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

Love, Ghosts & Nose Hair and A Place Like This, by Steven Herrick

I’m a normal guy.
An average sixteen-year-old.
I think about sex, sport and nose hair.
Sex mostly.
How to do it,
how to get someone to do it with me,
who I should ask for advice.

Jack is a pretty average sixteen year old boy. He worries about sport and nose hair, and how to get a girl. But not just any girl: Annabel. He also talks to a ghost: the ghost of his mother, who died seven years ago. As he gets closer to Annabel, he wonders whether it’s time to let his mother go.

First published in 1996, Love, Ghosts & Nose Hair is a classic verse novel for young adult readers. Exploring themes of first love, bereavement and family, as well as teens coming of age, in the honest verse form for which Herrick is known. With Jack as the main viewpoint character, there are also poems from the point of view of his father, his sister Desiree and his girlfriend Annabel, just one of the facets which makes the verse novel form special. Readers are taken inside the head of these different characters with an intimacy which the verse novel form especially facilitates.

This intimacy is also seen in A Place Like This, first published in 1998 and picking up on the story of Jack and Annabel two years later. Having finished school and both successfully got places at university, the pair instead decide to take a year off to work and travel. But, closer to home than they had planned, they find themselves picking apples on a farm where another teen, Emma, is struggling with a pregnancy and her uncertain future.

This classic pair of verse novels from Australia’s finest verse novelist for young adults has been republished  by UQP,  meaning they are now easily available for a new audience, and for teens who have grown up with some of Herrick’s work for younger readers.

Love, Ghosts & Nose Hair, ISBN 9780702228780
A Place like This ISBN 9780702229848
Both by Steven Herrick
UQP, 2017

The Mother’s Promise, by Sally Hepworth

If she’d felt a jolt earlier, this was a canon, blowing a giant hole right through her. Cancer. Had they used that word earlier? She didn’t remember it.
Apparently appeased by her expression – finally the reaction they’d been waiting for – the doctor began to explain it all again, a third or maybe fourth time. Once again, Alice zoned out. because she couldn’t have cancer. She was barely forty, she ate well, exercised occasionally. More importantly, she couldn’t have cancer. She had Zoe.

Since Zoe was born, it has always been just her and Alice. And that’s the way they have both preferred it. Alice has never shared the story of Zoe’s conception, sure that she is enough for Zoe. And for Zoe, who lives with crippling social anxiety, Alice is enough for her. So, when Alice is told she has cancer, her first thought is for Zoe. Who will be there for her daughter? With her parents both dead, and her only remaining relative, her brother, a hopeless alcoholic, Alice reaches out to women newly in her life – her oncology nurse, Kate, and her social worker, Sonja. the three women have more in common than they could ever realise.

The Mother’s Promise is a moving story of strength, friendship and love. While Alice deals with her own battle, each of her two unlikely new friends also has her own private battle to face. At the same time her daughter, Zoe, must deal both with her mother’s illness and with her anxiety and its consequences.

Though the subject matter could make this grim, the story is both warmly and compellingly told.

The Mother’s Promise, by Sally Hepworth
Pan Macmillan, 2017
ISBN 9781925479959

The Shark Caller, by Dianne Wolfer

I stared into the shark’s unblinking eye. The voices grew louder. It felt like they were calling me. I tried to understand, but the mako’s black eyes were frightening. I looked away.
The voices stopped. 

Isabel (Izzy) and her mother are returning home to the place she was born – an island in Papua New Guinea. Izzy loves her home, but this time, her journey is sad. They are taking the ashes of her much-loved twin brother home to be scattered.

On the island, Izzy and her mother start to heal, but Izzy also sees that the island is changing. The environment is changing, threatened by logging and modern technologies, and the sharks no longer answer the cries of the village shark callers. The clan needs someone to take an offering deep beneath the sea in a traditional offering to the shark god. The person must be a twin from the shark-calling lineage. Lizzie is the last twin. I will take great courage to even attempt the challenge.

The Shark Caller is a gripping, moving story of bereavement and courage, combining contemporary realism with fantasy elements. The issues of grief and of family obligations are combined with broader issues of environmental change and the impact of modernisation on traditional communities and ecocultures.

Suitable from readers in upper primary and beyond.

