Anzac Biscuits, by Phil Cummings and Owen Swan

The fire crackled and Rachel was warm.
‘Let’s make some biscuits for Dad,’ her mother said.
‘Yes, let’s!’ Rachel cried.

Rachel and her mother are at home on the family farm in Australia. Far away (presumably, though this isn’t stated, in Europe), her father, a soldier, battles the cold, the mud and the horrors of war. As Rachel and Mum bake Anzac biscuits, they are unknowingly linked to Dad. When the biscuits are baked, they will be sent to Dad, making that link real.

Anzac Biscuits is a beautiful story of love and connection, particularly in times of war. In alternate spreads we see Rachel and her mother making the biscuits, then Dad cold and afraid on the battlefield. The actions are subtly linked – when Mother dons a flower-patterned apron, and Rachel accidentally drops a pan, Dad lies low from the banging of rifle shots in a flower-strewn field; when Rachel licks her sticky treacle fingers, Dad’s feet are sticky with mud.

Text and illustration are both simple and touching. The war scenes are are depicted in greys whilst the home scenes are warm creamy sepias and blues. The images of war focus on the harshness of the conditions and the emotions of the lonely soldiers rather than on more startling battlefield images, making the story accessible to young children.

A lovely tale, and a beautiful way of introducing both the subject of war and the history of Anzac biscuits. And, if you’re like me, you may find yourself inspired to whip up a batch of biscuits after reading.

Anzac Biscuits

Anzac Biscuits, by Phil Cummings & Owen Swan
Scholastic, 2013
ISBN 9781742833460

Available from good bookstores and online.

Finding Jasper, by Lynne Leonhardt

The floorboards were hard and uneven as she knelt beside the Saratoga. Squeezing the corroded latch, Gin carefully eased open the lid, trying to predict the treasures inside. The lining was shabby and mottled with mildew, and drifts of mustiness filled the air as she began to unearth the contents from the shrouding dust. Mostly books, she found, a few toys, and a fat-cheeked doll lying naked on top. What had she expected?

When twelve year old Gin is sent to stay with her Aunt on the family farm, she is at first scared and homesick, but her Aunt Attie proves to be a caring, interesting companion. While her mother takes a cruise holiday without her, Gin shares Attie’s quiet, but busy, life on the farm. It is here she also starts to learn about her father, Jasper, who she never met.

Finding Jasper is the tale of four women, from three generations of one family, impacted by the absence of Jasper, a son, brother, husband and father who does not return from fighting in World War II. Each woman must cope in her own way and, although they have each other, at times it seems that the only thing binding them is the absent Jasper.

Central to the story is Gin – Virginia – the baby daughter of Jasper and his English war bride Valerie. Sent to Australia to wait for Jasper’s return, the pair live first on the family farm in the South West and then, when Valerie can stand the country no longer, in Perth. Whilst Valerie moves on and remarries, Gin’s connection with her Aunt Attie, Jasper’s twin sister, provides an anchor in turbulent times. Whilst Gin is often the viewpoint character, the reader is also treated to the perspectives of Attie and Valerie and occasionally, Audrey, Attie and Jasper’s mother, and Gin’s grandmother.

Set in the 1940s, 50s and 60s, the story is not told linearly, with the novel broken into three parts set in 1956, 1945 and 1963 respectively, allowing the reader to re-evaluate what they think they know and to develop a greater understanding of each of the women’s experiences. The journey through the Western Australia of the times is also fascinating, with the South West and the Nedlands area particularly featured.

As a tale of the impact of war on families, Finding Jasper is excellent, but it is also an absorbing portrayal of time and place, and an exploration of four strong, very human, women. This is the kind of story which leaves you wanting to check up on the characters time and again.

Finding Jasper

Finding Jasper, by Lynne Leonhardt
Margaret River Press, 2012
ISBN 9780987218056

Available from good book stores or online.

Miss Understood, by James Roy

This is my story. (Not this bit, though – everything that comes after this.) But like I said, this is my story. Me, Lizzie Adams. It’s a story about some stuff that happened to me, and to some of the people I know, and it’s completely true. All of it. because I don’t lie, honest. And if I do ever happen tot ell a lie or do something ‘silly’, it’s always an accident. Never on purpose.

Miss Understood

Lizzie is often in trouble at her school, Our Lady of the Sacred Wimple College, so when she almost sets the school on fire, it’s the last straw. She finds herself expelled, and condemned to being home schooled by her mum. Mum is a teacher, so she knows all about how to teach Lizzie, but Lizzie isn’t impressed. At home there’s no playground, no friends, not even a proper recess. What she wants to do is to prove that she is responsible enough to go back to school, but that isn’t going to be easy.

Miss Understood is a heart warming, gently funny tale of being good and being misunderstood. Lizzie wants to do the right thing, but it doesn’t always work out right, something most readers will relate to, and the story also deals with important issues including adult depression and family in a way accessible to young readers.

Roy has a gift for making stories both entertaining and thought-provoking.

