Super Con-Nerd, by Oliver Phommavanh

My name is Connor and I’m a nerd, so my friends call me Con-nerd. Well, my old friends did, back at Green hill Primary. I’ve only been here at Kentsworth High School for a week, so nobody has called me Con-nerd. They don’t even call me a nerd.
That’s because this place is full of nerds.

In primary school, Connor had a great group of friends. They thought he was a nerd, but that was one of the things they liked about him. This year, though, Connor is at highschool, and his friends are at different schools. He’s at an academic selective school, and everyone there is smart. Suddenly, Connor isn’t the smartest one in his class. In fact, he isn’t anywhere near the top.  With no friends to talk to, and everyone around seemingly super-smart, Connor isn’t sure if he’ll survive his first term of high school, let alone make his family proud, or have time to follow his true dream – of being a comic book creator.

Super Con-Nerd is the second story featuring Connor, who is smart, funny, loyal to his friends and an entertaining narrator. This installment stands alone satisfactorily, but it will be especially enjoyed by those who have already met Connor in the first book.

Suitable for readers of all abilities, Super Con-Nerd is a satisfying read.

Super Con-Nerd, by Oliver Phommavanh
Puffin Books 2017
ISBN 9780143306535

Our Race for Reconciliation, by Anita Heiss

I hear Mum again, and almost wish I had a different name, like Cathy. And then I see her, my hero, Cathy Freeman. In my mind she is running gracefully on the track; she is smiling and isn’t even showing any effect of the heat of the sun. She’s breathing at the correct pace, not like me, panting away. And then I imagine I am her, turning my legs over in smooth rotation, faster and faster, focusing on the finish line, and before I know it, I’m there. I’ve overtaken the two girls who were ahead of me.

Mel Gordon loves to run. Her idol is Cathy Freeman, Australia’s best sprinter. Mel wants to be as good as Cathy one day – and represent Australia in the Olympics. First, though, she wants to see Cathy run at the Sydney Olympics, and win gold.

The year 2000 turns out to be a big one for Mel, as for many Australians. As well as the looming Olympics, a letter to Cathy Freeman leads to her promising to visit the school during Reconciliation Week. And before that, Mel’s family are planning a road trip to Sydney to take part in Corroboree 2000, a landmark march to celebrate Australia’s indigenous heritage, and push for reconciliation and, particularly, an apology for the stolen generation. Mel’s Nanna is a member of the Stolen Generation, making the march especially significant and, while Mel and her twin brother Sam love sport and school, there are times when they have to educate their non-Murri classmates about issues surrounding race and equality.

Part of Scholastic’s My Australian Story imprint, Our Race for Reconciliation explores major events of the turn of the millenium in Australia, with a special focus on the issue of Reconciliation, a topic which is always important in Australia, but is particularly significant in 2017, being the 50th anniversary year of the 1967 Referendum, which saw Australians vote for recognition of Aboriginal people. Mel’s story of wanting to emulate a role model is one which many children, from varied backgrounds, will connect with, and Heiss weaves the various issues and historical events into the story in a wonderful blend of entertainment and education.

A must-read for middle and upper primary children.

Our Race for Reconciliation, by Anita Heiss
Omnibus Books, 2017
ISBN 9781760276119

Say Yes, by Jennifer Castles and Paul Seden

Mandy’s mum says there are two ladies.
There’s Mrs Jessie Street and Mrs Faith Bandler.
They are clever and they have strong, clear voices.
They are writing down new laws.
They are making speeches everywhere.

Two little girls are best friends and want to do everything together. But one girl – Mandy – isn’t allowed to go the pool, because the law stops her. She isn’t allowed to attend the same school, because the law says she has to go to a different school. And, when they are given money to go to the cinema, they aren’t allowed to sit together, because the law says they must sit in different places.

Say Yes tells the story of th e 1967 Referendum, through the eyes of a young white Australian watching the impact the unfair laws have on her friend, Mandy. Mandy and the narrator hear about the work of Jessie Street and Faith Bandler and are excited when the ‘Yes’ vote wins, making way for positive changes.

A wonderful means of explaining both the referendum process and the unfair and difficult rules which Aboriginal people were subject to until 1967 for children, the story acknowledges that the Yes vote was just a beginning, thus leaving room to explore more recent indigenous issues and events including Sorry Day and the ongoing quest for Reconciliation.

Illustrations use a combination of black and white photos, newspaper and document extracts, and illustrations of the two children in grey scale with bright splashes of colour for their clothing.

An important book for school and home.

Say Yes, by Jennifer Castles & Paul Seden
Allen & Unwin, 2017
ISBN 9781760294670

The Scent of You, by Maggie Alderson

When you’ve been happily married for twenty-four years, you don’t expect to find yourself lying in bed alone just before midnight on New Year’s Eve.
Polly didn’t even know where her husband was. She hadn’t seen him for over a week. It had been so strange having Christmas without him, and now this.
She pulled the duvet up over her head and then straight back down again. It was no good, she couldn’t sleep through it.