The Shark Caller, by Dianne Wolfer
Penguin Books, 2016
ISBN 9780143780557

A Shadow’s Breath, by Nicole Hayes

‘We need to get out of here,’ Nick says.
Tessa nods gingerly. She must have hit her head at some point; pain like a knife presses behind her ear, and she’s plagued by the constant feeling of battling to stay conscious. She feels trapped and helpless, but she knows they can’t stay in the car.

Tessa’s life has been difficult for a long time: the death of her father when she was just eleven was followed by her mother’s battle with alcohol and an abusive new partner. Lately, though, things have been improving. It’s just Tess and her mum at home, and Tessa has a boyfriend, Nick, who she adores. Now, though, Tessa and Nick are in trouble. A corner taken too fast on an remote road has left them trapped in a car. No body knows where they are, and it’s up to Tess to lead them to safety. Thing is, she isn’t sure that she wants to be found: maybe it is all to hard to carry on.

A Shadow’s Breath is a heart wrenching tale of bravery in the midst of terrible circumstances. Using alternating chapters of ‘Then’ -(Tessa’s life before the accident) and ‘Now’ (the aftermath of the accident, and Tessa’s struggle to find a way out of the wilderness she and Nick have crashed in) the story gradually reveals both what lead to the crash and the days following, inviting readers to unravel events as they gain more understanding.

Both beautiful and heartbreaking, A Shadow’s Breath is a journey readers will be glad they took.

A Shadow’s Breath, by Nicole Hayes
Random House, 2017
ISBN 9780143781097

Blame, by Nicole Trope

She really would like to know if there is any point in her continuing to exist, continuing to feed and dress herself, or even get out of bed in the mornings. She doesn’t think she has ever looked this thin and this old. At a certain point, she seems to have crossed a boundary between waif-like and haggard. ‘So what,’ she thinks, staring at the reflection of her collarbones in the police station mirror. ‘So what.’

Anna and Caro have been best friends since they met a child health clinic when their daughters were babies. Now, though, something terrible has happened. Anne’s daughter is dead, as the result of a terrible accident. And Caro was driving the car that claimed her life.Both women – and their families – are devastated, but now each must make sense of her own version of events.

Blame is a gripping tale of two women and their unraveling of the events which lead to a terrible tragedy. Set over the two days that each is interviewed by police investigating the accident, as well as through each woman’s memories of their friendship and of the complicated, challenging events they have helped each other through over the past ten years.

The issues explored – of loss, betrayal, drink-driving and the complexities of parenthood – are emotionally challenging, but the story is compelling, with the immediacy of the two-day time frame keeping pages turning.

Unforgettable.

Blame, by Nicole Trope
Allen & Unwin, 2016
ISBN 9781760293154

Bro, by Helen Chebatte

Image result for bro helen chebatte hardie grant’Bro, listen to me,’ Diz pleads, sliding to the edge of his seat and holding out his hands. ‘Fight club’s for posers. Lebs fight for good reason, not to show off. You don’t need to prove nothing’.’
’He’s challeng
ed me, bro. What do you want me to do? Say no? Do you want him to tell everyone Lebs are chickens? He’s had one Leb fight him and he’s already bagging us out.’

Romeo Machlouf is in year ten at a boys school. He has good mates and tries to stay out of trouble, though it isn’t always easy. When a fight club starts up, he isn’t interested – he doesn’t want to fight. But he might not have a choice, because Lebs stick together, and don’t take any crap from Ozzies, or from Fobs either.

Bro is a coming of age story about growing up: first love, identity, violence and its consequences are all explored through the first person voice of Romeo. At the same time, the themes of belonging and race are explored both dramatically and poignantly. Romeo and his friends are all ‘Lebs’ – Australian born but of Lebanese descent (though Romeo’s mother was not Lebanese) – and the school and their broader social circle is very much divided into racial groups . The other groups include the Fobs (‘fresh off the boat’), Maoris, Samoans, Tongans and other islanders ; the Rez (an Arabic word for rice, Asian students; and the Ozzies, “white skinned boys”. Tensions between the groups often run high, and the fight club that springs up in the school is contested along race lines.

An emotional read, Bro tackles important issues in a really accessible way.

Bro, by Helen Chebatte
Hardie Grant Egmont, 2016
ISBN 9781760125509

Mister Cassowary, by Samantha Wheeler

Mister CassowarySuddenly something big stepped out from the bushes on the road up ahead. It looked like a giant emu but with jet black feathers and a long blue neck. It’s sclay legs reminded me of a dinosaur’s.
‘Dad?’
But Dad was looking in the rear vision mirror at the jetty.
The creature ran out onto the bitumen.
‘Dad! WATCH OUT!’

