road as she is befriended by the odd assortment of circus folk, in particular the elephant, Sheba.

Blue has led a privileged life up until now and so she has a lot to learn about the hardships faced by so many during the depression. And bubbling beneath this story is the central problem: was someone really trying to poison Blue, and if so, who??  There are many surprises in store for both Blu and the reader as the mystery is gradually unravelled.

This is a truly entertaining tale which is sure to be enjoyed by readers who enjoy adventure, history and just a touch of romance.

 If you would like to know more about the other 2 books in this series why not read these reviews:

A Tale for Matilda and The Girl from Snowy River

Highly Recommended *****

A beautifully rich story with a simple truth

MirrorBook_smallTITLE = MIRROR

AUTHOR = JEANNIE BAKER

GENRE = FAMILY, MULTICULTURALISM, LIFESTYLE

INTEREST LEVEL = ALL AGES

This is a truly beautiful book, in conception and in presentation. In fact, this picture book deliberately tells two stories – one is read from inside the left cover of the book and the other is read from inside the right cover. So both stories are opposite each other as you open the book. Both stories focus on a small boy and the daily life of his family; and on the surface there are obvious differences in these stories – different settings, different clothes, different food and transport – for one boy is growing up in Sydney, Australia whilst the other grows up in rural Morocco. However, just as the title suggests, in other ways the stories mirror each other – for both boys have loving families, share meals together and other family activities.

So ultimately the story of this richly crafted book has a simple message: we may live in vastly different places but our lives are mirrors across the world.

As we have come to expect from a Jeannie Baker book, the illustrations built on detailed collages will detail readers and provide hours of enjoyment. If you would like to learn more about Jeannie Baker’s artistry, why not check out her website.

It is no wonder this book has been shortlisted in the CBC Book of the Year 2011 (Picture Book).

Highly Recommended (dma) ******

Australian folklore

waltz matildaTITLE = A Waltz for Matilda

AUTHOR = Jackie French

GENRE =Historical Fiction

INTEREST LEVEL =Years 9, 10

In this book, Jackie French not only celebrates Australia’s nationhood and folklore she also celebrates the strength of Australian women. For here Matilda is both a character and the inspiration for a national song. The character Matilda has been forced to grow up quickly and she is certainly made of tough and gutsy stuff. She manages to hold on to her father’s property and make a working farm of the place, despite extended drought, fires and floods. In the absence of her own parents, she leans heavily on some local Aboriginals, especially Auntie, and shearing mates of her dad’s.

This is certainly a sweeping saga and at over 460 pages, some readers may be daunted by the sheer size of the book. It is set in an interesting period (early in the 20th century) a time when the local farmers, shearers and townspeople were debating the union of the states to become the nation of Australia, as women were battling to simply get the vote and as the local Aboriginal peoples were struggling to be even recognised as citizens. Even the Boer War rates a (somewhat surprising) mention as the saga unfolds. Some readers may find the historical scope at times overwhelming but many are sure to enjoy reading about gutsy Matilda’s fight to survive not just the drought but also the enmity of the local squatter. And there is even a touch of romance thrown in for good measure!

This may not be Jackie French’s best novel (at times the history seemed to overtake the story and some of the “discoveries” at the novel’s end seem a little hard to believe) but for anyone interested in family dramas and Australian history it is sure to be an entertaining read. The author notes at the end of the book are certainly an interesting part of the book and provide an account of the much loved song from which the novel draws its name.

Recommended (dma) ***

More magic from Shaun Tan

TALES of OUTER SUBURBIA by Shaun Tan

GENRE: FANTASY, PICTORIAL

INTEREST LEVEL: YRS 9 AND UP

A charming book which succeeds on all levels: design, illustration and story. Some of Tan’s stories are whimsical, some are pointedly political, some are humorous but they are always accompanied by delightful illustrations and a gentle, loving tone. The outer suburbia of this novel may have its bleak side and its overgrown wastelands but the underlying theme is that if it is explored it also has its magical side, too. The exploration or journey motif is not just a theme of many of the stories it is also a recurring motif used in the book design: stamps depict the chapters and tell us who is the publisher. Endpapers are beautifully illustrated and will provide more opportunities for exploration! A truly magical book which will appeal to older readers.

HIGHLY RECOMMENDED (dma) *****