A few streets away, a car putting down the twisted hill. It halted outside a block of mulberry-brick flats. A small boy emerged from the back seat, out onto the pavement. He was carrying a suitcase. He stood there, looking upwards. His skin gleamed like snow.
in the middle of the road a sleek cat lay stretched out, absorbing the sunshine.
It is 1942, and Columba (who was named after a nun) is growing up in war time Sydney. A new boy – a refugee from ‘You-rope’ – appears in the neighborhood, at about the same time as a strange blue cat. Columba is intrigued by the new boy, Ellery, though he doesn’t speak English and Columba struggles to understand where he has come from and why he is here. This isn’t the only thing she struggles to understand. Why are the cloaks being put forward for an hour? Why do the adults talk about ‘taking people’s minds off things? And, with Singapore falling, and regular air raid practices, will they be safe here in Sydney?
The Blue Cat is an enchanting piece of writing. Historical fiction with just a tiny twist of magical realism, it is a gentle story of the confusion of a child faced with frightening, not-quite-understood events. With an insight into how the childhood experiences of Australians during the war years, and to harbourside Sydney life, this is an entrancing read.
The Blue Cat, by Ursula Dubosarsky
Allen & Unwin, 2017
On the afternoon of Monday 18 May 1942, Richard Manson, Dickie to his family, sat in the back of an uncovered utility truck belonging to the Japanese Navy and watched the river of dust swirl and tumble away behind him.
He might have imagined, as 11-year-old boys sometimes do, that the road was moving and he was not, and that if he jumped it would carry him away to the mountains, where no-one would find him.
Last chance, then for this story to end differently.
His mother, Marjorie, took his hand and wouldn’t let go
In 1942, in the midst of world War 2, five Australian civilians were captured by Japanese soldiers and later driven to a pit at the base of a volcano and executed as spies. The civilians included a woman, her brother, husband and friend – and her 11 year old son. How did a child end up in such a situation? And why did even his family not know the full story?
Line of Fire traces the stories of the five civilians, with particular focus on the stories of Marjorie Manson and her son Dickie, detailing the events that lead to them being in Rabaul and, ultimately, executed. Using a combination of documents research, visits to Rabaul, interviews of the few people still alive with memories of the events, and some guesswork, the story is pieced together in a a work that will both appall and fascinate history buffs.
Line of Fire, by Ian Townsend
Fourth Estate, 2017
There was a man standing in the alcove that led out onto the Golden Gallery’s walkway. His attention was fixed on the explosion, which meant he hadn’t seen her yet. At first she thought he was a fire watcher, stationed up the top of St Paul’s to protect it from burning. But, no, this man was a twilight visitor – a man of the dead, not the living – she could tell by his ashen hue. Everything was a muted shade in her world; it was how you could tell the living world from the the world of the dead.
It is 1940 and Flossie Birdwhistle is the turnkey at London’s Highgate Cemetery, charged with keeping the souls that rest there at peace. When London is subject to enemy bombardment every night, this is an even more difficult task than usual. During one raid, when Flossie sets out to fulfill the request of one of her charges, she sees something surprising: a German soldier, who, though as dead as she is, seems to have abilities and interests from the other side of the grave. It is up to Flossie, and her friends, the turnkeys of London’s other cemeteries, to figure what he is up to, and how to stop him.
The Turnkey is an intriguing novel set in the midst of the second world war, populated with ghostly characters, as well as a handful of those still living. the concept of the dead being looked after by one of their own, and of them still carng for the world beyond the grave is appealing, and history lovers will enjoy seeing World War Two London and Germany from a very different angle.
The Turnkey, by Allison Rushby
Walker Books, 2017
Just then, Jack discovered a sodden parcel wedged between the plane’s ribs.
He tore off the string binding and red wax seals. Inside was a bloated leather wallet, bursting with small packages wrapped in tissue. He emptied the contents of one into his calloused hands. What he saw stole his breath away …
As a plane prepares to ferry Dutch refugees out of Java to escape war-torn Java, the captain is passed a valuable package to carry to safety. But the plane is attacked, and crash-lands, the passage temporarily forgotten in the quest for survival. When Jack Palmer, a sailor and beachcomber, comes across the abandoned wreck of the plane he can’t help but be curious about what he might find on board. What he does find is beyond anything he could imagine.
