Kisses, Rats and More Angels

These books were reviewed on ABC Radio Canberra Drive Show with Louise Maher on Tuesday December 7 2010

Books reviewed by Deborah Abela, National Literacy Ambassador and

Author of Max Remy Superspy series, Jasper Zammit (Soccer Legend) series, The Remarkable Secret of Aurelie Bonhoffen and Grimsdon.

http://www.deborahabela.com

 

 

 

 

Samuel’s Kisses written by Karen Collum and illustrated by Serena Geddes

(New Frontier Publishing)

Picture Book for pre-schoolers

Sometimes small ideas can be so very, very big. Samuel is a small boy who loves being with his mum…especially when she goes shopping. But this smiley young thing becomes a little confused when he sees other people don’t seem to love being out and about as much as he does. So when he’s in the line at the post office with his mum and sees the lady tapping her foot and staring at her watch, he decides to change things. Samuel blew her a kiss. ‘It flew under the table, over the greeting cards, between the envelopes, around her legs and landed on her cheek with a loud ‘SPLAT!’ The lady gasped but her foot had stopped tapping and she stopped looking at her watch and she started playing peek-a-boo until the reached the front of the line. In the supermarket there is an equally glum woman whose shoulders were droopy and feet were heavy, but after another flying set of kisses she too found herself smiling and juggling oranges. So it goes, until Samuel is tucked into his car seat and quickly falls asleep. With his mum in the driver seat, she blows him a kiss that sails over the seat and through the shopping to land on his cheek without a sound.

Walker Stories – Series

(Walker Books)

Early independent readers

This series started in the UK and are now being added to by Australian and New Zealand authors and illustrators. With their simply illustrated pastel-coloured covers and their catchy stories divided into three chapters, these books are great for young primary aged kids finding their reading feet. The range of stories is wide and fun, including Mr Tripp Smells a Rat by Sandy McKay and Ruth Paul about a lovable, joke-telling teacher with a clever nose, Kasia’s Surprise by Stella Gurney and Petr Horacek about a young girl and her homesickness for her native Poland and The Lost Treasure by Jan Stradling and Cassandra Allen about three young pirates in search of treasure. This series is a great way to guide young ones into confident independent readers with a giggle along the way.


Mercy

(Harper Collins)

Young Adult Fiction

Mercy is a young girl who ‘wakes’ to find herself on a bus full of high school students.  She is on the way to the small town of Paradise but is having trouble remembering who she is, who she likes and dislikes, and how she is supposed to act. No one knows it yet, but Mercy is a fallen angel, expelled from heaven for a crime she has yet to remember and a host of angels are out for revenge. Forced to inhabit the bodies of earthly beings, she works her way into their lives, each time trying to discover who this person is and what her role will be in their lives. Each body is a new beginning and new exercise in what it is to be a teenager on earth. This time Mercy inhabits the body of Carmen, a talented but insecure singer in a choir she feels unworthy to be part of. Two years previous, a young brilliant singer called Lauren disappeared and Mercy has been billeted to stay with her family, who are still deeply traumatised. Lauren’s brother, however, is convinced his sister is still alive and, despite everyone’s advice to move on, he won’t stop looking for her. He and Mercy form an instant bond and with Mercy’s angelic powers of seeing into people’s past by touch, they’re determined to find the truth of what happened to this young girl all.


 

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A date with the Premier, Kristina Keneally

On a perfectly spring Monday morning on November 22, I had the pleasure of hanging out at The Maritime Museum in Sydney with not only the Premier of NSW, Kristina Keneally but a swag of passionate book loving folks.

That’s me sitting between the Premier, Andrew Daddo and Peter Fitzsimmons, who writes loads of books for adults. I also had fun meeting legendary comedian Ahn Do, who was born in Vietnam and came to Australia as a refugee and has written a book  telling that story. I can’t wait to read his book.