Polly’s life is seemingly wonderful. Her children are both away at uni, her yoga classes are popular and her perfume blog has taken off. Her mother, a glamorous ex-model, is happily settled in an upmarket retirement village. The only problem is her disappearing husband who, out of the blue, has announced (via a letter) that he needs some space and is going away travelling for six months. There is to be no contact, no questions, no explanations.

As Polly struggles to make sens of this unsettling, monumental change, it is a trio of new friends who proves to be most helpful: Shirlee, a loudmouthed student at her yoga classes, who seems to have taken over Polly’s kitchen, and thinks nothing of being woken in the middle of the night for first aid help; Guy, a new, mysterious perfumer, who is fascinated by Polly’s work and wants to impress her; and Edward, a friend from university who unexpectedly reappears in her life. As she muddles through the increasing uncertainty of her husband’s absence, these friends help Polly make sense of it, and build a new life.

The Scent of You is a tale of romance, self-discovery and friendship against the mystery and upset of an absentee husband, peppered with the scents of the main character’s world. As well as her perfume blog, entries from which pepper the book, the scents of her different experiences are entwined so evocatively into the action that the reader can smell them, and becomes a little more aware of the smells of the real world, too.

Issues of ageing, secrets and psychological illness are explored in a story which is heart warming and absorbing.

The Scent of You, by Maggie Alderson
Harper Collines, 2017
ISBN 9781460751213

Girl In Between, by Anna Daniels

‘The new guy next door. That smile! His teeth are superb! And did you see his eyes? Who has eyes that blue?’ gushes Rosie…
‘You should go for him, Rosie,’ I say.
‘No, you should go for him! You’re the one who’s been mpoing around for a year,’ says Rosie. ‘I’ve got Trent the Tradie, remember?’
‘I haven’t been moping,’ I prtoest feebly.
Rosie and Mum exchange glances, then simultaneously pull identical hangdog faces at me. I scowl back at them.

Lucy is a girl in between – between jobs, between relationships, between cities. Now she’s moved in with her parents, and her ten year old dog, Glenda, and doing not much of anything, while she recovers from the break up her relationship. Her parents might be happy to have her, but they’re not happy with her sulking. Even her best friend Rosie – who makes everything fun – is getting sick of her mooching around. It’s time to get her life back in order – but that definitely doesn’t involve hooking up with the gorgeous son of her new neighbor, who has a girlfriend already.

Girl In Between is a funny, warm story about young thirty somethings figuring out who and where they want to be in their life. Lucy and Rosie are both still single, and although they are not racing to settle down, both know they want something more than they have. Adventures and escapades in their home town of Rockhamtpon, as well as in Japan and England could help them find clarity – and, if they don’t, they’ll have fun trying.

Girl In Between, by Anna Daniels
Arena Allen & Unwin, 2017
ISBN 9781760295301

Finding Nevo,: How I Confused Everyone, by Nevo Zisin

Apparently, the moment I was born, she anxiously asked her mother, “Well, what is it?” To which my grandmother replied, “It’s a boy!” My mum was horrified, but the doctor interjected and explained I was indeed a girl. My mum was relieved. I wish I could have spoken on behalf of myself back then and there; I could have avoided a lot of issues down the track.

Nevo Zisin was born with a girl’s body, to a mother desperately hoping for a daughter. But before they had reached school, Nevo was convinced they were a boy, and wanted to dress in boy’s clothes, and be referred to as ‘he’. Growing up in a traditional Jewish community, this presented difficulties both within their own family, at school, and beyond. At 14, feeling pressured to identify with how they felt, Nevo came out as a lesbian, but was still not convinced this was the right term for how they felt. At 18, they announced their intention to transition to being male, and soon after began hormone therapy, and then to plan for chest reduction surgery. By the age of twenty, they had realised that they were neither male nor female, and now identify as nonbinary transgender.

Finding Nevo is an honest, enlightening story of one person’s quest to understand who they are, and to overcome the prejudices and pressures which that can entail. Nevo is honest and open, offering readers the chance to understand the issues faced by Nevo, and also by other nonbinary young people. As they say (Nevo’s preferred pronoun is they/their), it is unusual to write an autobiography at the age of 20, but Nevo’s willingness to do so will help to educate and inform people of all all ages and gender identities.

An absorbing, open, book.

Finding Nevo, by Nevo Zisin
Black Dog Books, 2017
ISBN 9781925381184

Troubadour, by Isolde Martyn

God ha’ mercy! Shoulder throbbing with pain, Adela stumbled to her feet. Already she could hear the shouting in the upper bailey. She took a pace forward and braced herself to be set upon; the workmen stood inert. There was a gap in this uneven horseshoe of witnesses. She recognised one of them.
‘Are ‘e daft?’ he growled. ‘Run!’

