Australia’s unique animals are a favourite subject for children’s writers. Two enduring classics have possums as their central characters.
In Possum Magic, by Mem Fox, we meet Grandma Poss, who is no ordinary possum – she makes bush magic. Blue wombats, smiling dings amd shrinking emus are all in her repertoire. But her best piece of magic makes young Hush invisible. This is all very well until one day Hush decides she would like to see what she looks like.
Grandma Poss and Hush embark on an adventure to find the right magic to make Hush visible again. Along the way they sample all the best of Australian foods – but will they find the answer to Hush’s problem?
Possum Magic was Fox’s first published work, making its debut in 1983, but is still delighting both youngsters and their parents. The tale is perfectly accomplished by gorgeous illustrations by the talented Julie Vivas.
In Possum in the House by Kiersten Jensen, no one is happy when a possum gets in – in the pantry he spills the cornflakes, in the laundry he rips the shirts, and in the lounge he scratches the records. Will Mum and Dad ever catch him?
This gorgeous story is sure to be a favourite with both children and parents because of its flowing, up-beat rhythm and cute ending. The detailed illustrations by Tony Oliver make a perfect complement to the text.
Both of these books will make excellent additions to your child’s book collection.
Possum Magic, by Mem Fox
Omnibus Books, 1983.
Possum in the house by Kiersten Jensen
Childerset Books, 1986.
The anticipated announcement of Nina Jansous’ retirement as the Editor in Chief of internationally acclaimed magazine, BLAZE, is causing ripples of anticipation among younger, ambitious magazine staff, especially Ali Gruber. Ali is eagerly awaiting her chance to be editor of the magazine.
But Nina does not announce her retirement, instead deciding to head the setting up of an Australian edition of the magazine. To top it off, she wants Ali to come with her – to be the editor of this publication.
In Australia, Ali struggles to win the confidence of her staff. She also has to confront the demons of her youth, spent here in Australia before her escape to the States. Nina is not there to support – she is off on a quest of her own to confront her own past. Neither is Ali’s deputy, Larissa Kelly, likely to be an ally. Larissa finds herself trying to keep the magazine together in the wake of Ali’s failures.
Blaze, Di Morrissey’s ninth novel, provides a gripping expose of the cutthroat world of glossy magazines. The stories of the women at the center of the novel are different yet wonderfully intertwined. An excellent read.
Blaze, by Di Morrissey
Pan Macmillan Australia, 2000
Being a boy is not always easy. Understanding boys can also be difficult – for parents, for teachers and for girls. In Boys’ Stuff, Wayne Martino and Maria Pallotta-Chiarolli explore some of the complex aspects of boys’ lives – sex, drugs, expectations, relationships, family, school and more.
Rather than telling us about boys’ experiences, the book shows them, with quotes contributed by boys from around Australia. With the ages of contributors ranging from pre-teen to adult, and with widely differing backgrounds, a vast range of attitudes and experiences are explored on subjects ranging from physical appearances, to succeeding at school, drugs and smoking and emotions.
As well as first person commentary, contributions include outstanding poetry, short stories, photographs and drawings. Whilst editorial commentary is kept to a minimum, readers are asked to stop and consider their own stance at appropriate junctures with questions for discussion and/or reflection.
Boys’ Stuff provides excellent class study material for both boys and girls but is also an excellent source of insight for parents and educators of teenage boys.
Boys’ Stuff, by Wayne Martino and Maria Pallotta-Chiarolli (eds)
Allen and Unwin, 2001
FACT: Weekends and holidays go faster than schooldays.
FACT: Dads always read in the toilet – for ages and ages.
FACT: Sisters always try to get you into trouble.
Max loves to collect facts like these. He writes them down in a little notebook. But one busy weekend he overlooks the biggest fact of all.
This delightful children’s book by West Australian author Geoff Havel documents Max’s weekend as he collects facts and tries to figure out what’s going on between his parents. His mother is acting weird and his father is fussing over her. His sister Jess keeps giving him “I know something you don’t know” looks.
