Within These Walls, by Robyn Bavati

There had been cellars like this in the ghetto; almost all the buildings in Warsaw had them. I’d hidden in them often – to avoid the roundups and escape deportation – but never for days on end, and never alone.
I didn’t know how long I’d have to stay there. Or how long I could survive on a daily potato and a little water.

Miri’s life in Warsaw is simple but happy. She has loving family, and loves family holidays, and evenings when her father comes home from work and they are all together. But when the Germans invade Poland and reach Warsaw, life changes. First there are rules: Jews cannot be educated, Jews must not work, and, finally, all Jews must move to the ghetto.Life in the ghetto is a struggle, and, one by one, Miri sees her family either disappear or die. Finally, alone, she has a chance to survive when she is smuggled out of the ghetto.

Based on true events, Within These Walls is a wrenching story of survival amidst the horrors of the Holocaust. Miri is eight years old at the start of the book and has a child-like view of the world, which changes as she ages and in line with the terrible things she experiences. The use of such a first person narrator makes the story very real. Miri’s character is, in part, based on the specific experiences of one child, and all events are based on things which really happened.

Part of the My Holcaust Story series, Within These Walls makes this disturbing part of history accessible to children.

Within These Walls , by Robyn Bavati
Scholastic, 2016
ISBN 9781760152857

Gallipoli, by Alan Tucker

The attack has been timed to the minute. Thirty minutes from now we’ll climb down the rope ladders into the lighters and find our seat. I’m one of the lucky ones. I’ve been chosen as one of the 500 men from my battalion who will be in the first wave to land. The Turks won’t know what’s hit them…

Victor Marsh longs for adventure. Not looking forward to a a career as an underground miner, he jumps at the chance to enlist and fight for his country – even though, at just 14 years of age, he has to lie to be able to enlist. Soon, with his new friends Fish, Needle and Robbo, he is trained and sailing for Egypt then on to Gallipoli where, over eight torrid months, he fights not just for his country, but for survival, learning just what war really means, the value of friendship, and just how much courage is needed to carry on.

Gallipoli , part of Scholastic’s My Australian Story records the events of 1915 from the first person perspective of a young soldier, through diary format and the letters he sends to and receives from his mother. Whilst the story is not new, this diary format and the young age of the protagonist, allows the child reader an insight into the realities of the Gallipoli campaign and of war in general. The sub plot of Victor’s ‘gut’ friend Hans, an elderly family friend who, because he is German, is interned for the duration of the war, adds an element which may be less familiar to young readers, and a story which needs to be told.

A valuable educational tool but also simply an absorbing story.

Gallipoli (My Australian Story)

Gallipoli , by Alan Tucker
Scholastic, 2013
ISBN 9781742836935

Available from good bookstores or online.

The Phar Lap Mystery, by Sophie Masson

April 3, 1931
It’s funny how some days that start of well can end up really badly. Today, my eleventh birthday, was just like that. It was bright and sunny when I woke up, and Dad sang happy birthday to me at breakfast and gave me a new set of pencils and this diary. he knows how much I love writing, and that I want to be a writer when I grow up. So he picked out a really nice one for me, it’s even got a tiny key so you can lock it up and no-one can poke their nose into what you’ve written! He said, ‘This is for you to practise, sweetheart, because all famous writers have to start somewhere!’

It’s the 1930s in Australia – Depression time – and Sally and Dad are doing it tough. Dad’s a private detective, but he hasn’t worked for months. Then he gets a call about investigating attacks on Phar Lap, the most famous horse in Australia. It pays well and Sally begins to see her old happy Dad, not the grump he’s been lately. It’s just Sally and Dad since Mum’s death, so Sally travels with Dad to Melbourne to begin the investigation. She keeps track of what’s going on in her diary, seeing it as practice for her future career as a mystery writer. But it’s all very exciting too, as she gets to meet Phar Lap and the people who look after him. Fact blends with fiction as Sally and her dad follow Phar Lap’s fortunes and fame across the ocean to America and Mexico. And throughout, Sally maintains her diary, documenting her own life, as well as Phar Lap’s.

Phar Lap is well-known now to most Australians, but what was it like to be around when he was actually winning races? Sophie Masson takes the reader back in time to show them what it was like to be living alongside a legend. What Australians remember now is a fast, good-looking horse, universally loved. But of course nothing is ever that simple. A horse that wins every race is no good to bookies who make their money on the chance that a horse will win, not the certainty. Sally is exposed to the romance of the unbeatable Phar Lap but also the criminal elements of the racing world. Sally’s diary spans a year from her eleventh to her twelfth birthday. As well as recording the excitement of the Phar Lap story, she documents the evolution of her ‘family’ from just Dad, to include friends new and old, locally, interstate and internationally. Recommended for upper primary readers.

