My Name is Lizzie Flynn, by Claire Saxby & Lizzy Newcomb

All I own in this world is my name: Lizzie Flynn. 
It’s all I take with me as we are hustled aboard the Rajah, a cargo of convict women.

Convict Lizzie Flynn is leaving London, bound for Van Diemen’s Land. All she owns is her name. When the women on the boat are given sewing materials to make a quilt, she is reluctant. She doesn’t know how to sew. But Molly encourages and teaches her, and soon Lizzie a part of the sewing group. By the time the boat reaches Australia, the women of the Rajah, have completed a beautiful quilt and Lizzie has new skills and new friends, though sadly her friend Molly has not survived the journey.

My Name is Lizzie Flynn: A Story of the Rajah Quilt is a beautiful historical picture book, fictionalising the story of the Rajah Quilt, made by convict women in 1841 and now housed in the National Gallery of Australia in Canberra.

Saxby has a skill for creative nonfiction, and her text manages to convey both the emotions of Lizzie and her fellow travellers, and the essence of the era of convict transportation. The acrylic illustrations again capture the mood, with the drab colours onboard the ship in contrast with the e blues of the seas and sky beyond. In the scenes of land a clever contrast is created by portraying England in grey tones as the women leave it behind and Van Diemen’s Land (Tasmania) with rolling green hills, and gently colourful houses suggesting a level of hope.

A beautiful book, suitable for school and home

My Name is Lizzie Flynn: A Story of the Rajah Quilt, by Claire Saxby & Lizzy Newcomb
Walker Books, 2015

Available from good bookstores and online.

My Holocaust Story: Hanna, by Goldie Alexander

Hanna (My Holocaust Story)Only this afternoon Papa had warned us of the German threat to Poland. Now the Luftwaffe’s bombs had succeeded in convincing us that everything was about to change.

Hanna and her family have a happy life in Warsaw – until the Nazis invade, and the family must run and hide. Their crime? Being Jewish. Suddenly they have nothing, and every day becomes a fight for survival. First in hiding in the loft of a farmhouse, and later in the ghetto, Hanna must use all her skill to keep herself alive.

Hanna is a moving fictional account of one girl’s Holocaust story. Hanna is, at the start of the story, a fairly normal child: she has friends, is close to her family, and worries about things like missing out on gymnastics training. But as the Nazi occupation forces her family into a radically different life, she grows and discovers new talents and new strength.

Hanna shares a terrible chapter in history with a young audience who may not be familiar with it, in a form which makes it accessible and movingly real.

My Holocaust Story: Hanna, by Goldie Alexander
Scholastic, 2015
ISBN 9781743629673

Available from good bookstores or online.

A Time of Secrets, by Deborah Burrows

There was a fierce, well-controlled energy about Eric Lund, and I couldn’t help wondering what he’d be like if he became angry. I suspected that he didn’t give in to anger lightly, though. He was holding me close and his hand was firm on the small of my back. I was very concious of the feel of his left hand, holding my right in a secure grip. I looked up, into his eyes. For a moment we just stared at each other, watching each other’s faces as our bodies moved together in time to the music.

When Australian Women’s Army sergeant Stella Aldridge meets Eric Lund, he reminds her of her dead husband, in disturbing ways, and yet she cant’ stop thinking about him, even after he is sent off a mission soon after they meet. Her mind should be elsewhere. She has overhead a threat to kill someone, a threat which links Eric and her new boss, the very attractive Lieutenant Nick Ross. While Eric is away, Stella must work with Nick to try to uncover a traitor who is putting surveillance missions, and lives, at risk.

A Time of Secrets, set in Melbourne during World War II, is an absorbing blend of romance, action and mystery.Readers are given an inside look at part of Australian war history they may not know about, with the fictional characters and relationships set amongst the real events of the time. Stella, previously an artist, and a war widow, has enlisted in the Women’s Army and her flair with languages has seen her deployed to Melbourne to work in Intelligence. Her determination not be hurt does not stop her from taking risks or from looking after herself and those around her. Readers will enjoy watching her development, as well as seeing that of the men in her life.

Excellent historical fiction.

A Time of Secrets, by Deborah Burrows
Macmillan, 2015
ISBN 9781743532997

Available from good bookstores and online.

Bridget, by J. Moloney

‘You don’t want to be stopping here, me young colleen,’ he said. ‘In England, the Irish are bottom of the heap – kept poor and treated like eejits ’cause of our Catholic faith. Go someplace where you’re as good as the rest. That’s what I’d do, if I was young like you.’

Life has been tough for Bridget, but now she setting sail for Australia, where she is to start a new life. She isn’t afraid. Nothing could be worse than staying in Ireland and starving to death. Still, she cries for what she is leaving behind – her mother and brothers in the work house and her father and grandmother, both dead. In Australia, too, she finds that though life might be better, her strong spirit might land her in trouble.

