Game Day Books 1 and 2, by Patty Mills with Jared Thomas

‘Patty, have you ever thought about playing basketball?’ Coach Clarke asked.
I shrugged my shoulders.
‘I’d like you to try out,’ he said.
‘Would I get to play on the ball for the whole game?’ I asked him.
Coach Clarke laughed. ‘Everyone plays on the ball in basketball.’

Patty loves sport, but he’s never played basketball before. Still, he’s good at every other sport he plays, and his uncle Danny is a great basketballer, so he expects to be a great basketballer straight away. He soon discovers there more to the game than just shooting hoops.

Patty Hits the Court and Patty and the Shadows are the first two books in the new Game Day series written by Australian basketball sensation Patty Mills, together with author Jared Thomas.

Perfect for sports mad readers, the books tell high interest stories, as well as showing children from Aboriginal and Torres Straight Islanders engaged in every day life, including school, sport and family life, as well as partaking in cultural events such as Mabo Day. This blend is really important for all Australian children.

Patty is a likable main character, who doesn’t always get everything right. He has to learn, for example, to share the ball, and to overcome bullying and difficulties with school work, topics which make him relatable for young readers.

Game Day: Patty Hits the Court and Patty and the Shadows, both by Patty Mills with JAred Thomas
Allen & Unwin, 2017

Harry Kruize, Born to Lose by Paul Collins

Monday 3rd October
First day back from school holidays and today in English, Mr Granger discussed the power of writing. He explained how the pen is mightier than the sword and gave examples of how writing influenced people to change. He said words can be so powerful that if you really want a wish to come true, then the best way to make it happen is to write it down.
To prove his point, he has set us a whole-term writing assignment where we have to write down a heap of wishes and explain why we really want them to come true. Then we have to document the exact circumstances of when each wish is granted.
I really like Mr Granger, and English is by far my favourite subject (I even want to be a writer when I grow up), but I am wondering whether he has lost the plot a bit with this one!

Harry Kruise is doing it tough. He’s the shortest kid at school, his dad is not around and his mum takes in boarders, old blokes, who mostly stay in their room. At school, he’s the frequent victim of bullying, mostly from Brick. A dog would help, if only his mother would allow him to have one. It would mean he’d finally have a friend. Then old man and master storyteller, Jack Ellis, moves into the shed. Jack is full of stories, lots of them about dogs. Slowly, slowly Jack’s life begins to change. Mr Granger has told him and his classmates that wishes will come true if you really want them to, and set the class an assignment that will last the entire term.

Told in online diary entries, dog tales and wishes, Harry reveals his life, his dreams, his fears. He’s thirteen years old, Term 4 of his first year of secondary school has just begun and he’s not having a lot of fun. He’s seeing the school psychologist every week. He’s also full of fear. If his father can leave like he did, Harry is sure nothing else in his life will ever secure. There are themes around loss, bullying, family and more. By the end of the term though, Harry has stopped sinking and starting to swim. Told with humour and including great Australian yarns, ‘Harry Kruize, Born to Lose’ offers short chapters and clearly marked viewpoint changes. Recommended for upper primary readers.

Harry Kruize, Born to Lose, Paul Collins
Ford St Publishing 2017
ISBN: 9781925272628

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s author and bookseller
www.clairesaxby.com

Princess Parsley by Pamela Rushby

It’s not that easy being a princess, you know.

I mean, you’re flat out finding anything even resembling a decent prince to go to the Year Eight disco with.

And you just try shopping for a nice new tiara in downtown Mullumbimby. As if. Not to mention anything like glass slippers: non-existent. Nothing more exotic that Super softs and hush Puppies ever hits the Mullumbimby shoe shop.

And what do you do when the kids at school don’t curtsy to you? Have them exiled?

Or executed?

Being a princess? I tell you, it’s nothing but problems.

It’s not that easy being a princess, you know.

I mean, you’re flat out finding anything even resembling a decent prince to go to the Year Eight disco with.

And you just try shopping for a nice new tiara in downtown Mullumbimby. As if. Not to mention anything like glass slippers: non-existent. Nothing more exotic that Super softs and Hush Puppies ever hits the Mullumbimby shoe shop.

And what do you do when the kids at school don’t curtsy to you? Have them exiled?

Or executed?

Being a princess? I tell you, it’s nothing but problems.

What do you do when your parents decide it’s groovy to call you Parsley? And your sisters Sage, Rosemary and Thyme? How much worse can life be as you head off to secondary school on the bus? Well, much worse. When her Dad declares their property the Principality of Possum Creek after a feud with a neighbour, her school life goes straight to the dogs. The trio of ‘blondes’ have a field day. It’s not that she wants to be a ‘blonde’, more that she just wants to get along with everyone and fit in. But if that’s going to happen, she’s going to have to find a way to adjust to her new status. Retreating to the drum class is not going to cut it.