Diamond Jack, the first title in the new History Mysteries series by Mark Greenwood, is a junior novel exploring the events surrounding the crash of a Dakota aircraft and subsequent disappearance of a parcel of diamond on board. Using the known facts and people involved, interwoven with a fictionalised version of what might have happen, the story provides an intriguing glimpse into the past. Young readers will be drawn into the mystery as they also view and learn about a chapter of Australian war history.
With historical photographs, maps and notes including a timeline, this is history children can connect with.
History Mysteries: Diamond Jack, by Mark Greenwood
Penguin Random House, 2017
But I did, I did! There was no way I was letting go of it. It was my scrapbook, my scrapbook about the little princesses, Elizabeth and Margaret Rose – the one I’d been named after. I’d been keeping it for years, cutting out and sticking in pictures of the little princesses and all their doings from magazines and newspapers. It was very special to me, that scrapbook, and I wasn’t letting go of it for anything.
It was the reason I was still alive.
It is 1940, and Margaret Rose lives in London, far away from her cousin Lizzie in Australia. But when Margaret Rose’s family home is destroyed in an air raid she finds herself bound for Australia on a ship. Lizzie’s family are happy to take Margaret Rose in, but Lizzie isn’t so sure. Her cousin is getting all the attention, and Lizzie’s life is changed by sharing her bedroom and her classmates.
The war takes a little longer to reach Townsville, in Australia’s far north,and Mrgaret Rose is safer there. But as the war rolls on, it also draws closer to Australia, and both girls share the realities of war time life.
Lizzie and Margaret Rose is a story of war, of family and friendship set both in London and in Townsville, as well as on the ship travelling between the two countries. Told in the alternating first person voices of the ten and eleven year old cousins, it provides an inside look at the effects of war, and particularly World War 2, on children and on day to day life.
While thoroughly researched and complemented with back of book notes, the story is front and center rather than being used to string together lots of facts,, making it really satisfying.
Lizzie and Margaret Rose, by Pamla Rushby
Omnibus Books, 2016
There was something rather splendid about this woman who would not have looked out of place in the pages of a magazine, but whom fate had put here, in the the East End, in a tube station with a cigarette in her mouth and a small child. It set her apart from the wretched mother and her five starving children.
Diana Meadows is lost. She and her three year old daughter Abigail have come up to London on secret business, and somehow caught the wrong bus. Now she’s in the East End and the air raid sirens are blaring. Not far away Nancy Levin and her own daughter, Emily, are cooking chips for dinner when they, too, hear the siren. They know what to do, having done it many times before, and gather their belongings before heading off to the shelter.Both women’s husbands are off at the war – Diana’s Gerald is serving with a tank regiment in North Africa, while Nancy’s Joe has just left to return to the navy after surviving a torpedoing. The husbands believe their wives and daughters are safe. The two women spend the night camped beside each other in the cramped underground space. Though they don’t speak, each observes the other – and their lives become linked before the all clear sounds.
The Safest Place in London is a gripping, shocking tale of war time life and the lengths mothers will go to to protect their families. With the chance to observe the thoughts processes of both characters, and to see what happens beyond the terrible night in the shelter, readers will grow to know them, and perhaps to understand their actions.
Lots to think about both during and after reading.
The Safest Place in London, by Maggie Joel
Allen & Unwin, 2016
‘What would you do if you found yourself caught up in another war?’ I asked my mother, Leni, when I was about 12 years old. ‘Commit suicide’ she replied, without batting an eyelid.
Her response was so immediate that I can still remember how much it shocked me. She did not hesitate, even for a second.
Magadelana (Leni) is born in pre-war Germany, an illegitimate child, spurned by her extended family and by the whole village in which she lives. Only her mother loves her, but their fight for survival is fraught with difficulties, with tough economic times made increasingly dire when war is declared. A young Leni has to leave school and help support her mother and younger brothers, but her employer is a sadistic rapist. The terrible misfortune that seems to plague her life continues long after the war ends, but in 1950 Leni, her Yugoslav husband and their young son arrive in Australia hoping for a better life.
