The Book That Made Me, edited by Judith Ridge

We were all hooked (and a bit unsettled) from the outset, so there was no turning back. My brother and I looked forward to each progressively disturbing chapter: conniving pigs, brainwashed sheep, a horse carted off to something called the “knackers”, and poor Mum had to field all of our questions. (Shaun Tan)

From acclaimed authors from around Australia and overseas, The Book That Made Me offers a glimpse into the formative years of the creators, and of the book (or books) that shaped who they are – as authors, as readers, as people. From early readers and picture books to graphic novels, science fiction, to medical encyclopedia, each author’s preference is different and their tales behind why and how these particular books stayed with them are sometimes funny and other times very moving, but always intriguing.

Editor Judith Ridge is a passionate children’s literature advocate and has brought together a wonderful array of authors, including Shaun Tan, Julia Lawrinson, Sue Lawson, Markus Zusak, Ted Dawe and many more – thirty-two authors in total.

 

This is a book for book lovers of all ages and, with all royalties going to the Indigenous Literacy Foundation, purchase supports a really important cause.

The Book That Made Me
Walker Books Australia, 2016
ISBN 9781922244888

The Game of Their Lives, by Nick Richardson

While the match was, at one level, an exhibition for the Diggers and the curious onlookers, for the players it was something else – a chance to run around in the open air, to play the game they loved and test themselves in the way that they knew, body on body, running, jumping and kicking. It was a wonderful antidote to the dull routine of training and the anxiety of anticipation about what was ahead.

Australian Rules Football has a long history here at home, but has often been an enigma to people in other countries. For one day in 1916, though, football took centre stage when two teams of Australian soldiers played an exhibition match in London. The teams, drawn from soldiers waiting to be called to the Western Front, comprised men who had played football in teams across Australia, some of them big name players. In the weeks leading up to the match they trained hard and, on the day, for just a few hours, they could play the game they loved almost as if they were back home in Australia.

The Game of Their Lives tells the story of the game, and of the men who played in it. Starting before the war, and tracing through to the years following, readers are introduced to the players, umpires and officials as well as to men who made the game possible, including General Monash and YMCA man, and Australian swimmer, Frank Beaurepair. There is also close exploration of the impact of the war on sport at home in Australia, particularly the pressure for sportsmen to enlist, and the conscription debate.

For anyone with a love of football or war history.

The Game of Their Lives , by Nick Richardson
Pan Macmillan, 2016
ISBN 9781743536667

The Last Fifty Miles, by Adam Wakeling

They were fifty miles to victory and defeat, fifty miles to collapse and renewal, and fifty miles to a new place for Australia among the nations of the world. They were among the most significant fifty miles in our history.

After four years of conflict in Turkey, Palestine and Europe, both sides of the Great War conflict are weary and seeking to end the conflict. For the men of the five Australian divisions stationed in France, the end seems a long way away, though, and while they are battle weary they are able to come together under Major-General John Monash and play a decisive role in claiming the last fifty miles – the miles which will see an end to the war.

The Last Fifty Miles is an accessible, detailed account of Australia’s involvement in World War 1 and particularly its role in the final months of the conflict on the Western Front.

Readers are offered insight into the reasons for the war, the main personalities involved on both sides, and the impact of the war on Australians at home as well as those serving.

Suitable for amateur history buffs or anyone wanting to better understand the Great War.

The Last Fifty Miles, by Adam Wakeling
Penguin Books, 2016
ISBN 9780670079148

War Child, by Annette Janic with Catherine McCullagh

‘What would you do if you found yourself caught up in another war?’ I asked my mother, Leni, when I was about 12 years old. ‘Commit suicide’ she replied, without batting an eyelid.
Her response was so immediate that I can still remember how much it shocked me. She did not hesitate, even for a second.

Magadelana (Leni) is born in pre-war Germany, an illegitimate child, spurned by her extended family and by the whole village in which she lives. Only her mother loves her, but their fight for survival is fraught with difficulties, with tough economic times made increasingly dire when war is declared. A young Leni has to leave school and help support her mother and younger brothers, but her employer is a sadistic rapist. The terrible misfortune that seems to plague her life continues long after the war ends, but in 1950 Leni, her Yugoslav husband and their young son arrive in Australia hoping for a better life.

War Child is the true story of a childhood which seems to awful to be true, and of the search by Leni’s daughter to uncover her mother’s story and the secrets she kept. Spanning over 100 years, and three continents, the story is gripping, uncomfortable and often sad, but it makes for compelling reading.

