When Michael Met Mina, by Randa Abdel-Fattah

Then I see her.
Her eyes. I’ve never seen eyes like hers before. What colour are they? Hazel and green and flecks of autumn and bits of emerald and I’m standing holding my sign and there she is, standing steps away, near the cop, holding hers (It’s Not Illegal to Seek Asylum), and all I can think about is how the hell I’m going to take my eyes off her.

Michael’s parents are the founders of Aussie Values, an organisation dedicated to stopping the boats and preserving the Australian way of life. They worry about Muslims and terrorists taking over the country. Mina is a Muslim and a refugee, too. She and her family represent what Michael’s family is fighting against. When they meet, Mina is sure Michael is racist and unpleasant, but Michael finds himself intrigued, and wanting to get to know her better. In order to do this, he’s going to have to adjust his thinking and find out if what his parents seem to know is actually true.

When Michael Met Mina is a story about values, justice and friendship. Although there is a gentle romance element, the story line deals with the struggles and joys of Mina’s family, and the broader issues of refugees and Muslim Australians, as well as the dynamics of Michael’s family, especially the issue of a teenager holding different political and moral views than his family. Issues of disability, difference, families and more are explored, but the story isn’t crowded out by these issues – rather being enriched by them

Tol through the alternating first person perspectives of the two main characters, When Michael Met Mina is an important, absorbing, read.

When Michael Met Mina, by Randa Abdel-Fattah
Pan Macmillan, 2016
ISBN 9781743534977

The Pain, My Mother, Sir Tiffy, Cyber Boy & Me, by Michael Gerard Bauer

It all started with The Pain. He officially came into my life exactly nine weeks and one day before my Year Ten Graduation Dance.
It was a Friday.
The thirteenth of the month.
Notice anything there?

Maggie Butt is not happy. She started the year determined that everything would go well – but with the end in sight, things seem to be going fro ad to worse. Not only has she failed to make any friends, but she doesn’t have a date for the graduation dance and her marks in English (her favourite subject) are plummeting. But that’s the worst of it. Her mother seems to be letting her new boyfriend – The Pain – into both her own life, and Maggie’s, whether Maggie likes it or not.

The Pain, My Mother, Sir Tiffy, Cyber Boy & Me is a funny novel about many of the difficulties of being a teenager – romance, friendship, self-image and family. Maggie has a lot going on with her parents’ divorce having led to her changing schools and not fitting in at the new one. Her mother’s blossoming relationship with a new boyfriend also causes disruption – not the least of which is his ability to scare off the only boy who’s ever shown an interest.

There are lots of laughs to be had but there are also more serious moments.

The Pain, My Mother, Sir Tiffy, Cyber Boy & Me, by Michael Gerard Bauer
Omnibus Books, 2016
ISBN 9781742991504

My Dad is a Giraffe, by Stephen Michael King

My dad is big and tall
gentle and fun.
My dad is a giraffe!

When your dad is a giraffe, you can climb up his legs, slide down his neck and ride on his back. He can see a long way, and do amazing things. In My Dad is a Giraffe, Dad is depicted as a giraffe, with the human child loving what Dad can do – and the opening and closing illustrations cleverly showing that Dad is not really a giraffe, but that his imaginative child sees his height and cleverness as giraffe-like.

The text is simple, and a perfect complement to the whimsical illustrations which show what a giraffe-dad can get up to, as well as showing Mum as a zebra. Youngsters will love exploring the detail of these illustrations, as well as the message of love and connection between the father and child.

Filled with the gentle, imaginative fun that Stephen Michael King is known for, My Dad is a Giraffe is wonderful.

My Dad is a Giraffe, by Stephen Michael King
Scholastic, 2015
ISBN 9781743625941

Alfie's Lost Sharkie, by Anna Walker

Alfie's Lost SharkieWho’s Sharkie?
He has big fins,
sharp teeth,
scary eyes
and he’s blue.
Maybe he’s outside.

It’s time for Alfie to get ready for bed, but he can’t find Sharkie. He’s not outside, he’s not in the bath, he’s not in the pyjama drawer or on the bookshelf. Dad tries to be patient, and eventually manages to convince Alfie to choose another toy (in fact, many other toys) but when he gets to bed, Alfie is delighted to find his toy Sharkie.

