Bessie says the nurses have set to work at Harefield House, scrubbing floors, dragging beds and mattresses upstairs, unpacking bed linen and stamping it with their hospital mark.
The nurses are asking local women to read to the Australian soldiers. I wonder if I dare. Bessie says she’ll read to them if I will…
When war breaks out, fourteen year old Rose O’Reilly’s life changes. A local manor house is converted into a hospital for Australian soldiers, and soon Rosie is volunteering there, keeping the soldiers company and, eventually, allowed to help with their care. Rosie loves her job, but when she’s not busy, she worries about her brother, away fighting on the Western Front. Life in war-time England is not easy, but when a new Australian soldier arrives, Rose finds some happiness.
In the Lamplight is a satisfying complement to the Lighthouse Girl and Light Horse Boy, from the same author/illustrator pairing of Dianne Wolfer and Brian Simmons, again exploring Australian’s role in World War 1. This time the setting is England, with the main character an English girl, but with Australian soldiers being a key part of the story. As with the earlier books, the narrative uses a scrapbook like blend of diary entries from the perspective of the main character, photographs, newspaper clippings, and third person narrative, as well as the stunning black and white illustration work of Simmonds.
In sumptuous hard cover, this is a collector’s delight and will be adored by young and old alike.
In the Lamplight, by Dianne Wolfer, illustrated by Brian Simmonds
Fremantle Press, 2018
On Christmas morning the Boss lifted me by the scruff of the neck and dumped me in an old kerosene tin. he carried me from the outside kennel and tucked me under a strange sparkly tree. When Elsie saw me, she danced and I smelt her joy.
When a tiny puppy is born on a remote cattle station, her survival is unlikely. The runt of the litter, and with a mother who dies soon after delivering her latest litter of pups, only the station owner’s daughter has any time for her. When Christmas comes, the pup is gifted to the daughter, Elsie, cementing their bond, and Princess gets a name.Girl and dog are inseparable until war arrives, and they are separated. In the years that follow the dog has adventures around the Pilbara region as war causes turmoil to all around her and, as she helps and bonds with a range of new people, she also acquires a series of new names. But she never forgets her Elsie, and dreams of being reunited with her.
The Dog With Seven Names is a warm, tender tale of one little dog, set against the historical events of Word War Two in rural Western Australia. Told from the perspective of the dog, the narrative is both childlike and perceptive, offering a unique insight into the impact of war and the bonds between dogs and humans.
Dianne Wolfer has a knack for delivering historical fiction in a form which at once palatable, well researched, and engaging, doesn’t disappoint with this warm-hearted, loveable book.
The Dog With Seven Names, by Dianne Wolfer
Random House Australia, 2018
We start sorting the buttons.
The button I’m looking for
needs to be just the right size,
just the right shape and just
the right colour.
Nanna’s button tin is a treasure trove of buttons of all sizes and shapes. But when Teddy needs a button, it has to be just the right one. As Teddy’s owner and her Nanna sort through the buttons, they also revisit the memories that the buttons contain – buttons from a baby cardigan, a button from a first meeting, and buttons from special outfits. Finally, though, just the right button is found, and Teddy has a new eye.
Nanna’s Button Tin is a divine picture book offering. Many adults will share the joy of remembering a grandmother or mother’s button tin, and the bond between generations depicted is really special. Wolfer’s simple, heartwarming story is brought to life in beautiful pastel-toned gouache with ink outlines. The inclusion of details including a grandfather and baby sibling reading in the background highlight the warm family feel.
Suitable for all ages, this is just beautiful.
Nanna’s Button Tin, by Dianne Wolfer & Heather Potter
Walker Books, 2017
I stared into the shark’s unblinking eye. The voices grew louder. It felt like they were calling me. I tried to understand, but the mako’s black eyes were frightening. I looked away.
The voices stopped.
Isabel (Izzy) and her mother are returning home to the place she was born – an island in Papua New Guinea. Izzy loves her home, but this time, her journey is sad. They are taking the ashes of her much-loved twin brother home to be scattered.
On the island, Izzy and her mother start to heal, but Izzy also sees that the island is changing. The environment is changing, threatened by logging and modern technologies, and the sharks no longer answer the cries of the village shark callers. The clan needs someone to take an offering deep beneath the sea in a traditional offering to the shark god. The person must be a twin from the shark-calling lineage. Lizzie is the last twin. I will take great courage to even attempt the challenge.
The Shark Caller is a gripping, moving story of bereavement and courage, combining contemporary realism with fantasy elements. The issues of grief and of family obligations are combined with broader issues of environmental change and the impact of modernisation on traditional communities and ecocultures.
Suitable from readers in upper primary and beyond.
The Shark Caller, by Dianne Wolfer
Penguin Books, 2016
Annie giggles. Her pets shiver and slip back into their shells. She lines them up on her legs, sits very still and waits. The snails peep out. They stretch, then race each other to Annie’s ankles. It’s a very slow race.
Annie loves snails, so after it rains she collects six of them and keeps them as pets. She races them, she plays with them, she even gives them names. She is very happy with her pet snails. The problem is, it seems they might not be happy with her.
Annie’s Snails is a delightful story of pets, family and care for the natural world. Part of Walker Books’ ‘Walker Stories’ imprint, the book is broken into three stories, though together they make up one longer story that traces Annie’s adventures in first capturing then caring for the snails before finally deciding to release them.
Suitable for newly independent readers making the transition to books with chapters, there is illustrative support on every page in the form of gray-scale pictures by talented new-comer Gabriel Evans.
A fun offering.