War Child is the true story of a childhood which seems to awful to be true, and of the search by Leni’s daughter to uncover her mother’s story and the secrets she kept. Spanning over 100 years, and three continents, the story is gripping, uncomfortable and often sad, but it makes for compelling reading.
War Child, by Annette Janic with Catherine McCullagh
Big Sky Publishing, 2016
‘Robert. His name was Captain Robert Shine.’
She handed me the photograph. I noticed the sharpenss of the soldier’s dark eyes, the strong jawline and the firm tilt of his head, and most of all the startling intimacy between subject and photographer.
‘Oh, Nan…he;s a handsome guy. Who took the photo?’I saw a wary reaction flare in Nan’s watery eyes.
‘A girl I once knew. She liked to take photos.’ Nan closed her lips firmly.
When Stella returns home to spend Christmas with her parents and her much loved grandmother, she senses that the tension between her mother, Linda and her grandmother, Rose, hasn’t lessened since last time she was here. She has never understood how her Nan, so loving to her, is so harsh towards her own daughter. When she accidentally finds an old photograph in her Nan’s bedroom, she starts to investigate.
Over sixty years earlier, Rose and her sister Vivienne share an idyllic childhood living in a Spanish-style castle in northern Queensland. Nothing, it seems, can come between them. But when Rose leaves home and meets a handsome American soldier, this relationship will test the bond between sisters.
Castle of Dreams is an engaging story of three generations, and the secrets that can shape family relationships long after they are kept. As Stella unravels her Nan’s past, she also learns more about her mother and a mysterious aunt she never knew she had.
Set in World War 2 and in contemporary times, this is an absorbing story of love and betrayal.
Castle of Dreams, by Elise McCune
Allen & Unwin, 2016
It’s supposed to be a fair way to decide who does national service and who doesn’t, but Mum reckons it isn’t. She says the fate of a mother’s son shouldn’t depend on a number picked out of a barrel. The marbles that go in the barrel have the days of the month on them. An agreed number of marbles are drawn out of the barrel, and if your birth date is on one, you’re ‘balloted in’.
It’s 1969 and Davey’s big brother Tom has been conscripted. Chosen because of his birthdate, he has no choice but to report for service. Soon, Tom is in Vietnam and his family are back home worrying about him. But there are other things happening in Davey’s life, too. He and his two best mates love surfing, and are determined to win the inaugural Newcastle Under-14 Championship. Thye are fascinated, too, by the planned moon landing, and follow preparations keenly. But growing up isn’t always fun, and Davey and his mates have some hard lessons to learn.
Vietnam , part of the My Australian Story series, is a wonderful diary format story giving an insight into Australia’s involvement in the Vietnam War through the experiences of one family. It also offers a snapshot of late 1960s life, including the music of the time, key events in the year, the union movement, the impact of war on generations of Australians and more.
An excellent offering for primary aged readers.
My Australian Story: Vietnam , by Deborah Challinor
Scholastic Australia, 2015
‘Right there and then I made up my mind that if ever I got the chance, I would do everything in my power to hurt them, to damage the Nazis and everything they stood for.
After a difficult childhood in Australia, Nancy Wake manages to travel first to London and later to Paris, where she talks herself into a job as a foreign correspondent. She is happy in Paris, and meets and marries a man she loves, but as the Nazi Party’s influence grows, she worries about what will happen, and when war breaks out, her fears are realised. Soon, Nancy is part of the resitance movenent, working to undermine the Nazis and to help their victims.
The White Mouse tells the remarkable story of a remarkable Australian woman and her work during World War 2: driving ambulances, helping escaped prisoners, transporting radios and other banned items. As a story which most Australian children are unlikely to know, and one which shows a strong woman working hard to make a difference in a time of hardship, the book is a really important offering.
The illustrations – in pen and ink and using techniques such as newspaper headlines and maps in the backgrounds of some pages, and text boxes looking as if they are taken from aging notebooks – have the feel of the time period in which they are set, and are reminiscent of the war story comics and paperback novels which adult readers may remember.
A quality book about a fascinating Australian.
The White Mouse: The Story of Nancy Wake, by Peter Gouldthorpe
Omnibus Books, 2015