Miss Understood, by James Roy
Woolshed Press, 2012
ISBN

Available from good bookstores and online.

Come on Everybody, Time to Play, by Nigel Gray & Bob Graham

Sunday morning.
No school today.
Where is everybody?
It’s time to play.

Come on Everybody, Time to Play!

It’s Sunday morning, which means no school – so why is the narrator of this story the only one up? That’s not really a problem, because she’ll soon have them all moving – cats and kittens, dogs and puppies, little brothers, and even Mum and Dad, will soon be awake and part of her games.

This is a lovely family story of waking up and spending time together. Told in catchy rhyming text which encourages prediction by even very young readers, and also supports guessing of what is under the flaps on some of the spreads. Sturdy card stock and a toddler friendly size ensure this will withstand frequent loving (and reading!).

First published in 2008, and newly released.

Come on Everybody, Time to Play!, by Nigel Gray & Bob Graham
Walker Books, 2012
ISBN 9781921529528

Available in good bookstores and online.

The Beginner's Guide to Revenge, by Marianne Musgrove

I’m still not entirely sure what happened. One minute I was telling my friends how nervous I was about reading a poem on ANZAC Day, how they were expecting twenty or thirty thousand people to show up to the Dawn Service, how it was going to be broadcast on national TV. The Next minute Riley announces she doesn’t believe in glorifying war and she’s not attending on principle.

Romola should be used to changing schools – this is the fifth time she’s done it. But it isn’t easy, and this time she’s determined not to mess it up. She is going to make friends, and keep them whatever it takes. All she has to do is keep her mouth shut and not do anything outlandish. But Riley, one of the ‘in’ girls and supposedly Romola’s new friend, doesn’t make it easy. Whenever Romola likes something, it seems Riley doesn’t.

Sebastian has problems, too. His mum has hooked up with a new guy, and now they’re talking about getting married. If that happens, Sebastian’s mum and dad can never get back together.

Sebastian and Romola don’t know each other, but fate throws them together, and soon the pair are friends, helping each other through some tough times, and exchanging tips for getting through. Both are out for revenge – but as they get to know each other, and themselves, a bit better, they realise that revenge isn’t always sweet.

The Beginner’s Guide to Revenge is a fabulous dual perspective tale of friendship and family – and revenge. Told with humour, it is nonetheless a book which addresses serious issues, including family dynamics, the impact of war, peer pressure and belonging.

The Beginner's Guide to Revenge

Suitable for readers aged ten and over.
The Beginner’s Guide to Revenge, by Marianne Musgrove
Woolshed Press, 2012
ISBN 978174275086

Available from good bookstores or online from Fishpond. Buying through this link supports Aussiereviews.

A Straight Line to My Heart, by Bill Condon

Tiff loves to read – but she’s pretty surprised to meet a boy who likes to read, too. What’s even more surprising is that Davey seems to want to get know her. Maybe things are about to turn around for her. But it’s not going to be plain sailing for Tiff…

There’s nothing quite as good as folding up into a book and shutting the world outside. If I pick the right one I can be beautiful, or fall in love, or live happily ever after. Maybe even all three.

If you can’t get a boy, get a book, that’s my motto.

Tiff loves to read – but she’s pretty surprised to meet a boy who likes to read, too. What’s even more surprising is that Davey seems to want to get know her. Maybe things are about to turn around for her.

But it’s not going to be plain sailing for Tiff. She’s just finished school for ever and is about to start work experience at the local paper, a stepping stone to the career as a journalist she’s always dreamed of. The reporter there, Shark, is hard-nosed and seemingly unimpressed to have a new recruit to take under his wing. Tiff’s best friend, Kayla, has some big news to share with her that she’s nt going to like. And at home, Reggie – part grandad, part father, part mart – is coughing  alot, and giving up smoking because, as he declares, he’s cactus.

A Straight Line to My Heart is a brilliant, touching, story of life, first love, and family – in its different forms. Tiff’s mother died when she was born, and there’s no mention of her brith father, but Reggie and his step son Bull are family enough for her. Kayla, her best friend, also has a mixed up family, finding a way to be together, and Tiff’s new family at the newspaper proves to be an unlikely source of support for her.

Bill Condon has a reputation for excellence. His previous novel, Confessions of a Liar, thief and Failed Sex God, was the winner of the inaugural Young Adult Fiction prize int he Prime Minsiter’s Literary Awards, and No Worries was an honour book in the CBCA Awards. A Straight Line to My Heart will not disappoint fans of Condon’s  work, and will win him plenty of new ones as well.But that doesn’t mean it’s an easy book to read. There is humour and warmth, but there’s tough stuff, too, and if you’re prone to crying at sad bits, you’ll need tissues for this one.

Just brilliant.
A Straight Line to My Heart

A Straight Line to My Heart, by Bill Condon

Allen & Unwin, 2011 ISBN 9781742377308

This book can be purchased in any good bookstore, or online from Fishpond. Buying through this link supports Aussiereviews.