February Reads

Another month has passed, and so it’s time to have a look at what I read for February. Pleasing to see my balance being restored towards my chief love – books for children. This month I indulged my six year old self and tracked down old copies of AA Milne’s poetry from Ebay. I loved rediscovering them and have moved from there to lots of other verse and poetry, so look out for them in my March list and beyond.

I only read 12 books, and several of them were short, which is a reflection of how busy my life has been of late. I’m a so reading a lot of journal articles which don’t make it into this list.

Those I’ve reviewed I’ve linked to, as always.

In Falling Snow Mary-Rose MacColl Allen & Unwin Adult
Red Fox Sandy Fussell Walker Books Children’s
Lost Voices Christopher Koch Fourth Estate Adult
The Rosie Black Chronicles Lara Morgan Walker Books Young Adult
When We Were Very Young AA Milne Dean Children’s Poetry
The Girl From Snowy River Jackie French Harper Collins Young Adult
Now We Are Six AA Milne Dean Children’s Poetry
Stories for 7 Year Olds Linsay Knight (ed) Random House Children’s
Unreviewed Adult
Rocket Into Space Ragbir Bhathal and Johanna Davids National Library Children’s NF
Topsy-Turvy World Kirsty Murray National Library Children’s NF
Catch the Zolt Phillip Gwynne Allen & Unwin Young Adult

Topsy-turvy World, by Kirsty Murray

To the first Europeans who came to Australia, everything about the new land was topsy-turvy. Christmas was in summer instead of winter. Trees shed their bark instead of their leaves. The smells sounds and tastes of the new land were nothing like Europe. Everything they assumed about the way the world was made was turned inside out and upside down.

The title of Topsy Turvy World: How Australian Animals Puzzled Early Explorers says it all. This intriguing offering looks at some of Australia’s unique animals, and at how they were seen by first Europeans to encounter them.

For each animal there is a description of first contact with, and impressions of, the animal, followed by an exploration of the characteristics of the animal, under the heading ‘What the Europeans needed to learn’, accompanied by a ‘Fast Facts’ box. Illustrations have been sourced from the National Library of Australia’s collection, allowing readers to see the early illustrations and contrast them with the reality.

This beautifully designed hard cover offering is suitable for classroom, library or home reading.

Topsy Turvy World: How Australian Animals Puzzled Early Explorers

Topsy Turvy World: How Australian Animals Puzzled Early Explorers, by Kirsty Murray
National Library of Australia Press, 2012
ISBN 9780642277497

Available from good bookstores or

India Dark, by Kirsty Murray

Daisy opened her mouth and lies flew out. Her face so pink and white, her lips so plump and sweet, her lies so vile. I had to cover my ears>
I shut my eyes, wanting to block out the courtroom, to neither see nor hear the evil: but Tilly grabbed my arm and twisted the skin on my wrist in a Chinese burn.
‘Poesy Swift,’ she whispered, her breath hot against my neck, ‘open your eyes, and take that look off your face. We will never get home if you ruin everything.’

When Poesy Swift has the opportunity to join a travelling performance troupe, she is excited. She will get to see the world, singing and dancing, and earning some money for her family – the family she can’t wait to get away from. But when the trip heads to India instead of America, as planned, the trip takes a turn for the worse. As India simmers with the tension of a crumbling Empire, the troupe is also gradually torn apart by ill fortune and by tension.

Set in 1910, and based on the true story of the Lilliputian Opera Company, this is a story of adventure, and coming of age. Murray brings the period and the settings to life, using dual viewpoint characters supported by a strongly fleshed out cast of players. At times the reader is asked to choose which of the two main characters to believe as the onetime friends grow increasingly apart and each interprets the other’s actions in different ways. This adds a layer of interest which keeps the reader absorbed.

Like Murray’s earlier historical novels, the tale is both believable and intriguing.

India Dark, by Kirsty Murray
Allen & Unwin, 2010

Vulture's Gate, by Kirsty Murray

Callum felt the rumble of roadtrains, and froze. Black shadows skittered across the blinds as a convoy pulled up outside. Outstationers. If only he hadn’t insisted on staying home alone. Instinctively, he dived for the floor.
The red neon sign at the gates of the compound flashed a warning across the surrounding desert, but Callum knew his fathers were still miles away.