‘Princess Parsley’ is hilarious. When you’ve spent your primary years at a school in Mullumbimby, and your parents are, ahem, alternative, there was always going to be waves when you hit the bigger world of secondary school. Parsley is open and honest, responsible and well-loved and it is a surprise to her that not everyone else views the world from that strong platform. Parsley’s year is full of ups and downs and she carries the giggling reader with her through all her trials and travails. Hidden deep inside the hilarity are themes around family, belonging, bullying and more. Recommended for mid- to upper-primary readers.

Princess Parsley, Pamela Rushby Omnibus Books 2016 ISBN: 9781742991610

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s author and bookseller

www.clairesaxby.com

Spark by Adam Wallace and Andrew Plant

I began as a tiny spark

all alone in the dry grass.

‘Let’s play,’ said the wind.

‘Okay,’ I replied.

The wind whistled and gently picked me up.

I began as a tiny spark

all alone in the dry grass.

‘Let’s play,’ said the wind.

‘Okay,’ I replied.

The wind whistled and gently picked me up.

Spark is the story of a wild fire, told from the perspective of elemental fire. It begins as a spark, and in answer to a question from the wind, the two begin to play. The ‘play’ escalates as the fire and wind race across the land until the fire acknowledges the destruction and wants to end the game. The wind continues until together, they turn on their path and witness the cost of the play. Illustrations are painted and progress from summer sunny through bright flame to black and greys to finish with the tiniest glimmer of colour. Text is hand-drawn by illustrator Andrew Plant. Image frames grow with the intensity of the fire and retreat as it does. Image frames set in smoky pages.

Spark is the story of the consequences of a single careless incident. There’s a sense of menace from the front cover on, hands-over-the-eyes please-don’t-let-this-happen inevitability. What starts small quickly builds out of control, with no time to see the damage. Bit like bullying really. Suggested reading age is pre-school but it will have applications well beyond preschool, particularly in the classroom. Illustrations provide the opportunity to search out beetles, ants and larger animals as fire chases all before it. Recommended for early primary and for inclusion in discussions about both fire and bullying.

Spark, Adam Wallace and Andrew Plant
Ford Street Publishing 2016
ISBN: 9781925272413

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s author and bookseller

www.clairesaxby.com

The Other Christy, by Oliver Phommavanh

OtherCHristyMy name is Christy but nobody calls me that. I’m in the same class with another girl named Christie, so I’ve become just the other Christy, the spare Christy. Not the popular, loud one everyone likes.

Christy Ung has been on the outer ever since she arrived in Australia. Every year she is put in the same class as Christie Owen, and that makes Christy the other Christy. Christie Owen is loud and popular – but she’s also mean, especially to Christy. Christy, meanwhile, has no friends, and her classmates don’t even seem to notice her. The only people who seem to care are Auntie Mayly and Grandpa, who is really strange, and whose main passion in life is cleaning. With such a strange home life, Christy wonders if she will ever be able to make a friend.

The Other Christy is a humorous but touching story of searching for friendship an fitting in, dealing as well with issues of immigration and bereavement. Christy is being raised by her Grandfather after the death of her mother in Cambodia, and is keenly aware of the differences between her own homelife and those of her classmates. Christy is a likeable protagonist, and the resolution is satisfying.

The Other Christy, by Oliver Phommavanh
Puffin Books, 2016
ISBN9780143505723

Teresa: A New Australian, by Deborah Abela

’This is it. The beginning of our new lives. Ready?
Teresa and her mama nodded. ‘Ready.’
They stepped into the cheers and music and beneath flying streamers and confetti. All around them were people in tears, hugging and laughing.
People made sure they stood together to take their first steps onto Australian soil. When they did, he wiped his sleeve across his eyes. Mama kissed his cheek. ‘You old softie.’

War rages across Europe, and Teresa and her family endure tough times in their homeland, Malta. There are bombing raids every day, and her father is away fighting alongside the allies. Even when peace finally comes, life is difficult, so Teresa’s family make a difficult decision – they will leave Malta and start a new life in Australia.

In Australia life is safer, and Teresa’s parents find jobs, but there are still many obstacles to overcome, including getting used to Australian ways. Not everyone is welcoming of new Australians, but Teresa is determined to succeed in this strange new land.

Teresa: A New Australian is wonderful new historical fiction, exploring the life of one new migrant in the years following World War 11. Teresa is a feisty, loyal girl who faces each new challenge head on. Readers will enjoy getting to know her and at the same time will become familiar with aspects of Australia’s history they may not know.

Teresa is an outstanding addition to the New Australian series.

Teresa , by Deborah Abela
Omnibus, an imprint of Scholastic, 2016
ISBN 9781742990941

New Boy, by Nick Earls

The car is still all snot and tears and noise when we get to the drop-off zone outside One Mile Creek State School.

As Mom’s door opens, Hansie’s screaming makes everyone look at us – students, parents, teachers, all arriving at this same precise inconvenient moment. This is not the perfect beginning to my first day.