Bridget, part of Omnibus Books’ New Australian series is set in and after the time of the Irish potato famine of the mid nineteenth century, and shows both that famine’s effects as well as the resultant scheme which saw poverty stricken Irish shipped to Australia. Although not convicts, Bridget and her fellows travellers have few rights and must adapt to life in a very foreign land.

Suitable for readers in middle primary and older, Bridget is historical fiction with broad appeal. Bridget is a likeable narrator who readers will enjoy getting to know.


Bridget (New Australian)

Bridget, by J. Maloney
Omnibus, 2015
ISBN 9781742990989

Available from good bookstores and online.

Razorhurst, by Justine Larbalestier

Kelpie didn’t look at the card between her fingers. She could feel it there, but she was staring at the red splashes on the walls, on the mirror of the wardrobe, across the two paintings, at the blood sliding down them in rivulets. her nostrils flared at the smell from the dead man and she wished she could close them.
She did not see or smell apples.

Kelpie has been living on the streets of Surry Hills almost as long as she can remember. Her friends are mostly ghosts – she alone seems to be able to see and hear them – so she’s no stranger to death, but she is still shocked when she stumbles across the scene where Jimmy Palmer has just been slain. Unwittingly, she is now part of a turf war between mob bosses Glory Nelson and Mr Davidson. She also has a new, unexpected friend and protector – Dymphna Campbell – who was Jimmy’s girlfriend and Glory’s best girl. But Dymphna doesn’t know who to trust: she had Jimmy had been plotting to replace both of the mob bosses, and whoever killed Jimmy must have known that. Jimmy’s ghost wants to help, but he’s a bit hysterical over the turn of events. Kelpie’s only living friend, Snowy, also seems to want to help, but Jimmy says it was Snowy who killed him. Could sticking together be the thing that keeps both girls alive?

Set in 1930s Sydney, Razorhurst is historical fiction with a paranormal element, via the ghost characters. Set amidst the backdrop of a period where poverty was high, and gangs focused on prostitution and gambling preferred the razor as a means of enforcement and retribution, the story is fiction, but does draw on the lives of madams Tilly Devine and Kate Leigh, and 1930s prostitutes Dulcie Markham and Nellie Cameron as starting points for the intriguing characters of Glory and Dymphna.

Kelpie and Dymphna, who alternate as viewpoint characters, seem initially to be two very different people thrown together by circumstance, but it emerges that they have more in common than either thinks. this makes their relationship both complex and, for the reader, intriguing. The events that they endure, both within the short time frame of the book and in their pasts – which we see through flash backs – are violent and traumatic, yet both girls are strong, albeit in different ways.

Razorhurst is absorbing, frightening, and, at times, amusing. It is also utterly readable.



Razorhurst, by Justine Larbalestier
Allen & Unwin, 2014
ISBN 9781743319437

Available from good bookstores or online.

Convict Girl, by Chrissie Michaels

Almost one year ago I arrived in this colony on board an English transport. I am about to leave on board a French discovery ship…the Geographe…a journey I cannot fathom.

It is 1802 and fourteen year old Mary Beckwith is struggling to adjust to her new life. She and her mother have been transported for life to New South Wales, for stealing fabric. Assigned as nursemaid to a judge’s daughters, Mary tries hard to settle down and do her job, but it isn’t long before she falls foul of the lady of the house, and is sent to serve a French explorer, Nicholas Baudin, who is visiting the colony. Soon, Mary is travelling with the explorer, also crossing paths with Matthew Flinders as the two explorers make their Voyages of Discovery.

Convict Girl , part of the My Australian Story series, is a diary-format tale. As such we are offered insight into Mary’s thoughts and motivation, including her mixed feelings about what loyalty and honesty really mean. Set in the early days of the colony, readers are taken inside the life of the times, and issues such as the treatment of Aborigines and of convicts, as well as the journeys of the two famed explorers Baudin and Flinders.

A wonderfully accessible way to explore Australia’s history, the series is suitable for primary aged readers and younger teens.


Convict Girl (My Australian Story)

Convict Girl , by Chrissie Michaels
Scholastic, 2014
ISBN 9781743620151

Available from good bookstores and online .

To See The World, by Elaine Forrestal

This was not the great adventure I had anticipated. I wanted to swim back to my mother, to feel her arms around me, to smell the delicious spicy fish she would be cooking instead of this disgusting mixture of stale milk and filthy toilets. The wind roared in the rigging. The waves slapped the hull so hard that I knew I would be battered to death immediately if I jumped into the sea. My mother always complained that I would drive her crazy; I was so careless and afraid of nothing. But I am not stupid. Although my heart was aching and I desperately wanted to go home, I would never let the sea take me.

Jose has lived all of his life on the island of Mauritius, but his father has arranged for him to travel and work on board the ship Uranie. Jose anticipates a life of seeing interesting places and having adventures. He doesn’t expect to meet a woman on the ship. It is 1818 and women are not allowed to join naval expeditions, but Rose de Freycinet has decided she cannot bear to be apart from her husband, and besides, she wants an adventure of her own. Jose is not impressed. Rose wants to teach him to read and write and her very presence makes ship life more dangerous. But as their journey continues, a friendship develops between the two, and Jose becomes as loyal as most of the other sailors.