Alfie’s Lost Sharkie is the second title featuring Alfie, an anthropomorphised crocodile. And, just like the first, Hurry Up, Alfie, there is much to love.

The text is very simple – with no narration, meaning that the whole story is told by the dialogue between Alfie and his Dad (or is it Mum – this is wonderfully ambiguous, which I like) and, of course, by the illustrations, which use ink and collage and are filled with whimsy.

Perfect for bed time reading – or any time of day really.

Alfie’s Lost Sharkie, by Anna Walker
Scholastic, 2015
ISBN 9781742839929

Available from good bookstores and online.

Please, read.

So, a few days ago I shared this quote about reading on Facebook. Sharing things on social media is something I do reasonably regularly – often things that make me smile, occasionally things that make me angry and other times things that make me think. I thought this quote was one of the former, because I found myself nodding in agreement and smiling, but later that night I found myself lying in bed thinking about the message and how it relates to parents and children.

See, I know that reading makes me a better person: happier, more well informed, more empathetic. I also know that most other readers know this. And yet I know many many adults who don’t read, and especially who don’t read for pleasure. Their excuse, if they are asked, is that they don’t have time to read. Often, they say this in a way that suggests that people who do read are somehow either very time-rich, or simply too lazy to be doing more important stuff than getting lost in a novel.

This worries me on their behalf. It especially worries me that it seems they have either never loved reading, or have somehow forgotten the magic of being lost in a story. But it worries me most when those non-reading adults are parents.

Very few parents fail to understand how important it is that their children learn to read. Perhaps some see this is as valuable simply so that they do well in (gah!) NAPLAN tests, or beat other kids in their class (double gah!) or, in the long run, get good jobs so that they can be rich and successful, rather than seeing the way that reading develops other, less measurable skills and attributes. Regardless, few parents would argue against the value of good reading skills. Parents spend hours listening to their kids read, and lots of money on trying to improve their reading skills, either through buying them books (yay!) or by investing in programs to improve their reading skills – computer software, extra tuition, whatever it takes to boost those skills.

The thing that makes me sad, then, is that so very many parents – and other significant adults – miss a wonderful (free) opportunity to engage their kids in reading: modelling. Modelling I hear you ask? Yes, modelling. Modelling to young readers, or future readers, the great pastime of reading. You see, every time an adult opens a book and reads for pleasure, they are demonstrating to spectators that reading is something fun/interesting/cool to do. We all know kids love to do what grown ups do. They watch us and they learn. We want them to eat veggies, so we eat veggies in front of them. We want them to brush their teeth, so we brush our teeth in front of them. We want them to read– we should be reading in front of them.

Instead, though, we tend to read TO kids, or with them (and these are both very very valuable  and important things). But then, when we have time of our own, we turn on the tv, or we pull out our mobile devices, and we entertain ourselves with those. The message we risk giving is that reading is something solely for kids: adults don’t need/want/have time to read. And, in turn, kids then see reading as something boring, a chore that relates only to school, something to shake off as soon as they can.

So what am I saying? Please, read in front of your kids. Pick up a book and read it. Enjoy it. Let your kids see you doing it, preferably every day. Talk to them about the books you’re reading over dinner, or when you’re out in the car, and ask them what they are reading. Model to them that reading is valuable, fun, important, vital! And please don’t let them hear you say proudly “I don’t have time to read’ or “Books are boring”.

If you are not a parent, you still have a role to play, because you are still a model for the kids you come into contact with – as well as for other adults. You read on the train, people see you and perhaps realise it’s a cool thing to do (because hey, you’re a cool looking guy/gal aren’t you?). You sit in the sun/lunchroom/café reading over lunch, the same.

Parent or not, while you’re busy setting that good example, you’ll  probably find something else happening: you’ll find yourself with new stuff to talk  about, with new knowledge, greater empathy, a bigger vocabulary. Heck, you’ll probably even find yourself enjoying yourself! If you don’t, you’re reading the wrong book: find another, and another until you find the right one.

I could go on and on and on about how if more people read we could solve all the world’s problems. Perhaps that’s the subject for a future post. For now, though, I just realised that this whole post can be summed up, very neatly in its title.

Please, read.