Flynn has never visited his Grandad Barney’s banana plantation, and he doesn’t understand why. But now Grandad has died, and Flynn and Dad are on their way to clean it up, ready for sale. On the way, Flynn’s first encounter with a cassowary is when one runs out in front of their car, but it isn’t long before he discovers that his grandfather was passionate about protecting the big birds. His dad, on the other hand, hates them – and seems to be scared of them. As Flynn tries to find out what happened to Grandad Barney and what this has to do with Dad’s fear, he discovers two orphaned baby cassowaries and becomes their secret protector.
Mister Cassowary is a moving adventure story. Flynn and his dad’s relationship is good, but because Dad works away, they don’t know each other as well as either would like. This adds to the story, with tension between them as Flynn tries to convince his dad not to be overprotective and to be honest with him about the past.
Readers will enjoy learning about cassowaries through the story and through back of book facts about this unusual bird.
Mister Cassowary, by Samantha Wheeler
UQP, 2015
ISBN 9780702253881

Leap by Myfanwy Jones

She comes when the others are out, announced by Sanjay’s Bollywood door chime; tinny and overwrought, its siren song ricochets along the ceiling and through his muscles as Joe takes the five long strides of the corridor. He was looking at YouTube clips and as he moves towards the door his fists clench and unclench, fingers unfurl, furl, in a subliminal sequence.

Last days of autumn and the air is like blood: it is hard to sense wehre the body ends and the atmosphere begins. He was not expecting anyone but here she is.

9781925266115.jpgShe comes when the others are out, announced by Sanjay’s Bollywood door chime; tinny and overwrought, its siren song ricochets along the ceiling and through his muscles as Joe takes the five long strides of the corridor. He was looking at YouTube clips and as he moves towards the door his fists clench and unclench, fingers unfurl, furl, in a subliminal sequence.

Last days of autumn and the air is like blood: it is hard to sense wehre the body ends and the atmosphere begins. He was not expecting anyone but here she is.

Joe lives in a house with friends, works two jobs and exists, guilt-ridden by an event in his past. He also practises parkour, which can be defined by three actions: running; climbing; and jumping. Then a girl knocks on the door, wanting to rent the vacant space for a short time.

Elise lives elsewhere in Melbourne. She knows her marriage is dying but is unable to do anything but watch. She spends way too much time at the zoo, watching and drawing tigers. Leap follows both Joe and Elise as they try to move on with their lives after tragedy. ‘Leap’, like parkour, is divided into three sections: Running; Leaping; and Jumping.

A tiger wraps around the cover in this novel about loss and love. Both main characters are crippled by their grief, holding tight to their loss. Leap is the story of their attempts to live on, the links between them, the differences on how they view the past, the future. It’s a story of family and friends and support and independence. The tiger is both a real presence and a metaphor for the grief experienced by both characters. ‘Leap’ is a beautifully written novel that will keep the reader turning pages, hoping that there is relief, release, redemption, hope for everyone. Recommended for readers who enjoy realistic fiction with heart.

Leap, Myfanwy Jones
Allen & Unwin 2015
ISBN: 9781925266115

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s author and bookseller

www.clairesaxby.com

Shine: A Story About Saying Goodbye, by Trace Balla

Shine
And when they looked up into the sky,
there, shining brightest of all, was their special star,
the star called Shine.
‘This was their daddy’s star,
looking down on them, shining its bright.
golden light onto them and into their hearts,
for ever and ever.

Far away and long ago, a young horse lives amongst the golden stars. His name is Shine, and when he meets a lovely horse named Glitter, they are both happy – especially when they have two children, Shimmer and Sparkly. But the time comes when Shine has to go back to the stars, leaving Glitter and the children in mourning. Glitter cries and cries, but after a while she and the children climb a mountain to see the golden ocean that their tears have made. Not only do they see the vast ocean, but they also see the stars in the sky – including the special star, Shine.

Shine is a poignant tale of love and loss, told in simple way which helps to explore the topics of death and grief both for children in similar situations as well as for those who may not yet have experienced such loss.

Created by Trace Balla for her sister and her chidlren after the loss of their husband and father, Shine is a beuatiful gift for that family and for other families too.

Shine, by Trace Balla
Allen & Unwin, 2015
ISBN 9781743316344

Available from good bookstores and online.