The museum was packed with kids who had completed the Premier’s Reading Challenge for 2010 and many of its devoted supporters. We all witnessed the launch of the Challenge for 2011,  which will be even bigger and better! The premier announced not only 600 new books on the lists to choose from but that she is setting up an online voting system so kids can vote for their favourite books to be added as well.

At the museum were loads of other great kids’ authors like Duncan Ball, Moya Simons, Boori Monty Pryor, James Roy and Tohby Riddle.

Below is a picture of me talking about books – something I love doing.

I was talking about my book, The Remarkable Secret of Aurelie Bonhoffen, which was inspired by my Nanna’s stories about seeing ghosts!

Thanks to Rosie Charles for the pics from the day.

Ponies, Dalmatians and Teenage Sleuths

These books were reviewed on ABC Radio Canberra Drive Show with Louise Maher on Tuesday November 23 2010

Books reviewed by Deborah Abela, National Literacy Ambassador and

Author of Max Remy Superspy series, Jasper Zammit (Soccer Legend) series, The Remarkable Secret of Aurelie Bonhoffen and Grimsdon.

http://www.deborahabela.com

Noni The Poni written and Illustrated by Alison Lester

(Allen and Unwin)

Picture Book

This is the story of a pony called Noni who is friendly and funny and has a shimmering, honey-coloured tail. She lives on a farm overlooking the sea and likes trotting and prancing and kicking up her heels with the hens and the ducks. Her best friends are Dave the Dog and Coco the Cat who run and play and jump over the creek. And like a good friend, Noni is always careful that no one gets left behind, that if thunder frightens her friends, she cuddles them close and tells them stories to help them be brave, and when she gets spooked by the rustling leaves at night, all she has to do is snuggle in for a song with her best friends and soon she’ll be sleeping all night long. Alison’s drawings are created from clean strong lines, vibrant colours and a fierce love of animals and the Australian landscape. When times are happy there are golds and blues and when forests fill with Noni’s fears, there are murky greys and greens. With Alison’s books though, you can be sure to end on a warm and cuddly note.

Just a Dog written by Michael Gerard Bauer

(Omnibus Books)

Primary Aged kids

Mr Mosely is a gangly dog who was supposed to be a pure bred Dalmatian but because of a faulty lock on a kennel door, ended up being a bitser. Bitser or not he is adored by young Corey, whose mum and dad gave him the decision of choosing Mr Mosely from all the other dogs at the kennel. This is a seemingly random collection of tales about Mr Mosely, or Moe, until certain threads begin to poke through Corey’s retelling that let us know bigger things are going on. Like Dad losing his job and not telling as many jokes anymore, like mum finding out she was going to have another baby and that leading to serious words between Corey’s parents about money troubles and how Uncle Gavin, who used to come around a lot, stopped after a really bad fight. With the backdrop of economic tough times and strained relationships, Mr Mosely is always there, collecting the paper, wagging his tail to distraction when Corey comes home from school and as someone to talk to when each of the family members needs him. There are touching and tender moments that sneak up on you, proving that Mr Mosely is much more than ‘just a dog.’

Noah’s Law: Crime Punishment and Paper Jams written by Randa Abdel-Fattah

(Pan Macmillan Australia)

Young Adult

Sixteen-year-old Noah thinks he’s the king of wit and practical jokes. His dad, however, a successful QC, believes his son is a troublemaker who needs to be taught the value of responsibility, so sentences him to spending the summer holidays making up for his ‘crimes’ in his aunt’s law firm. Resentful of spending hot sunny days photocopying reams of case notes, Noah soon makes friends with cute, sassy legal assistant Jacinta, which makes being stuck in the office suddenly much more interesting. He also becomes intrigued by a case where a grieving husband is seeking compensation over of the death of his wife at her work. Noah soon has his suspicions that perhaps the husband’s grief is all an act and that the wife’s death wasn’t a robbery gone wrong as is being argued by his aunt’s firm. But how can he prove it when a lot of his theories are circumstantial and the evidence he does manage to gather has been obtained by not-so-legal ways? The more he searches, the more complicated the case seems and the more determined he is to have justice play out.

