The Choke, by Sofie Laguna

I was eating Weet-Bix at the kids’ table not long after I moved to Pop’s, when I heard Pop and Dad talking.
You should have been more careful, Ray.
Accidents happen.
Yeah, and now I’m stuck with your bloody accident.
The table was so low it kept me at the height of their knees. If they didn’t look down they forgot I was there.

Since her mother abandoned her as a toddler, Justine has been raised by her Pop, a troubled survivor of the Burma railway. Her dad comes and goes, away for months at time. Her half brothers visit regularly and are sometimes allies, but their different mothers, and the manipulations of their father mean that their relationship is uneasy. School is also difficult for Justine. Not only does she lack the home environment of her classmates, but she also struggles to read, and is seen by teachers as lazy and disruptive.

Amongst so much neglect, Justine must make do. She finds solace in her Pop’s chickens, who she feeds and talks to, and in the Choke, a narrow opening in the Murray River at the back of their house. Brief glimpses of kindness from fellow humans are rare, but somehow Justine manages to survive again and again.

The Choke is a haunting story of poverty and neglect. Justine, as the youngest member of a broken family, has a life which readers will see is cruel and unfair, but which is portrayed with a frightening, heartbreaking realism.

A troubling, powerful read.

The Choke, by Sofie Laguna
Allen & Unwin, 2017
ISBN 9781760297244

Flying High, by Sally Morgan & Ezekiel Kwaymullina, illustrated by Craig Smith

Flying HighIf a set of wings suddenly grew out of my back, I’d be over the moon! I haven’t told any of my friends about my dream of flying. They’d just laugh at me. Every kid knows there are good laughs and bad laughs. I’m sick of the bad laughs.

Larni struggles at school. Words and letters don’t keep still on the page, and the other kids laugh at her – even her friends. So she can’t wait for the school holidays, when she is going on a plane to visit her Gran up north.
Gran is delighted to see Larni, but sad when Larni says she isn’t good at anything. Gran assures her that she will find the thing she is good at. Sure enough, when Gran sits down to her sculpture proejct, Larni finds that she has a special talent for making things.

Flying High is a short chapter book about self-confidence, and family ties, especially between grandparents and grandchildren.

This is the latest of several books by Morgan and Kwaymullina, a mother-son team, and illustrated by Craig Smith. Each story is a stand alone tale, but all feature indigenous chidlren and their families doing things which all children will relate to – family outings, holdiays, spending time with extended family and so on. As such, these books are not only a wonderful opportunity to engage indigenous children, but also for children of all backgrounds, who are offered so many books with anglo-saxon characters, or where non-anglo characters confront issues of difference. The issues here – learning difficulties, self-belief and family closensess – are universal.

With lots of illustrative support and accessible text Flying High is suitable for junior primary or for older readers who require extra support.

Flying High, by Sally Mprgan & Ezekiel Kwaymullina, illustrated by Craig Smith
Omnibus Books, 2015
ISBN 978174299070

Available from good bookstores and online.

Celia and Nonna by Victoria Lane, ill Kayleen West

Celia loves sleepovers at Nonna’s house. Nonna roasts and bakes.

The kitchen fills with delicious smells that tickle Celia’s nose.

‘How’s my little angel/” Nonna whispers in Celia’s ear.

Celia tugs open her special cupboard. It is full of secrets.

Jigsaw puzzles, colouring books and felts – all her favourite things.

Celia loves sleepovers at Nonna’s house. Nonna roasts and bakes.

The kitchen fills with delicious smells that tickle Celia’s nose.

‘How’s my little angel/” Nonna whispers in Celia’s ear.

Celia tugs open her special cupboard. It is full of secrets.

Jigsaw puzzles, colouring books and felts – all her favourite things.

Celia loves to visit her grandmother, Nonna. Together they cook and play, draw and share stories. But Nonna is becoming forgetful. Each forgetting is small, but together they mean that it’s not safe for her to live alone anymore. So Nonna is moving to a new home, a single room. There is only just room for Nonna, no space for Celia to stay and very little that is familiar. It doesn’t smell right either, no cooking smells, no smells that belong to Nonna’s house. Celia begins to draw the things she loved about Nonna’s house, beginning with the outside. Picture by picture, Celia adds to the collection for Nonna’s wall. Nonna loves Celia’s pictures and Celia loves that she can still share time with Nonna. Illustrations are full page in warm colours and depict the loving relationship between Celia and her grandmother. The font has been particularly chosen to assist readers with dyslexia.

It can be difficult to understand why life has to change, when a loved grandparent can no longer live in their home. Celia and Nonna suggests that a relationship is more than walls and windows, more than just the place where the memories are set. With help, new memories can be created, memories that build on what was and give meaning to new circumstances. Many young readers will relate to the closeness that a child can share with a grandparent and will rejoice that Celia finds a way to enjoy and decorate Nonna’s new home. It also demonstrates that a child can have an active role in establishing belonging in a new place. Celia and Nonna may also help young children understand changes that they are experiencing in their own family. Recommended for pre- and early-schoolers.

 

Celia and Nonna, Victoria Lane ill Kayleen West Ford Street Publishing 2014 ISBN: 9781925000603

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s author and bookseller

www.clairesaxby.com