When Callum is kidnapped by Outstationers, all he wants is to be reunited with his fathers, with whom he always felt safe and loved. Now, though, he is running for his life, fleeing his captors and desperate to get to Vulture’s Gate to be reunited with his fathers. Along the way he meets Bo, who rescues him from certain death. Bo is brave and clever – but she shouldn’t be alive, because she’s a girl, and girls are extinct.

Together Bo and Callum cross the continent, hunting and gathering food, scavenging fuel and avoiding the many dangers. If they can reach Vultures’ gate, Callum assures Bo, they’ll find his fathers and they’ll be safe. But nothing prepares them for the world they find in Vulture’s gate.

Vulture’s Gate is a futuristic thriller for young adult readers, which explores a post-plague world where women have become extinct, and a thing to be feared. Bo, it appears for much of the book, could be the last girl – but when they reach Vulture’s Gate they find that this is not quite true. The place of women (and girls), and of children, is explored in a dystopic future, but while these issues are explored, the story is very much plot driven, with the issues a wonderful backdrop, leaving the reader thinking both about the possibilities of such a future, and real world attitidues.

Vulture’s Gate is a wonderful read from a wonderful author.

Vulture's Gate

Vulture’s Gate, by Kirsty Murray
Allen & Unwin, 2009

This book can be purchased online at Fishpond. Buying through this link supports Aussiereviews.

A Penny to Remember, by Kirsty Murray

‘I want you to remember the best times we’ve had. You and me together.’
Hannah turned the coin over and gazed at it in wonder. Carefully etched into the metal was a picture of a boy and a girl, two small figures holding hands. They were dressed plainly, the boy in a jacket, the girl in a simple dress. In an arc above their heads were two words. Hannah recognised the letter ‘H’.

When George is sentenced to be transported to Van Diemen’s Land, his greatest heartache is being separated from his sister Hannah. But another convict suggests a token he can leave behind for Hannah to remember him by – a love token made from a penny. Soon, George is on his way to Van Diemen’s Land and Hannah is at home in England wearing the penny on a ribbon around her neck. Is there any hope that they’ll ever be together again?

A Penny to Remember is a short chapter book for primary school aged readers, bringing the convict era alive for young readers. Part of the Making Tracks series from the National Museum of Australia Press, the story focuses on two young protagonists and is told from their alternate viewpoints in third person narrative.

The use of young characters and a real object from the museum’s collection helps to make Australian history accessible to young readers.

A Penny to Remember, by Kirsty Murray
National Museum of Australia Press, 2007

The Secret Life of Maeve Lee Kwong, by Kirsty Murray

I keep thinking I’ll see him at any moment. It’s crazy. I don’t even know what he looks like. And it shouldn’t matter that I can’t find him. I’ve been fine for 14 years without him. Sorry, this is a stupid email. Hope everything in Sydney is cool. MLK

Maeve has a good life. She lives with her mother, baby brother and step-father in Sydney, has two best friends who do everything together, and loves dancing and acting. But when her mother is killed in a car accident, her life is torn apart. Her strict Chinese grandparents insist she comes to live with them in Queensland. In the turmoil that follows, Maeve starts to wonder about the father she has never met. Could finding him be the key to putting her life back together?

This is the fourth and final book in the Children of the Wind quartet and is set in the present day, completing the journey through the last 150 years of Australia’s history which the series has offered. Like the earlier titles, this book stands alone, with fans of the series enjoying the challenge of seeing where the lives of the characters overlap.

Maeve’s story is gripping – she reaches highs and lows which will stir readers’ hearts, as she explores challenges common to many contemporary teenagers, as well as ones which no teenager should ever have to face, such as the death of a parent.

This is a satisfying end to a satisfying series.

The Secret life of Maeve Lee Kwong, by Kirsty Murray
Allen & Unwin, 2006

Becoming Billy Dare

The words filled Paddy with a melancholy longing for his home. He thought of his mother and their very last conversation. ‘Remember, Paddy,’ she had said, ‘the greatest person in all the world is the priest…May the Lord kindle the flame in your heart and fill you with his goodness, darling boy.’

When Paddy Delaney leaves home, it is to travel to Dublin to enter St Columcille’s seminary , where he will eventually become a priest. But events there spiral beyond Paddy’s control and soon he finds himself stowing away on a ship bound for Australia.

