New Boy, by Nick Earls

The car is still all snot and tears and noise when we get to the drop-off zone outside One Mile Creek State School.

As Mom’s door opens, Hansie’s screaming makes everyone look at us – students, parents, teachers, all arriving at this same precise inconvenient moment. This is not the perfect beginning to my first day.

I am supposed to look cooler than this.

Before he and his family moved to Australia, Herschelle used the internet to research what life would be like, and to learn Australian slang. But now that he’s here, Herschelle is discovering that it is very different than he expected: the food is strange, the other kids don’t understand his accent, and the other kids haven’t heard of most of the so-called Aussie slang he has learnt. At his last school, he was one of the cool kids, but here he’s quickly learning what it’s like to be different.

New Boy is a funny, moving story about the immigrant experience, about belonging and about bullying and racism. Primary aged readers will laugh at Herschelle’s problems with language and his surprise at how things are done in Australia, but they’ll also feel for him as he struggles to understand and to adapt.

Herschelle is a likeable narrator, and New Boy is a valuable tool for classroom reading as well as for private enjoyment.

New Boy, by Nick Earls
Puffin Books, 2015
ISBN 9780143308393

Available from good bookstores and online.

Word Hunters: The Curious Dictionary, by Nick Earls & Terry Whidborne

While stories build from words, it’s true,
The words themselves have stories too.
Who dares to read? Who dares to look?
Who dares to hunt within this book?

When Lexi and Al accidentally find an old dictionary, their lives change dramatically. They are whisked back into history to hunt the origins of words which are in danger of disappearing from our past and our present. Each successful stop in time pegs down a key usage of an evolving word, thus ensuring its survival. And, as the twins discover, it isn’t just the words that are important – it’s their impact on the path of history, which shapes the modern world in many ways. But ensuring the survival of those words could come at a cost. Will they be trapped in the past because they miss the clues? Or will one of the many physical dangers they face prove too much.

The Curious Dictionary is the first in a new series from the team of writer Nick Earls and illustrator Terry Whidborne. The concept is clever – blending time travel with an examination of both the evolution of language and its impact on the world as a whole. The children travel through many time periods and major moments in history, and at times this was so rapid the reader may struggle to grasp what has gone on, or may be left wanting to see more of a particular setting. There are enough questions left unanswered – particularly that of a missing grandfather who was also (unbeknownst to them) a word hunter, and also other missing word hunters – to draw readers back to the next instalment in the series.

A sound start to the series.

The Curious Dictionary (Word Hunters)

The Curious Dictionary (Word Hunters), by Nick Earls & Terry Whidborne
University of Queensland Press, 2012
ISBN 9780702249457

Available from god bookstores or online.

Welcome to Normal, by Nick Earls

‘Craig, hi,’ Don said, stepping forward and reaching out his hand. ‘Don Nordenstrom. Welcome to Normal.’ He said it as if Normal was just any other name on the map. Welcome to Paxton, welcome to Peoria. The weirdness of welcoming someone to normal had long ago rubbed away.

Being welcomed to Normal is just one of the wonderful quirky moments in this collection of eight short stories from Queenl;and’s Nick Earls. The settings and situations vary – often far from normal as the protagonists travel far from home to explore their own or their travel mates’ pasts, experiencing moments which could be ordinary but manage not to be. Though each story is unique, recurrent motifs of travel, self-discovery and relationship problems travel across stories. Some stories are seen through the eyes of young protagonists watching their parents’ tempted to infidelity and revisiting the places of their yuth.

A favourite story for me was The Heart of Robert the Bruce with a couple travelling through Spain, alleviating the difficulty of being mismatched with another couple as travel partners and so challenging each other to introduce outrageous yet plausible lies into dinner table conversation. Watching the lies grow at the same time as the protagonists’ understanding of their own relationship is both fun and moving, and a lie involving Karen the GPS voice was a highlight.

Welcome to Normal is a wonderful blend of everyday, quirky and thought-provoking.

Welcome to Normal

Welcome to Normal, by Nick Earls
Vintage, 2012
ISBN 9781864711547

This book is available from good bookstores or online fro Fishpond. Buying through this link supports Aussiereviews.

After January, by Nick Earls

This begins in January, and January is okay. It begins like December as though their join is seamless. Sometimes as though the bright days of summer will last forever. But the end of January is the end of the known world. This is when I stand at the edge. It’s been easy till now, relatively. I’ve had a new school year to face each January, but not this year. School is over, so there is not the usual symmetry about the holidays. The feeling of days leading up to Christmas and New Year and then away. Across the slow heat-heavy weeks of January and back to school
This January I’m waiting for my offer, waiting for the code that will tell me what happens next.

Alex Delaney has finished school and is waiting to hear about his options for next year. Meanwhile, he’s at the beach house at Caloundra where he and his family always spend summer. The long, hot days are passed slowly, reading, swimming, body-surfing and waiting. Waiting for the days until ‘what happens next’ happens. Then Alex meets a girl. A girl who is different from anyone he’s ever met before. A girl who won’t even tell him her name at first. Gradually the endless days shorten until there are not enough hours in the day. The deadline of university offers that had seemed so far away, now seems to be coming too close too quickly. The decision he will have to make about university diminishes in importance as others decisions are calling. After January was originally released in 1996, but this new edition also includes ‘Juliet’, a short story Alex wrote and which is referred to several times throughout.

Life is a series of climbing to the top and then beginning again at the bottom. The end of school is a major milestone in life and the holidays immediately afterwards are a time of limbo. The onus of decision-making changes. Where progression from year to year at school was ordered and largely inevitable, things change. To go to university or not? To take a break or to go straight on? Alex has been on this trajectory towards university a long time and now the time of decision is here. There has been no doubt in his mind that this is his pathway. Meeting a girl slowly changes everything. Not because she advocates he abandon his path, but because she shows him that there is more than one way. ‘After January’ is told in first person and the reader travels with him as he begins to open his eyes and see the world around him in a new way. Recommended for mid- to upper-secondary readers.

After January

After January, Nick Earls
UQP 2010
ISBN: 9780702237652

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s Author

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