When Adela, hairbraider to the queen, finds herself the unwilling subject of King John’s attention, she flees the English court and, after stowing away on a ship, finds herself in France. Eventually she is employed as a laundry maid in the entourage of Lady Alys, an English woman on her way to marry the Lord of Mircason to forge an alliance with King John. Adela is startled to see that she and Alys have very similar appearances. When the entourage is ambushed, it is this resemblance which sees Adela, the sole survivor of the ambush, mistaken for Lady ALys, and delivered to Richart, the Lord of Mircason. Adlea knows she will not be able to maintain the deception for ever, but events seem to be overtaking her, with teh wedding looming, and her attraction for Richart growing. In the meantime, Richart’s fiefdom, and those around him, are being targeted by a crusade, coming to topple any people who harbour or befriend heretics.

Troubadour is a romantic saga set in medieval France and England, against a background of real events. Martyn brings to life the political machinations and court life of the times with colour and detail, and the action moves at a satisfying pace.

With an intriguing cast of characters, and a satisfying romantic plot, Troubadour is highly recommended.

Troubadour , by Isolde Martyn
Harlequin, 2017
ISBN 9781489220370

I’m Australian Too, by Mem Fox & Ronojoy Ghosh (ill.)

My auntie came from Athens
with her brother and her niece.
And now we live in Adelaide
because it’s so like Greece.
How about you?

Since the first white settlers arrived in Australia, there have been ongoing debates, discussions and worse, regarding just who has the right to be here, or to call themselves Australian. This is a really important topic, but not always an easy one to explore in a child-accessible way. I’m Australian Too manages to explore a wide range of versions of being Australian, from the first peoples, through to refugees – including those still waiting to find out if they will be ‘let in’ –  in a form which is easily digestible but also offers a way to discuss belonging and nationhood with even quite young children.

Opening with the lines I’m Australian!/ How about you?, each subsequent spread is from the voice of a different Australian child, telling where their family is from and where they live now. The closing pages focus on Australia’s tradition of opening doors to strangers, with echoes of the national anthem, and a reminder (or rejoinder) to live in peace. The important message of the story is reflected in the wonderful illustrations, showing the diversity of Australian homes, customs, landscapes and, of course, children.

Perfect for classroom discussions of belonging, multiculturalism, refugees and more, this is also perfect for at home sharing.

I’m Australian Too, by Mem Fox and Ronojoy Ghosh (ill.)
Omnibus Books, 2017
ISBN 9781760276218

Through the Gate, by Sally Fawcett

I sat on the broken front step of the ‘new’ house.
New town, new school … nothing was the same.

When she first sees her ‘new’ house, a young girl sees nothing but ‘old’ – drooping roof, peeling paint, a crumbling step, and cracks everywhere. She is not impressed. She does not like change. At all. She plods off to her first week of school. But after the first week, she notices a tiny change to her house. As the weeks past, the house continues to change – and so does her movement, until, finally, she skips towards her new home.

Through the Gate is a clever, feel-good book about coping with change and, particularly, moving home. Visually, the transformation of the house from a tumble down cottage with a broken picket fence, to a beautifully restored house, with fence and garden, is clever. The use of colour – with early illustrations showing all but the girl in grey scale, and colour being added progressively as the house changes – highlights the girl’s changing attitude as she finds pleasure in her new life, and adapts to the changes.

A wonderful story of resilience.

Through the Gate, by Sally Fawcett
EK Books, 2017
ISBN 9781925335415

The Fix-It man, by Dimity Powell & Nicky Johnston

My dad can fix anything.
It’s what dad’s do.

Dad can fix anything. He’s handy with a hammer and nails, sticky tape and glue and even with making peach tea and cupcakes. But when mum dies, Dad and daughter find that sticky tape and super glue are not enough – they need a special kind of fix-it, in the form of love.

The Fix-It man is a heart warming story of the bond between a father and young daughter, exploring the impact of the loss of a parent in a gentle manner. It is dad who keeps the house running while Mum is sick, with gentle humour and persistence, but it is the daughter who, in the midst of her own grief, reaches out to Dad. Together they start to put their lives back together, surrounded with gentle reminders of Mum.

This is a difficult topic for a children’s book – which is why it is so important. Powell’s text gives just enough detail, without over explaining or analysing what is happening, and Johnston’s illustrations are gently whimsical. A grey scale illustration at the darkest point of the book is particularly poignant, with no need for text to show how the pair cope with their loss.

A wonderful book for exploring themes of bereavement.

The Fix-It man, by Dimity Powell & Nicky Johnston
EK Books, 2017
ISBN 9781925335347