Mirrors, Divas and Photographers

These books were reviewed on ABC Radio Canberra Drive Show with Louise Maher on Tuesday November 9 2010

Books reviewed by Deborah Abela, National Literacy Ambassador and

Author of Max Remy Superspy series, Jasper Zammit (Soccer Legend) series, The Remarkable Secret of Aurelie Bonhoffen and Grimsdon.

http://www.deborahabela.com

Mirror written and created by Jeannie Baker

(Walker Books)

Picture Book for all ages

Jeannie Baker took over 5 years to finish this book and the wait was definitely worth it. Clever in every way, the book opens out so that there are two stories told side-by-side. The left side follows the day in the life of a boy from Australia, the right, introduced in Arabic, about a day in the life of a Moroccan boy. The story was inspired by Jeannie’s travels through Morocco and the way she felt welcomed as a stranger at a time when she believed Australia was becoming a nation less friendly to the idea of foreigners. On the surface these two boys have very different lives, but beyond the details, they are both very similar, knowing the importance of being loved by their family and their wider community. Apart from the different ways of dress and ways of being, the two boys could be each other when they look in a mirror. Jeannie first drew images and used them as a guide for collages that she made with a combination of materials such as sand, paper, wool and fabric. Read it again and again and pour over the delicious detail, the sentiment and the reflection of yourself back in this delightful work of art and ideas.

Dame Nellie Melba written by Gabiann Marin and Illustrated by Rae Dale

(New Frontier Publishing)

Primary aged children

This is the first in a new series of books called Aussie Heroes. This one explores the life of Australia’s first diva, Helen Porter, who from the age of six, knew she wanted to be a famous opera singer. We follow the life of the precocious child who has inherited her father’s stubborn personality leading her to not only follow her passion but also make the odd careless decision, such as her marriage at the age of 21 to a jackaroo and plantation manager. Soon tiring of station life, Helen longs for Melbourne, her lessons with her Italian opera teacher and for the stage. Enticed back to Melbourne with a chance to perform, Helen leaves the farm with her young son and once again is caught by the excitement of performing. Audiences love her and she is soon singing in the best opera houses in the country, but it’s not until a chance to travel to England and audition for the big houses of Europe that Helen Porter, now Nellie Melba, becomes one of the finest opera singers of her time.

 

Always Jack written by Susanne Gervay

(Harper Collins)

Primary Aged children

This is the third book in a series about a joke-telling, inventive and irrepressibly cute boy called Jack. Jack lives with his sister, mum, soon-to-be stepdad, Rob and purple underpant wearing Nanna. Jack’s life is very busy with his photography, his science experiments, schoolwork, best friends Christopher and Anna and, to Jack’s absolute boredom, constant talk about the upcoming wedding between his mum and Rob. But when Jack’s mum is diagnosed with breast cancer, his whole world threatens to crash around him. His head pounds and his sleeps fill with nightmares of losing his mum. Even though the doctors have caught it early, his mum is preoccupied and after the operation and during her radiotherapy, she is tired and can’t do star jumps like she used to. A three-time breast cancer survivor, Susanne Gervay’s story is all the more poignant because it is from Jack’s point of view: delving into his fears, confusion and his love for his family. This book is a clear, informative look at what takes place from cancer diagnosis to recovery, never shirking the need to inform but doing so with a gentle, deft hand.