The Phar Lap Mystery (My Australian Story)

The Phar Lap Mystery, Sophie Masson
Scholastic Press 2010
ISBN: 9781741697278

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s Author

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

Atomic Testing, by Alan Tucker

Dad warned us we’d either love it or hate it here. Mum hates it. Or at least I think she does, because she’s done a mountain of grizzling since we arrived last Saturday. She hates the dust and the flies. And she hates that there are hardly any other women here. Dad said she’ll meet a few at the barbecue this weekend.
I love it. There are a lot of kids my age. They’re friendly because they’re all fairly new to town. They don’t call Woomera a town. They call it ‘the village’.

Moving from Townsville to isolated Woomera is a big change for Anthony’s family. His father works for the army and has been assigned to work on the top-secret atomic testing programme. His mother, who had friends, a garden and a pleasant lifestyle in Townsville, hates Woomera, and doesn’t agree with the atomic testing. For Anthony, though, life at Woomera is great. He has spent the past six years recovering from polio, and Woomera gives him the freedom to rediscover his childhood. He soon makes friends and has fun exploring the desert around the town site, playing cricket, and having loads of adventures.

Atomic Testing is a new title in the My Australian Story series and, like others titles in the series, uses diary format. Anthony is a likeable narrator, and the use of a background of childhood illness allows his adventures an extra element – as he finds added delight in doing things which for other young teens might be run of the mill, including riding a bike for the first time, and being allowed to play cricket. As well as being an interesting story, the book offers a glimpse at a significant part of Australian history which many young readers may know little about, and explores issues both of the time period and of contemporary times, including war and weaponry, family breakdown and childhood illness.

Atomic Testing (My Australian Story)

Atomic Testing, by Alan Tucker
Scholastic, 2009

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

Cyclone Tracy – The Diary of Ryan Turner, by Alan Tucker

The Big T actually showed his human side today and took us all fishing. He likes to take the boat out, not just so he can be Captain Bligh, but so he can relax. And when he relaxes, so can I. That’s why Mum always comes in the boat. She knows there’ll be no arguments.

Ryan loves fishing. Sometimes it seems that’s the only thing he and his dad have in common. Dad is the deputy principal at Ryan’s school in Darwin, which isn’t easy for Ryan. His Dad is a tyrant – at home and at school.

So when a group of hippies comes to town, Ryan knows his dad won’t approve. And when Ryan makes friends with one of them, he knows there will be trouble. But his problems with his dad are nothing compared to the challenges Ryan is about to face. It is 1974, and Cyclone Tracy is headed for Darwin.

Cyclone Tracy: the Diary of Ryan Turner is a diary style novel which gives a fictionalised account of events up to, during and after the devastation wrought by Cyclone Tracy on Christmas Eve, 1974. The narrator, fourteen year old Ryan, shares his perspective of life in Darwin prior to the event – fishing, school, going to the movies and so on – and after the cyclone gives his firs hand account of the horror of the cyclone. This is interweaved with the stories of Ryan’s family life, his friendships and his first girlfriend.

Part of the My Australian Story series, Cyclone Tracy is an absorbing read for 11 to 14 year old readers.

Cyclone Tracy: The Diary of Ryan Turner, by Alan Tucker
Scholastic, 2006

Outback, by Christine Harris

Before I came up north, I imagined that the outback would be dead quiet. But it never is. The bush is alive. It might sound silly, but it’s true. There’s the wind shaking leaves or blowing dust. Bird calls. The pounding of kangaroos…And even on a day when there is no wind and no animals or birds close by, if you sit really still you can hear bugs scratching under tree bark.

When Jimmy Porter’s dad is sent to prison, Jimmy is sent to live with relatives he’s never met, who live in Central Australia. It is 1927 and life in the outback is harsh. There is no communication with the outside world, no power, water supplies, education or shopping facilities. Jimmy misses his father and their city life, but soon comes to see the beauty of this strange place, and to form a bond with the cousins who make up his new ‘family’. When disaster strikes, Jimmy and his young cousins have to trek for help.

Outback is a diary-form novel, part of Scholastic’s My Australian Story series. Jimmy’s story is one which will intrigue young readers, with its contrasts to modern life. Harris creates likeable characters, set amidst events which are both exciting and significant. The storyline also provides an opportunity for readers to learn about the birth of the Flying Doctor service, and its importance to remote communities.

Outback: The Diary of Jimmy Porter, by Christine Harris
Scholastic, 2005

New Gold Mountain, by Christopher W Cheng

I hate being here. I feel lonely. I miss Baba and Mama, and I feel not worthy because I cannot earn enough gold to send back to China and I can’t pay respects to Baba at his grave.