War Child, by Annette Janic with Catherine McCullagh
Big Sky Publishing, 2016
ISBN 9781925275599

Speaking Out: A 21st Century Handbook for Women and Girls

If you want to participate in your community and be heard, you will need to speak out in some way. While this is important for all members of the community, to date, the approximately one-half of the population identified as female has been significantly often less heard than the half that is identified as male.

With less than a quarter of media presenters being female, and men outnumbering women in parliaments worldwide by three to one, women’s voices are not being heard on an equal basis. To dismiss this as women not being interested is simplistic and inaccurate. In other domains, too, women are either underrepresented, or not catered for. In audiences, in education, in sport broadcasts, in managerial positions, the list is almost endless. And from childhood, girls are presented with gendered roles which suggest that cuteness and submissiveness are more desirable in a girl than ‘masculine’ traits such as independence and strength.

Speaking Out: A 21st-Century Handbook for Women and Girls aims to help women and girls to be heard – on the stage, online, and in day to day life. From demonstrating how it is that women are both underrepresented and actively discouraged from changing this, to giving practical advice on how to speak in a variety of forums, how to research and write content and how to deal with criticism, this book is a valuable tool for women of all ages and should be essential reading in secondary schools.

Tara Moss is an author, feminist and advocate for women with mover 20 years experience in the public eye. Her words are both practical and passionate, with examples and accessible explanations.

A handbook for every woman.

Speaking Out: A 21st-Century Handbook for Women and Girls, by Tara Moss
Harper Collins, 2016
ISBN 9781460751336

You'll Be Sorry! by Ann Howard

From the appointment of the Controller, Colonel Sybil Irving, on 29 September 1941, until the cessation of hostilities in August 1945, over 24,000 girls and women enlisted as volunteers in the Australian Women’s Army Service (AWAS).
From different places, from different backgrounds, by varied routes, they were now together, the members of the Australian Women’s Army service. As the first raw recruits were marshaled onto a bus for Killara, talking non-stop about what lay ahead, they heard cries of ‘You’ll be sorry!’ but they never were.

In Word War 2, as men serviced in Europe and Asia, the homefront faced struggles, too, not the least of which was the shortage of staff. Australian women, who wanted to contribute, campaigned hard to be allowed to enlist and, finally in September 1941 the Women’s Army Service was formed. Between then and the end of the war, thousands of women volunteered and served in a wide variety of roles including driving, logistics, administration, communications and more. Giving their all for the service and ‘doing their bit’, these women later found themselves at a loss when the war ended and the expectation was that they would return to home life as quickly as possible.

You’ll be Sorry: How World War II Changed Women’s Lives traces the stories of these women through the war years and after, using testimony and recount from the women who served and from family members. Easy to read, the book provides an in depth insight into the types of women who served, their roles and lives within the service, and the challenges of life afterwards.

A vivid, intriguing account.

You’ll be Sorry: How World War II Changed Women’s Lives, by Ann Howard
Big Sky Publishing, 2016
ISBN 9781925275841

A Brief Take on the Australian Novel, by Jean-Francoise Vernay

While I was researching Australian fiction, people started asking me what they should read. This is a tricky question because you need to provide an answer while carefully avoiding establishing a canon. bearing in mind that any recommendation would reflect my own tastes, I tried to conceive a neutral space like a giant table on which would lie any appealing Australiana-packed novel, for avid readers to make their own choices.

For much of its history, novel writing in Australia has been seen as on offshoot of, or even one and the same as, the English novel. But, just as the nation has moved further and further way from being British, so too has the novel, shaped by the writers who call the country home. A Brief Take on the Australian Novel offers a survey of these writers and of the evolution of the Australian novel from colonial times to the present, including the influence of global trends, shifting social and political landscapes, the role of immigrants, minorities and Aindigenous writers, and more.

Written in accessible language and with discussion of what Vernay considers key texts and authors, chapters are broken by ‘Inserts’ win the form of whole page text boxes exploring individual texts, significant authors and more. This comprehensive overview does not claim to be all-encompassing or indisputable, instead being the ‘take’ of Vernay, a self-described outsider, who grew up in New Caledonia with a French father and Australian mother, but who has spent 20 years researching Australian fiction.

Suitable for any one with a love of or interest in Australian literature.