Landing in Australia proves to be a challenge – when the ship is shipwrecked – but Paddy soon finds himself travelling the country with a circus, before trying to rough out a life for himself in Melbourne. Before he finds peace, he needs to identify his true gift.

Becoming Billy Dare is an absorbing historical novel, the second in the Children of the Wind quartet. Rich in historical detail this is a self-contained offering, but readers of the first in the series Bridie’s Fire will be happy with the overlap between the two, which sees an adult Bridie play a role.

Good stuff.

Becoming Billy Dare, by Kirsty Murray
Allen & Unwin, 2004

A Prayer for Blue Delaney, by Kirsty Murray

I’ll tell you about it. It’s a marvellous place. There’s kangaroos and horses to ride, and fruit simply falling from the trees. There are families that want boys like you, families with farms where they have their own milk and cream with breakfast every day. No one’s ever hungry in Australia. It’s a land of plenty and the sun shines every single day of the year. SO now, who’d like to go to Australia?

When Colm is offered the chance to leave England and move to Australia with other orphan boys, he doesn’t want to go. His mother has left him at the orphanage and one day, he believes, she will come back for him. But the choice isn’t Colm’s. Soon he is on a ship bound for Australia, and a new life.

In Western Australia Colm finds himself in Christian Brothers boys’ homes – first at Clontarf and then Bindoon. When he runs away from Bindoon he heads for Fremantle, hoping to find a way home. What he finds instead is a new life, in the company of Billy Dare and his dog Rusty. Together they travel first to the Goldfields and then across Australia’s stark centre, working along the Dog Fence. But it is when Billy falls ill that Colm goes to Melbourne and meets Blue Delaney, Bill’s daughter.

A Prayer for Blue Delaney is the third book in the Children of the Wind quartet. It stands alone from its predecessors, but overlaps with the central character from the previous book, Billy Dare, reappearing here as mentor to the young Colm. This much acclaimed series is an outstanding example of historical fiction – exploring an era with accuracy yet with a story which young people will relate to their own lives. Colm’s quest for a sense of self and family is a universal one.

Great stuff.

A Prayer for Blue Delaney, by Kirsty Murray
Allen & Unwin, 2005

Bridie's Fire, by Kirsty Murray

Thirty percent of Australians have Irish ancestry and a quarter of convicts sent to Australia were Irish. It was this fact, combined with a concern at the lack of Australian historical fiction that lead Kirsty Murray to write the Children of the Wind series.

In this first book, Bridie O’Connor finds herself alone in the workhouse after her family die of hunger during the potato famine. At the age of eleven she is given the chance to go to Australia where she is given work as a scullery maid for a wealthy Melbourne family.

But being a scullery maid is not part of Bridie’s dream for a better life. Together with the younger son of the house, Gilbert, she sets out for the goldfields, looking for fortune and happiness.

Bridie’s Fire is a gripping read for 10 to 14 year olds, creating a deep sense of time and place which will draw the young reader in.

Bridie’s Fire, by Kirsty Murray
Allen & Unwin, 2003

Walking Home With Marie-Claire, by Kirsty Murray

Pauline has never met anybody like Marie-Claire, who walks into her classroom one day and changes her outlook on life. Being with Marie-Claire is exciting. Marie-Claire’s father is a former Russian prince and her brother a Vietnam war hero. Marie-Claire knows how to have fun!

Pauline’s once close-knit family is falling apart. Her older brother Brian is a draft-dodger and her older sister Sue has run away from home. Her Mum and Dad are unhappy and don’t even seem to see her. So spending time with Marie-Claire provides a welcome escape for Pauline.

But sometimes things aren’t as they seem. Sometimes Marie-Claire’s actions are just a little too dangerous, and other times she contradicts herself. When she disappears, Pauline begins to see a different picture – and isn’t sure she likes it.

Walking Home With Marie-Claire is an exploration of family, friendship and the pressures of conformity. Its seventies backdrop gives it a touch of nostalgia for adult readers, and a touch of mystique for younger ones, as well as allowing issues of freedom and conformity to be explored through the turbulent times of the Vietnam War and the youth culture of the time.

Walking Home With Marie-Claire will particularly appeal to readers aged 10 to 14 years and would be suitable for the classroom context in the early years of secondary school.

Walking Home With Marie-Claire, by Kirsty Murray
Allen & Unwin, 2002