To See the World is the fictionalised account of the journey of French ship Uranie which attempted to circumnavigate the world and conduct scientific research. Rose de Freycinet, the wife of the expedition leader, Louis, became the first woman to write an account of such a circumnavigation, including their encounters with pirates, and cannibals, and their shipwrecking on the Falkland Islands. While this is a work of fiction, the character of Jose is based on a real boy, and the events of the story use real events, drawing on journals and other documents. Each chapter of the book opens with an image or painting from the time, from the National Library of Australia’s collection.

Suitable for middle and upper primary aged readers, To See the World is an intriguing tale of history, travel and an adventurous woman.


To See the World, by Elaine Forrestal
NLA Publishing, 2014
ISBN 9780642278494

Available from good bookstores and online .

Cicada, by Moira McKinnon

She brushed her lips against the baby’s forehead and she saw his eyes fix on hers.
‘I am here.’ She touched his shoulders, his chest and felt his heartbeat against the tips of her fingers.
It was then that her husband’s hand smashed hard and cold against her face. The child fell from her arms. She reached for him, but the room went dark and she was falling, and all she could see were William’s eyes burning and yellow.

On a remote Kimberley station, Lady Emily Lidscombe gives birth to her first child, a child she hopes will provide an heir and perhaps breathe life into her ailing marriage. But the baby, when it is born, is not her husband’s: he has ‘skin the colour of dark mallee honey’, the result of a brief liaison with an Aboriginal stockman. The birth sets of a violent and disturbing chain of events and soon Emily is on the run with her maid, Wirritjil, across the stark but beautiful landscape as they avoid capture and retribution for crimes real and imagined.

Cicada is a breathtaking tale of two disparate women who form a deep connection amidst horrible circumstances in a landscape which is as foreign to one as it is will be to most readers. This landscape is key to the story – it is a much a story of place as it is of violence, displacement and friendship. It is isn’t an easy read but it is compelling and utterly beautiful.


Cicada, by Moira McKinnon
Allen & Unwin, 2014
ISBN 9781743315293

Available from good bookstores or online.

Midnight: The Story of a Light Horse, by Mark Greenwood & Frane Lessac

…in the winter of 1914,
the drums of a distant war are beating.
Guy and Midnight heed the nation’s call.
The wind blows in Midnight’s mane.
And they ride to join the Light Horse.

Guy Haydon has loved his horse, Midnight, since she was born on the family farm. Now he and Midnight are joining up – heading off to fight together in a war on the other side of the world. Together they travel to Cairo and, in spite of being separated when Guy is sent alone to Gallipoli, they later ride together on one of the last great cavalry charges in history, the ride on Beersheba in August 1917.

Midnight: The Story of a Light Horse is a stunning new picture book from one of Australia’s leading creative pairings in the form. The text is a wonderful blend of poetic, emotive prose and historical basis, and the illustrations capture the colours of the desert and bush settings and the starkness of he war scenes with a deceptive simplicity.

Back of book notes give context to the true story on which the book is based, including details of the charge on Beersheba.

With ANZAC Day approaching, Midnight: The Story of a Light Horse is ideal for school use as well as private reading.


Midnight: The Story of a Light Horse, by Mark Greenwood and Frane Lessac
Walker Books, 2014
ISBN 9781921977718

Available from good bookstores and online.

Game, by Trevor Shearston

The thought was coming more often. That wherever he was, he was at the centre of a cage. He couldn’t have said when the notion first entered his head. Some time in the last months. It was now more than a notion, he he could see the damn bars. They were grey steel, the height of  a man on horseback.

For three years Ben Hall and his gang have lived as bushrangers, riding free, robbing stage coaches, taking what they need, and finding safe harbour with friends. But now their days on the road are numbered. Coaches now have armed escorts, the mail holds cheques rather than cash, and those that shelter them are being targeted by the law. There have been deaths, too. Though Ben himself has not killed, being present when two policemen are killed makes him guilty too. Ben knows it is only time before he is caught, so plans to escape to New Zealand. First, though, he wants to set things right with his son, Harry.

Game is an absorbing tale of Ben Hall’s life, attempting to portray the inner workings of one of Australia’s best known bushrangers. Readers are invited to explore Hall’s complex relationship with his son, who is being raised by Ben’s wife Biddy and her new man, and his decisions on the road, during hold ups and with his colleagues and shelterers. He is portrayed as being at times vulnerable, at others compassionate, even charismatic, yet with an awareness that he can also be ruthless and also criminal.

This is not a book which glorifies the bushranger’s exploits; rather, it explores his human side, flaws and all.



Game, by Trevor Shearston
Allen & Unwin, 2013
ISBN 9781743315217

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