A Brief Take on the Australian Novel, by Jean-Francois Vernay
Wakefield Press, 2016
ISBN 9781743054048

Desert Lake: The Story of Kati Thanda – Lake Eyre, by Pamela Freeman and Liz Anelli

Far up north, clouds are gathering: thunderheads and rain clouds.
Rain falls.
Rivers fill and break their banks,
And water swirls and roars down the empty riverbeds towards the lake.

Kati Thanda – Lake Eyre – is a dry salt lake in the centre of Australia. But once roughly every ten years heavy rains to the north fill the lake with water, awakening frogs and shrimp. carrying fish down creek beds, giving new life to parched plants, and bringing birds, including pelicans and ducks, to the lake to breed, feed and flourish. When the lake starts to dry out again the birds and their new young fly away and the other life returns to dormancy waiting for the next flood.

Desert Lake: The Story of Kati Thanda – Lake Eyre is a beautiful non-fiction book which brings the changing lake to lif through the combination of well-written text and stunning mixed media illustrations. The narrative text is complemented on each spread by the inclusion of facts, presented in a different font so that readers can read the story and facts separately, if desired. The illustrations show the diversity of the lake’s inhabitants and the lake itself through contrasts between the ochres and browns of the dry, and the greens and blues of the wet.

Par of the Nature Storybook series, Desert Lake is excellent both as an educational tool and for prib=vate enjoyment.

Desert Lake: The Story of Kati Thanda – Lake Eyre, by Pamela Freeman & Liz Anelli
Walker Books, 2016
ISBN 9781921529436

Atmospheric: The Burning Question of Climate Change, by Carole Wilkinson

Sofia started going on about how climate change will, you know, end the world, how everyone should be doing something. I don’t know what. How the atmosphere is full of greenhouse gases. I looked up at the blue sky. It looked all right to me. Vasily was listening to her, nodding.
Sofia finished and people cheered. Vasily clapped. Someone else stepped up to give a speech. Sofia was still chained to the column. Three policemen walked over to her with a pair of boltcutters. A news crew was making its way through the crowd.
‘Won’t she get arrested?’ I said.
‘Yes.’
I looked at the pamphlet. Obviously this was something she thought worth getting arrested for.

Everyone has heard of climate change – or should have. But though it is widely accepted that this problem is massive and affects both our present and our future, the concept can be difficult to grasp, as can the idea that everyone can to make a difference (and should be tryin to do so).

Atmospheric: The Burning Story of Climate Change provides an excellent insight into what climate change is, and how humans’ actions now and back through history have changed the climate, with devastating impact.

Chapters explaining the science of climate change, the effects of pollution, excessive consumption, agriculture and more are interwoven with fictionlaised first person accounts of teens present at key moments or witnessing the impact of changes over history. There are also text boxes with brief biographies of key figures in science and technology. The text is accessible but very direct both about how we find ourselves in our current predicament, and what we need to do about it.

This is both an excellent educative tool, and inspirational,  and will leave readers better informed and keen to make a difference.

Atmospheric: The Burning Story of Climate Change , by Carole Wilkinson
Black Dog Books, 2015
ISBN 9781925126372

The White Mouse: The Story of Nancy Wake, by Peter Gouldthorpe

‘Right there and then I made up my mind that if ever I got the chance, I would do everything in my power to hurt them, to damage the Nazis and everything they stood for.

After a difficult childhood in Australia, Nancy Wake manages to travel first to London and later to Paris, where she talks herself into a job as a foreign correspondent. She is happy in Paris, and meets and marries a man she loves, but as the Nazi Party’s influence grows, she worries about what will happen, and when war breaks out, her fears are realised. Soon, Nancy is part of the resitance movenent, working to undermine the Nazis and to help their victims.

The White Mouse tells the remarkable story of a remarkable Australian woman and her work during World War 2: driving ambulances, helping escaped prisoners, transporting radios and other banned items. As a story which most Australian children are unlikely to know, and one which shows a strong woman working hard to make a difference in a time of hardship, the book is a really important offering.

The illustrations – in pen and ink and using techniques such as newspaper headlines and maps in the backgrounds of some pages, and text boxes looking as if they are taken from aging notebooks – have the feel of the time period in which they are set, and are reminiscent of the war story comics and paperback novels which adult readers may remember.

A quality book about a fascinating Australian.

The White Mouse: The Story of Nancy Wake, by Peter Gouldthorpe
Omnibus Books, 2015
ISBN 9781742990910