It’s a pretty busy weekend for Max – washing dishes, mad dashes to hospital to stitch up his head, Sunday lunch with Grandma. And heaps of facts to gather. Will he find time to solve the mystery?
The Real Facts of Life will appeal to boys and girls aged 10 and over. Even Mum and Dad will laugh at this one.
The Real Facts of Life by Geoff Havel
Fremantle Arts Centre Press, 2001
Rarely is a picture book written which will have the adult reader laughing aloud at its humour. Ca-a-r Ca-a-a-a-r, by Geoff Havel is, fortunately, one such uniquely funny offering, which will be loved by both parents and children for its simple wit.
The premise of the book is simple – a group of animals share their reactions to an accident they witness. But this is not another talking animals story. Instead, Havel cleverly uses the animals’ sounds to tell the story. So, the skidding of the car is echoed by the parrot’s “Screech!” and the arrival of the ambulance heralded by the donkey’s “Eeyore, eeyore.” The bright and comical illustrations of Peter Kendall make a gorgeous complement to Havel’s text.
This is a book which will be read and enjoyed many times, with children quickly learning to ‘help’ the reader out with the animal sounds and even the narration. A must-have classic.
Ca-a-r Ca-a-a-a-r, by Geoff Havel
Published by Sandcastle Books, Fremantle Arts Centre Press children’s book imprint (1996).
Cara Kerr thinks the whole New Age ‘malarky’ a self-indulgent crutch. But when she is offered the chance to write the biography of mystic guru Gaelle Carrington-Keane, she doesn’t turn it down. After all, the money will help pay her mounting bills, and the publicity will certainly help her career. Plus, Gaelle’s assistant, Cam, is seriously sexy.
Living in London with her fellow Australians, TV-producer Moni and graphic designer Lucy, Cara enjoys a life of drinking, partying and sleeping late. Her love life may be a little stale but otherwise she’s perfectly happy. So this job will be nothing more than a good laugh and some excellent cash. Or will it?
As she meets and works with Gaelle, Cara findes herself disturbingly drawn to the woman’s predictions and methods. Along with Moni, Lu and an assortment of boyfriends and hangers-on, Cara finds herself questioning whether they may in fact be more to life than what they are currently doing.
Along the way she discovers the joys of meditation, the highs and lows of sex and relationships, and the importance of friendship. Despite her strong willed efforts at resistance she grows strangely fond of Gaelle.
This is a novel about good times, about love and friendship and, importantly, self discovery. For all those who have gone through the Australian ritual of spending a year in London, there will be a comfortable feeling of déjà vu. For those who haven’t, the book is still comfortably familiar. An excellent read.
Carole King is an Alien, by Yasmin Boland
Published by Penguin Books, 2000
“Matron Rose said I should write in you every day about all the things I do and stuff. And I do lots of things that I’m gunna tell you about.” So begins the diary of Mary Talence, aged 10, Sydney 1937.
Mary’s story, presented via her diary entries, begins at Bombaderry home for Aboriginal children. Mary has been living here since she was five, but remembers another home- with her Mum and Dad and lots of brothers and sisters. Mary likes her family at Bombaderry, including her best friend Marj, and the babies she looks after, but she still misses her Mum and wonders why she doesn’t come to visit.
Mary’s life changes again soon after the diary begins, when she is fostered by a white family. The diary follows her struggle to assimilate into the white society she finds herself living in. Mary is repeatedly told that to be Aboriginal is bad and that she must forget her past. To Mary this is incomprehensible.
Who Am I ? creates an awareness and understanding in young readers of the policies of protection and assimilation of Aborigines which were practiced in Australia until 1969. By using the intimate first person format of the diary, readers are given a first-hand experience of the emotional effects on the children from the ‘stolen generation’ of being removed from their families and stripped of their identities.