 

Marriages, Rescues and Just Because You’re You

These books were reviewed on ABC Radio Canberra Drive Show with Louise Maher on Tuesday September 14 2010

Books reviewed by Deborah Abela, National Literacy Ambassador and

Author of Max Remy Superspy series, Jasper Zammit (Soccer Legend) series, The Remarkable Secret of Aurelie Bonhoffen and Grimsdon.

http://www.deborahabela.com

Because You Are With Me written and illustrated by Kylie Dunstan

(Hachette Children’s Books)

Picture Book

Even as adults there are times when we feel we can conquer the world as long as there is someone nearby who loves us. This beautiful collection of brave words is about a young girl who declares, ‘I can do anything!’ from walking down the hall in the dark, to eating all her vegetables and riding her bike down an enormous hill, but she can only do it because her dad is close by ready to hold her hand, cuddle her and be there in case she needs him. This is a simple declaration of love from a small girl to her dad, beside whom anything can be achieved. Each page is a maze of colour and text, with the pictures being formed by carefully torn paper creating a young girl full of life and optimism and a bespectacled dad who lifts her above the surface of the deep end of the pool, holds her close when she is scared and stands by ready to catch her in case she falls. Cute, colourful and simply lovely.

Girl Saves Boy written by Steph Bowe

(Text Publishing)

Young Adults

It’s not only the fact that Steph Bowe is 16 that makes this book so arresting. From the heart-aching words of the prologue to the quiet musings of two teenagers on a beach at the end facing an impossibly unfair future, this book is a rare treat of gentle quiet, big-hearted sweetness and great slabs of uncomfortable truths. Ten years ago something happened to Jewel Valentine’s family that tore them apart. She was sent to live with her grandparents while her parents’ lives crumbled. Now that her grandparents are dead, Jewel has moved back to her childhood town to live with her estranged and slightly-more-together mother. But the hurts still run deep. Jewel meets Sasha, a boy she saves from drowning in a lake. An instant connection is made, leading to a tenuous friendship. But their families keep behaving strangely, making relating to them almost impossible and Sasha has a terrible secret he needs to tell Jewel, but is afraid how she’ll react. Even though this world keeps dealing unfair hands, the warmth of the characters and the musings about life lift this novel above the bleak to something fresh and unique.

 

Marrying Ameera written by Rosanne Hawke

(Angus and Robertson)

Young Adults

Ameera is the seventeen-year-old daughter of a father from Pakistan and a mother from Australia. Having agreed to raise their daughter as a Muslim, there have been few clashes in the raising of Ameera and her brother, until now. Forbidden to associate with men outside her family, Ameera becomes attracted to her friend’s brother, Tariq, but when her father hears she’s been seen at the same party as him, he sends her to Pakistan to help with the wedding of her cousin. It is only after she arrives that Ameera slowly realises the marriage is for her and has been arranged by her father. Ameera manages to sneak a message to her brother and Tariq and is contacted by a man called Frank from the Forced Marriage Unit who agrees to try and help her escape. But will he be in time to save her before the wedding? And what happens if he arrives too late? This book is written with an insightful eye and warm respect for both sides of the cultural line Ameera straddles, but as the race to save her from a forced marriage quickens, the tension is white-knuckled. Rosanne has visited Pakistan several times, once for seven years, but it was during a trip in 2006 that she met a man from the Forced Marriage Unit in the British Consulate and the idea for this novel began.

 

 

Getting a Grip, Halo and Feeling Zizzy

Sorry for the very late post of this review. I’ve been away wandering around the world a bit and have now found my feet again after trying for days to shake jetlag and remember which night is bin night.

So…..These are the books that I reviewed on ABC Radio Canberra Drive Show with Louise Maher on Tuesday August 17 2010

Books reviewed by Deborah Abela, National Literacy Ambassador and

Author of Max Remy Superspy series, Jasper Zammit (Soccer Legend) series, The Remarkable Secret of Aurelie Bonhoffen and Grimsdon.

http://www.deborahabela.com

Zizzy written by Penny Matthews and illustrated by Danny Snell

(Omnibus Books)