Shu Cheong came to Australia with his father and Third Uncle in search of gold and a new life for their family back home. But now Father and Third Uncle are dead and Shu Cheong is in the care of a new uncle who is not really his uncle at all. They are living and working on the goldfields at Lambing Flat.

Life is hard for all of the gold miners, but particularly so for the Chinese, who have to face the increasing hostility of the white miners. Shu Cheong shares his day to day life and his community’s battle for a fair go, through first person diary entries.

This is a story of hardship, but also about hope, as author Christopher Cheng shares a sad, but important tale of a part of Australian history with which most children would not be familiar. Part of the My Australian Story collection, this hardback offering is suitable for private reading, but would also make an outstanding addition to classroom or library collections.

My Australian Story: New Gold Mountain, by Christopher W. Cheng
Scholastic Press, 2005

Our Enemy , My Friend, by Jenny Blackman

We had taken our shoes off to walk over the ford, when Rob, Johnny, Dave and Richard jumped out at us from the bushes on the far side of the ford. I screamed at them, but that didn’t help. They pushed Hannelore and Ruth into the creek and sang out, ‘Clean up the dirty Huns.’

Before the war Emma and Hannelore were best friends. But now Australia is at war against the Germans and Hannelore is German – or is she? Emma must balance what she sees around her, what she is told and what she feels is right.

Set in the village of Wirreebilla in the Adelaide Hills in 1915, this diary-format offering provides a child’s perspective on the society and events of the day. The district has a large population of German settlers, many of whom have been in Australia for several generations. Now, though, they are being treated as the enemy as other locals see them and their German traditions as a threat to their existence and as a daily reminder of the horrors of the war their boys are away fighting.

This offering is part of Scholastic’s My Story series, a series which focusses on the lives of children in various times and places in history. Emma’s diary is set in a significant era of Australian and world history, yet offers an insight into events about which primary aged children may be unaware. As well as the major plot exploring the issues of a nation at war, there are also explorations of family life and education during that time period.

Our Enemy, My Friend is a high interest, accessible offering for primary aged readers.

Our Enemy, My Friend, by Jenny Blackman
Scholastic, 2005

A Marathon of Her Own – The Diary of Sophia Krikonis, by Irini Savvides

We are here. Finally in Australia. The ship arrived in Fremantle this morning, later than scheduled due to the bad weather. After the storms we were weary and although normally the immigration officers would board the ship first, we had had such a rough time of it that they made an exception and let us off to recover a little.

When Sophia comes to Australia from Greece to start anew life, she finds that seasickness on the voyage is the least fo her problems. Everything in Australia is different and she thinks she will never get used to it.

At school Sophia is teased and isolated by the other students and, rather than helping her, the teacher joins in, angry that Sophia has not learnt English. It seems all that Sophia has is her love of running and, with the Olympics about to start in Melbourne, the prospect of seeing her hero win the marathon. This love of running could be the thing that turns things Sophia’s way.

A Marathon of her Own is a diary format story which provides a deep insight into the migrant struggle from a child’s perspective as well as an exploration of the Australia of 1956.

Part of Scholastic’s My Story series, this is a tale which will both inform and entertain, with readers cheering Sophia on as she runs a marathon of a different sort to overcome prejudice, loneliness and dislocation.

A Marathon of Her Own: The Diary of Sophia Krikonis, by Irini Savvides
Scholastic, 2004

Our Don Bradman, by Peter Allen

When Victor receives a diary for his twelfth birthday, his Grandma tells him he can write about anything – even Don Bradman. Although he does write about lots of other things, the Don figures prominently in his writing over the next year, especially after he gets to know the Australian cricketer personally.

Our Don Bradman is part of the My Story series from Scholastic, each using the diary format to tell a child’s story in a particular period in history. This one is based on true events and not only shares the events of Bradman’s cricket career but also of other major events in Sydney and around the world in 1932.

1932 was the year in which the infamous Bodyline cricket scandal played out during England’s visit to Australia. It was also the year that the Sydney Harbour Bridge was opened and was an Olympic year. Australia was also in the grips of the depression. All these events and many more are related in the first person account of young Victor McDonald whose family relocates to Sydney because of the depression. But it is cricket – and Don Bradman – which sits at the centre of the story, making it likely to appeal to young cricket fans who will enjoy not only learning about the great Sir Donald Bradman but also following Victor’s story of trying to be a great cricketer himself, despite owning no shoes or a proper cricket bat.

Our Don Bradman is a quality book for private reading and for school library and classroom collections.

Our Don Bradman: The Diary of Victor McDonald, by Peter Allen
Scholastic, 2004