Who Am I? is part of Scholastic’s ongoing My Story series, presenting the stories of young people in different periods of Australian history. A quality read for readers aged 10 and over, and also suitable for study as an in class text.
My Story: Who Am I?, by Anita Heiss
Published by Scholastic Australia, 2001
Many stories of convict life present romanticised tales of poor innocents wrongly accused of trivial crimes and sent on ships with billowing sails to ultimately lead a wonderful new life in the bountiful southern land.
In The Floating Brothel, Sian Rees presents a vividly different view. This is the previously untold story of life aboard the Lady Julian which sailed from England in 1789 bearing a cargo of convicts destined for Botany Bay.
This is an historical account, not a piece of fiction, so do not expect a light romance or tales of happily ever after, though this does not mean that The Floating Brothel is overly pessimistic or negative. Rees has carefully researched this history and provides a detailed exploration of life on board the Lady Julian, and of the history of those who came to sail on her. Details of life in and beyond the new colony for the key figures round off the book.
For those who enjoy historical fiction, the opening chapters of The Floating Brothel may prove to be a little hard-going. Rees details the social circumstances which led to the use of deportation as a means of relieving pressure on English prisons and, more broadly, English society, as well as the crimes and circumstances of the women who sailed on the Lady Julian. Perseverance with this opening will find the reader drawn in to the tale and to the individual stories of some of those on board, especially that of the ship’s steward, John Nicol, and 19 year old Sarah Whitelam.
Despite its title, The Floating Brothel is not a tale of moral depravity – Rees delves deep into the realities of the relationships and activities on board the ship. This is an absorbing read for anyone with an interest in this era of Australia’s history.
The Floating Brothel, by Sian Reees
Published by Hodder, 2001.
Mrs Silverstein is a teacher with a difference – she believes children should be seen and heard. This makes life in her classroom very interesting – and very noisy. Today the year sixes have to tell their life stories. Just to make it more interesting, Mrs Silverstein has asked them to tell ‘whoppers’ – tall tales to make their lives sound as interesting as they can. The best ‘whopper’ will win a giant box of smarties.
When it is Mark’s turn, however, he says he doesn’t want to tell a whopper. The time has come, he says, to instead tell the world the truth. He is really a Martian. As the class listens intently he gives more and more details of life on Mars and his secret life here on Earth. None of Mark’s classmates are sure whether to believe him or not – except for his girlfriend Deborah, who hangs on every word he says.
By the end of the day, no one has managed to tell a story more interesting than Mark’s. His classmates keep looking at him, trying to figure out if he’s telling the truth or not. And to top it all off, Deborah has asked him to come home with her after school – for a special kiss, perhaps? Will Mark win the kiss and the contest? Or will his tale-telling backfire?
Whoppers is a lively read for eight to eleven year olds. One of Puffin’s popular Aussie Bites books, it could be devoured by an advanced reader in one sitting, or savoured in smaller nibbles by a reluctant reader.
Whoppers, by Moya Simons
Published by Puffin Books, 1998
Chloe’s family tell her that wishes aren’t real – even her little brother Eli tells her they’re ‘kid’s stuff’. But Chloe is sure that wishes float around in the air like invisible bubbles. All she has to do is wish at the right time and pop the wish bubble will burst and come true.
So Chloe isn’t as surprised as you might expect when she wishes for a fairy godmother to help her decide what to wish for, and pop, whizz, a fairy godmother appears in a cloud of pink and mauve fuzzy stuff. What she is surprised to learn is that some fairy godmothers aren’t exactly expert at granting wishes.
The tale of Chloe’s Wish, by Diana Chase, will delight six to ten year old readers. They will laugh out loud at the antics of Gloria, Chloe’s fairy godmother, and thrill at the idea that wishes really can come true. The illustrations of Heather Himmel also add a special touch to the book.
Chloe’s Wish, by Diana Chase
Published by Fremantle Arts Centre Press, 2001