Picture book ages 4+

‘Zizzy was a sloth. A slow, sleepy, dreamy sloth’ whose main activities in life are to sleep and eat and dream deep in the rainforest. But one day, as he peered through a tangle of creepers, he saw a tiny patch of blue. When he wonders what it could be, a wise macaw tells him, ‘It’s the beginning of the rest of the world.’ She invites him to come and see it, but Zizzy, being a sloth, hardly ever comes down from his tree and thinks he’ll never be able to make it. But it’s too dazzingly an idea and he agrees to come down. Uneasy on his feet, he stumbles and falls and even has to take naps, but the macaw encourages him not to give up until finally they reach the sea and together they watch the beginning of the rest of the world. When he returns to his tree, Zizzy’s dreams are filled with being able to do anything at all. Penny’s words and David’s pictures are a perfect mix of colour and imagination, plotting Zizzy’s first efforts at bravery and stepping out. I especially love the picture of Zizzy sitting on an evening beach with macaw asleep on his head.

 

Halo written by Alexandra Adornetto

(Harper Collins)

Young Adults

The sleepy town of Venus Cove has had a few unfortunate incidents of late. Fires, accidents and the death of a few of its inhabitants. Three dazzlingly beautiful siblings enter the picture and take up residence. The youngest, Bethany, begins at the local high school and the elder brother, Gabriel, takes up a post as a teacher. But this isn’t any ordinary family. The three have been sent on a mission from heaven to stop the gathering of forces of darkness that have been causing all the mischief. At school however, Bethany meets dashingly perfect school captain, Xavier Woods and falls for him, even revealing her true nature and her family’s mission. Gabriel is furious and the council of heaven only just allows them to continue with their mission after such a breach of the rules. Enter Jake Thorn, another dashingly handsome boy who immediately sets his sights on Bethany. Having manoeuvred Xavier temporarily out of the picture, he makes his move, but Bethany rejects him and earns his wrath, unleashing a storm of chaos. This book tears along at a great pace. With its ultimate battle of good versus evil, all played out amongst teenagers it will earn the reputation of another Twilight but that’s probably a good thing for teenagers desperate for a replacement.

 

Get a Grip Cooper Jones written by Sue Whiting

(Walker Books)

Young Adults

Cooper Jones lives with his mum in Wangaroo Bay. Life is fairly simple during the heatwave days of summer until the new swimming coach mistakes someone at the pool for Cooper’s dad, insisting he left him a message. Cooper steers her off the conversation and eventually gets her to drop any mention of his dad, like he’s done with everyone for the past 13 years. But it gets him thinking. What does his dad look like? What kind of person is he? Does he live nearby? As summer fires close in on the town, his questions don’t seem to be able to make it out of his tangled thoughts. For the first time in his life he needs answers but Mum wont talk about it and lately she’s been acting strange and a little on edge with him and everything he touches he seems to wreck. What if she’s furious with him because he’s turning out to be a giant loser like his dad? Cooper then meets Abeba, a girl from the city who has moved in with her uncle next door because of trouble back at home and after a bumbling, imperfect beginning, the two find friendship and a way to say what their families don’t seem to want to hear. Told in an honest, uncomplicated way straight from Cooper’s head, it’s full of the confusion and fears that can come with being a teenager trying to work out who they are and where they fit in.

 

Grimsdon: A world of floods, fiends and flying machines.

On August 2nd my latest book was finally released. It has taken me about two years to write this one, with lots of interruptions in between….I wrote it because of my frustration at governments all around the world who were generally doing very little to tackle climate change. I thought what if there was a big city like London, but in this case it was called Grimsdon, and it had a river running passed it to the sea. What if scientists had been telling the government that the barriers that stood between the ocean and the city would one day not be enough to hold back rising seas and king tides and water stirred up by increasingly fierce storms. The government however refused to listen to the scientists and, as a result, one day the barriers couldn’t hold back the water and the city of Grimsdon floods.