Annie’s Snails , by Dianne Wolfer, illustrated by Gabriel Evans
Walker Books, 2014
Available from good bookstores and online .
Now I understand why the landing on April 25th is being called heroic.
We’ve landed in hell.
Bob didn’t make it. He was hit as we struggled ashore. I keep going over that moment. Writing a letter to his wife was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. Harder even than going over the side of our ship.
Britain has declared war on Germany, and Australia has vowed to be there. Jim, seeing a chance for adventure rushes to join up before the war ends without him. Soon he and his horse, Breaker, are sailing from Melbourne, off to do their bit. For four years Jim lives the terrible reality of life on the frontline. If he ever returns home, he will be a changed man.
Light Horse Boy is a beautiful record of one soldier’s war. Whilst fiction, it presents a story which could so well be the story of a real soldier’s experience. Using a blend of third person narrative and letters, chiefly between Jim and his sister Alice, back in Australia, Woofer takes readers on a journey through the the years of the first World War, focussing on the role of the Lighthorseman in Gallipoli and Egypt.
Light Horse Boy is a companion volume to Lighthouse Girl and features the same beautiful hard cover design and the brilliant illustrative work of Brian Simmonds. The two complement each other beautifully, though focussing on different aspects of the same war and featuring different characters (with the exception of Charlie, who is friends with Jim but also connects with the lighthouse girl, Fay).
A picture book for older readers, Light Horse Boy is suitable for upper primary and teens.
Light Horse Boy, by Dianne Wolfer, illustrated by Brian Simmonds
Fremantle Press, 2013
Available from good bookstores or online.
Elisabeth’s hand trembled as she lifted the jar of warm liquid. She wanted to run away and scream that it was all a mistake, but instead she took a deep breath and poured her urine all over the plastic pregnancy tester. A few drops spilt on the bathroom tiles. She shivered. it was so unfair. They’d only done it a few times and it hadn’t even been that good. Not like it was in books or movies. She looked at her watch and crossed her fingers as her brother rattled the door handle.
‘I’m busy!’ she yelled.
‘All right, keep your hair on.’ He walked away. Then, the blue lines appeared. Elisabeth stared at the tester and knew that now she had to make a choice.
Elisabeth is seventeen, pregnant and needs to make choices about what to do. In Choices, Dianne Wolfer takes Elisabeth in two directions. The narrative progresses with ‘Beth’ choosing one path, and ‘Libby’ another. Neither path is easy and both have consequences for relationships with her family, her boyfriend, her faith and with her friends. There are also consequences for her education and her post-school plans. The narrative alternates between Libby’s story and Beth’s story with headings indicating the passage of time ie Beth: 16 Weeks, followed by ‘Libby: 17 Weeks. The alternating chapters are in different fonts to help distinguish between the narrators.
Choices is a sophisticated read. Elisabeth’s challenge/problem is identified from her point of view in a prologue and thereafter the voice is of one of her ‘alter-egos’. Dealing with a teenage pregnancy is not a new story line, but most novels take one path, not both. Choicesuses an omniscient viewpoint to bring in the thoughts of other main characters, but for the most part both Beth’s and Libby’s stories are a little like diaries. The omniscient point of view allows Diane Wolfer to add layers to the story by giving a depth to other characters that would be difficult to do in diary format or third person intimate point of view. Elisabeth is a strong, resourceful character and this is a very tough right of passage for a teenager…via either of the narratives. Wolfer avoids judgement of Elisabeth’s decision by presenting the dual narratives with equal weighting. Recommended for mid- to upper-secondary readers.
Choices, Diane Wolfer
Fremantle Press 2009
review by Claire Saxby, Children’s Author
This book can be purchased online from Fishpond. Buying through this link supports Aussiereviews.
Mum looked down. The possum’s nose was peeking out from her bra. She laughed as the scratchy whiskers twitched back and forth. ‘Stop it,’ I hissed. ‘You’re embarrassing me!’
Harmony (she much prefers to be called Mon) used to think that her mum’s work with injured wildlife was cool, but now that she’s in year six she’s tired of being pecked and peed on by Mum’s orphans, and she’s tired of living in the bush. She wants her mum to be normal. Or does she?
The Kid Whose Mum Kept Possums in Her Bra is funny junior fiction, which explores some important issues, including family relationships and communication. As Harmony struggles to cope with her need to fit in with other children, she must also understand her mother’s motivations, and learn to compromise about the things that are important to each of them.
As well as being an insightful tale, the story also deals with animal rehabilitation issues, and includes back of book information about caring for injured animals and contact details for Emergency Wildlife Rescue organisations in each state.
The Kid Whose Mum Kept Possums in her Bra, by Dianne Wolfer
Fremantle Arts Centre Press, 2006
I’ve got a problem. For two years I’ve been a horse. Every morning I wake up, stretch my legs, roll onto my back and flick my mane. But that isn’t my problem.
When she wakes up on her eighth birthday, Alice discovers something terrible. She is no longer a horse. She can’t whinny or trot and she feels silly drinking out of a bucket. All her friends are horses, and if they discover Alice is no longer one of them, they may stop playing with her.
Alice tries everything to get her horsiness back, but when that fails she looks for other friends. She doesn’t want to be on of the Cool Girls or the Sporty Girls. She really misses her old friends. She might not want to be a horse, but she still likes the other members of the Pony Club.
Horse Mad is a cute, fun book. Author Dianne Wolfer gets across a message about friendship and belonging without being preachy or boring. Suitable for readers aged six to ten, horse mad or otherwise.
Horse Mad, by Dianne Wolfer