I am supposed to look cooler than this.

Before he and his family moved to Australia, Herschelle used the internet to research what life would be like, and to learn Australian slang. But now that he’s here, Herschelle is discovering that it is very different than he expected: the food is strange, the other kids don’t understand his accent, and the other kids haven’t heard of most of the so-called Aussie slang he has learnt. At his last school, he was one of the cool kids, but here he’s quickly learning what it’s like to be different.

New Boy is a funny, moving story about the immigrant experience, about belonging and about bullying and racism. Primary aged readers will laugh at Herschelle’s problems with language and his surprise at how things are done in Australia, but they’ll also feel for him as he struggles to understand and to adapt.

Herschelle is a likeable narrator, and New Boy is a valuable tool for classroom reading as well as for private enjoyment.

New Boy, by Nick Earls
Puffin Books, 2015
ISBN 9780143308393

Available from good bookstores and online.

Harold and Grace, by Sean E Avery

The storm rushed, and howled, and splashed, and blew at the tiny tree, the little pond and the lonely leaf.

When it finally stopped, the lonely leaf was safe.

When a single caterpillar egg and a single frog egg survive a storm, an unlikely friendship is formed.  When Harold the tadpole and  Grace the caterpillar hatch from their eggs, they meet and, in spite of their obvious differences, become best friends. In the pond, Harold is teased by the fish who see that he is not the same as them. In the tree, Grace is shunned by the other insects because she is not the same as them.  But they lend each other support.

Eventually, though, Harold gets busy in the pond and forgets about Grace for a while. When he returns to see her, she is not there. Instead, there is a cocoon. Distraught, he uses the cocoon as a pillow, until one day a butterfly emerges and the pair are, after a brief misunderstanding, reunited.

Harold and Grace is a warm, funny tribute to friendship and diversity, which also explores the life cycles of frogs and butterflies, paralleled with the ebbs and flows of friendships. The illustrations use black ink and digital colours, with a palette rich in greens and purples, in natural tones that reflect the outdoor setting of the story. The whimsy of the characters and their surrounds is delightful, and the design of the book, in a smallish square hard cover with a felted embellishment, is adorable.

A beautiful offering.

Harold and Grace, by Sean E. Avery
Fremantle Press, 2015
ISBN 9781925162295

Available from good bookstores and online.

Bad Behaviour: A Memoir of Bullying and Boarding School, by Rebecca Starford

It’s late, just before lights-out, and we’re all tucked up in bed. My book is facedown in my lap, untouched. It’s too cold to read; it is the dead of winter, my breath hangs like mist in front of my face. A few beds down, Ronnie is sniping across the aisle at Kendall – ‘Hey KFC. Albino pubes. Have you wet yourself tonight?’ – and Portia, in the bed beside her, laughs.

A boarding school in the bush, where students can learn resilience and confidence, and gain physical fitness and endurance, sounds like a wonderful thing. But when the level of supervision is low, and bullying behaviour is largely unchecked, it can be a recipe for disaster.

Rebecca Starford spent a year in such a boarding school when she was fourteen. At times one of the bullies, at others a victim, the decisions she made and the things she endured and witnessed, shaped the woman she became. In Bad Behaviour she presents an honest memoir of that time and of her years beyond boarding school as she struggled to reconcile both her time at boarding school, and the self she had become, including coming to terms with her sexuality.

Bad Behaviour: A Memoir of Bullying and Boarding School is, from the opening pages, confronting, but it is also a story of triumph, with happier moments and a level of honesty and openness which is utterly readable. Although billed as a memoir for adults, it would also be suitable for older teens.

Gripping, moving and extraordinary honest.

 

Bad Behaviour: A Memoir of Bullying and Boarding School

Bad Behaviour: A Memoir of Bullying and Boarding School, by Rebecca Starford
Allen & Unwin, 2015
ISBN 9781743319574

Bully on the Bus, by Kathryn Apel

She’s big.
She’s smart.
She’s mean.
She’s the bully on the bus.
She picks on me and I don’t like it.

But
I don’t know
how to make her
stop.

Leroy has a problem, and it’s a big one. There’s a bully on his school bus – and she’s bigger than him, bigger than his sister Ruby, even as big as his mum. DJ goes to the high school, but she doesn’t want to be there. Leroy likes school, but he doesn’t like the bus, especially when DJ is on it. Leroy needs a secret weapon, but when he finds it he wonders if it will be enough to silence the bully.

Bully on the Bus is a gorgeous new verse novel for younger readers. Leroy and his family are realistic and well-drawn, as is the situation he finds himself in. The resolution, too, is clever, and shows Leroy drawing on the help of those around him but, ultimately, being key to fixing the problem.

This is Apel‘s first foray into the verse novel form, but hopefully it won’t be her last. She handles it deftly and with sensitivity.

Bully on the Bus, by Kathryn Apel
UQP, 2014
ISBN 9780702253287

Available from good bookstores and online.