Grimsdon now lies  in ruins. Most people were saved, some were lost and others were left behind. Isabella and her best friend Griffin live with three young kids in an opulent mansion, surviving with the help of Griffin’s brilliant inventions and Isabella’s fighting skills. But will that be enough to combat the threat of powerful sneaker waves, unscrupulous bounty hunters, a ruthless harbour lord and the creeping rumours of a sea monster? And can they trust the mysterious stranger called Xavier Stone who arrives in his flying machine?

I was really keen for this book not to be a grim, disaster novel – there have been a few post-apocalyptic films and stories in the last few years and even though my characters face a world that has changed, there is still a lot to be hopeful about, including the fact that these courageous kids will be our future. There are moments when the kids face kidnappers, where their lives are threatened by collapsing buildings and even where they come face-to-face with sea monsters, but they always come through, if not at times a little soggy and bruised, but the main reasons they survive is because they have each other, they act courageously, even when they are scared, and they stick to what they truly believe is important.

Grimsdon is the first book I have written, though, where the kids are not only on their own, but the adults who are around, are out to get them and use them for their own gains. This book then has called on my characters to be at their most creative, inventive and resourceful for their own survival. The kids left behind have no electricity, no computers, no iphones, no hot water for baths or cooking, no shops to buy food and warm clothes. They have to reinvent a way of living in a cold and watery world. They find a solid house to live in, scavenge seeds from nearby houses to create a rooftop greenhouse, they use the tidal waters to create energy to power lights and create heat and a flying machine to scavenge from houses further from them as food sources run low.

The world is deliberately similar to London. I wanted an older city that had been established a long time ago and was expected to be around for a long time into the future. I wanted to have internationally recognisable icons, but which would now be half-drowned by water. I wanted the impact of what had happened to be greater and setting it in a London-kind of city with Big Ben and The Houses of Parliament hopefully would do that. My main question for readers is, what if you woke tomorrow and everything you knew had changed? Setting this in such a solid, seemingly permanent world centre, with so much history, felt like it would increase the ramifications of that change.

Panthers, Bravehearts and You!

I reviewed these books on ABC Radio Canberra Drive Show with Louise Maher on Tuesday July 20 2010

Deborah Abela, National Literacy Ambassador and Author of Max Remy Superspy series, Jasper Zammit (Soccer Legend) series, The Remarkable Secret of Aurelie Bonhoffen and Grimsdon.

http://www.deborahabela.com

You written and illustrated by Stephen Michael King

(Scholastic)

Picture book ages 2+

As one of the most well-loved children’s writers and illustrators here and around the world, there is even more to love about Stephen Michael King in his latest book, You. Our small creature hero with his big yellow ears, curly tail and bright red nose, has a lot to love about the world: the fact that it’s a colourful place, coloured with big things and small things, but, he declares, ‘The most colourful part of my world is…you.’ In this case, a small birdlike animal with curls and skinny legs and a bright orange body. The world is also a musical place with high notes and low, ‘But the most musical part of my world is…you.’ And finally, the world is an exciting place with its ups and downs and far-far aways, ‘But the most exciting place in my world is with…you.’ This book is a beautifully illustrated tribute to the world, that for all its beauty, music and excitement, is made all the more special because of the friends and family we share it with. Lovely!

The Princess and her Panther written by Wendy Orr and illustrated by Lauren Stringer

(Allen and Unwin)

Picture book ages 4-8

Set in a suburban backyard, two sisters, one dressed as a princess, the other as a panther, load up a small cart with blankets, teddy bears and lanterns. As we turn the pages, their cart becomes a camel and the backyard becomes desert sands, deep woods and the shores of vast oceans and all the while, ‘The princess was brave and the panther tried to be.’ The princess pitches a red silk tent, before the sky grows purple and there was night ‘as far as they could see.’ Soon, they hear noises outside: of snakes slithering, of an owl-witch swooping and a roaming frog-monster. As the princess tried to be brave and the panther tried to try’ and they leap from their tent and cry, ‘Enough is enough!’ And just like that, the monsters vanished. The illustrations are like a delicious swirl of colourful cushions you want to dive into as the story moves from suburban backyard to exotic locations and back home again as night falls, the girls find courage in each other and they fall contentedly asleep.

