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.

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.


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