The Heart of the Forest written by Barry Jonsberg and illustrated by Craig Phillips

(Omnibus Book Scholastic)

Junior novel ages 8+

A Barry Jonsberg story is always something to look forward to. In this, Keely, a young girl, trails behind her parents as they take their monthly walk through the Blue Mountains. A ritual they began to find a little peace and escape from their stressful city lives. On this walk, mum and dad are arguing about the prospect of Grandad coming to stay for a month. So much for the peace and quiet. With her annoying brother trailing behind, pleading for her to wait, Keely missteps and falls down a small hill. She is surprised to find she’s okay. Aaron is soon beside her, but now they are lost and Aaron is panting hard. There’s something wrong with his heart and even though he’s had loads of operations, he still finds it hard to breathe. Keely tries to find the way out but night falls and a bitter panic covers her. After a restless sleep, Aaron insists he’ll look after her and leads her to what they hope will be a way out of the forest. The fear of being lost in a vast bush is so wonderfully captured as well as the gentle annoyance and love between a brother and sister and this has a surprise end that delights just like a Jonsberg story always does.

Music, Serpents and Happy As Larry

These books were reviewed on ABC Radio Canberra Drive Show with Louise Maher on Tuesday July 6 2010

Books reviewed by Deborah Abela, National Literacy Ambassador and

Author of Max Remy Superspy series, Jasper Zammit (Soccer Legend) series, The Remarkable Secret of Aurelie Bonhoffen and Grimsdon.

http://www.deborahabela.com

Potato Music written by Christina Booth and illustrated by Pete Groves

(Omnibus Books)

Picture book ages 4+

Each night after dinner, Mama does a little curtsy and takes a bow before her fingers dance across the piano and fills the family home with music. ‘Mama says music helps to keep your soul warm.’ The world changes, however, when the boots begin marching past their window. The streets fill with sadness and shadows and food becomes scarce. Only the music stays the same. It covers the sound of their groaning stomachs and the screaming planes, until the day they are forced to trade the piano for a sack of potatoes. After dinner, with their stomachs full, Mama clears the table, runs her fingers along the end of the table and sings. Slowly, they hear the music as if the piano is still there. ‘They can never take our music,’ Mama declares. Despite the darkness outside, inside their home is full of swirls of colour and light. Despite the damage and hardship war brings, despite the things it takes away, we’re reminded that even with nothing, life needn’t be empty.

The Serpent’s Tale written by Gary Crew and illustrated by Matt Ottley

(Lothian Children’s Books)

Picture book ages 8+

A boy pesters his mother at a market to buy an amulet shaped as a serpent, convinced it holds a story he wants to write. The mother, eager to be home before curfew and surrounded by rumours of attack, hurries to buy the amulet but the seller hands it over for free, eager to be rid of it. At night, the boy tries to write but falls asleep in frustration. ‘Hungering for the boy’s dreams, the amulet stirred, eager to live.’ The boy’s dreams fill with a timeless tale… ‘Of fear. Of woe. And love. And hate.’ And while his town is attacked outside, his dreams continue… ‘Of heroism. Of cowardice…about the ‘very nature of humanity, the nature of story.’ He wakes to see his town destroyed. His mother urges him to run and he does, determined to make a new beginning, a new tale. Turning each page is like stepping into a different room of an art gallery with its images of battlefields, Tiananmen Square, nuclear attack and futuristic worlds with Crew as its storyteller snake charmer, luring beauty out of each word.

Happy as Larry written by Scot Gardner

(Allen and Unwin)

Young Adults ages 16-18

‘The story of a life can be left in the hands of just a few key players and acted out on a stage scarcely bigger than a suburban dream. With a humble cast and a budget limited to the income of a professional postman, the life of Lawrence Augustine Rainbow is one such story.’ Larry is the desperately loved child of Mal and Denise, a regular in-love couple, but as a series of dramatic events intrude on their lives, both from far away and in their street, the bonds that tie their close-knit family begin to fray. Moments such as the invasion of Kuwait, the first probe landing on Mars, 9/11 and meeting scruffy neighbourhood kid, Clinton Miller. Larry is instantly likeable and grows even moreso as he tries to save his parents’ marriage and runs holding a rope with elderly neighbour Vince who is going blind. This is an expertly crafted novel by a writer who loves words. As we follow the Rainbow’s decline, Scot never abandons his affection and hope for these characters, as he creates an increasing tension that takes hold, while you wait, fingers crossed, and hope for the ending.

Whispering, Bullying and Mum and Me

These books were reviewed on ABC Radio Canberra Drive Show with Louise Maher on Tuesday June 22 2010

Books reviewed by Deborah Abela, National Literacy Ambassador and

Author of Max Remy Superspy series, Jasper Zammit (Soccer Legend) series and The Remarkable Secret of Aurelie Bonhoffen.

http://www.deborahabela.com

Mum and Me written and Illustrated by Annie White

(Hachette Children’s Books)

Picture Book Pre-school age

This book is a delightful rhyming devotion to mothers and all that they do that makes them special. From when ‘she takes me to my ballet lessons. And listens to my trumpet sessions.’ To when ‘She takes me riding on her bike and joins in all the games I like.’  It’s the little things mums do that count in this small storyteller’s life, like making vegemite toast, blowing bubbles, jumping and splashing in puddles and of course, giving lots of cuddles. ‘And when Mum tucks me in at night I know that it will be all right. ‘Cause I love Mum and she loves me and that’s the way it will always be.’ Simple, fun and all about mums and why they’re so loveable.

Arnie Avery written by Sue Walker

(Walker Books)

Novel ages 8-12

Arnie Avery is having a bad time of it. Not only have his usual group of friends dumped him, he realises Jacko isn’t just the leader, but a bully and now wants to fight him on Saturday, his birthday! Not that anyone will remember. His family is acting weird and have been ever since what happened to Arnie’s brother, Callum, one regular day that turned everything upside-down. He desperately misses Callum and no matter how hard his mum and dad try, they just can’t seem to get back to how they used to be. As Saturday approaches, Arnie knows Jacko will pulverise him in a second if he doesn’t come up with a plan. With the help of dad, his best friend Belly and, surprisingly, his usually not so sisterly sister, Arnie not only takes on Jacko but he becomes a hero to his family, his friends and even himself. This is a terrifically written, warm story about a boy who faces a volley of life’s curve balls head on. It’s about grief, friendship, family, bullying and finding your way again after life leaves you feeling lost.

Let Me Whisper You My Story written by Moya Simons

(Harper Collins)

Novel ages 8-12

Many stories have been written about the Holocaust but what makes this one special is that it focuses on the people who hid and protected Jewish people during that time and it’s written by masterful storyteller, Moya Simons. Rachel is a young German Jew living in Leipzig when the wars breaks out. Her family are forced from their home to a Judenhaus, a place marked for Jews to live, often in cramped, cold and filthy conditions, with ration cards barely enough to keep themselves alive. They do their best to stay positive, until they hear the Germans coming to take them away, but before they do, Rachel’s father helps her into a cupboard and orders to stay silent. Rachel is found by a German family who take her in, knowing this could lead to their deaths. When the war finishes, Rachel is flown to England, to one of the many orphanages who took children in after the war, while the Red Cross tries desperately to find her family and many others. The detail in this book is meticulous and Moya’s storytelling paints such clear pictures of these kids who find themselves in situations of great fear and danger but with extraordinary kindnesses offered to them, they are able to find their way home.

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