Tuesday, 25 April 2017

The Australian Dream: Blood, History and Becoming by Stan Grant

The Australian Dream: Blood, History and Becoming by Stan Grant is the feature essay in Issue 64 (2016) of the Quarterly Essay.

Journalist Stan Grant received a lot of unexpected publicity in 2016 when a speech he gave at the Sydney Recital Hall in 2015 about the Australian dream and what it actually looks like to the Indigenous population, suddenly 'went viral'. His speech promptly 'became all things to all people'.

The Australian Dream essay formed part of his response to this media frenzy after a year of 'contemplation, reassessment and revelation'.

He also wrote a book called Talking To My Country which became 'his very personal meditation on what it means to be Australian, what it means to be indigenous, and what racism really means in this country'. It was published by Harper Collins in March 2016 and has been on our bestsellers list at work throughout the past year.

Grant was born in 1963, a time in Australian history, when Aboriginals were still 'counted among the flora and fauna, not among the citizens of this country'. During this era Grant's family became part of the 'burgeoning Indigenous middle class: confident, self-assured'. He successfully finished his schooling, went to uni and went on to travel the world.

However hard it has sometimes been, and whatever grievances I still hold, becoming more engaged with mainstream Australia has made my life richer. (pg15)

It would be almost impossible to write an essay like this without referencing the many appalling statistics about Aboriginal health, incarceration rates and drug and alcohol use. Grant discusses candidly and with sorrow these figures as well as the many programs set up over the years that have failed to create any meaningful change for the '20 per cent of the Indigenous population (who) live in remote areas, but their disadvantage is so acute that it obscures the successful lives of others'.

The report Mapping the Indigenous Program and Funding Maze (2016) reveals that 550 000 people identified themselves as being Indigenous in the 2011 Census and that '65% (360 000) are in employment and living lives, not noticeably different from the rest of Australia'.

'Indigenous people are fewer than 3% of the total Australian population, yet compromise 9% of players in the AFL. In the NRL, they constitute around 12%'.

'There are around 30 000 Indigenous university graduates in Australia; in 1991 there were fewer than 4000'.

Many of these figures surprised me. Media reporting on Indigenous health and issues usually focuses on the problems. Grant also noticed this which led him to explore the meaning and interpretation of history, the role of unreliable memory and the way that holding onto suffering and trauma actually has the tendency to 'sustain victimhood'.

He is keen to find a way to change the story - from one of sadness, displacement and loss - to one of 'resilience, pride, intelligence and dreams'.

Part of that story talks about the diversity and differences ('we are not all the same') that began to occur within Aboriginal groups during the 'assimilation phase' of the 1940's to 1970's. Those that 'threw off the heavy hand of government control' are just as big a part of the Indigenous story as those who were 'left behind'. All these groups were 'products of history, economy, timing and luck'.

Grant rails against the 'identity police' who demand conformity within the Indigenous community and he cautions against idealising 'people in remote communities living outside mainstream Australian life.'
We are products of the same dispossession; my son's ancestors endured a similar history of injustice, exclusion and suffering to that endured by the forebears of the boys of Don Dale. We are products of Australia: its misery and its glory. Colonisation shattered the world of my ancestors. (pg59)
Just 20 per cent of the Indigenous population live in remote areas, but their disadvantage is so acute it obscures the successful lives of others. (pg64)

This article and Grant's initial speech has been an attempt to balance the story - to factor in the some of the success stories that have grown out of the years of injustice.
One thing is undeniable: tens of thousands of Indigenous people are transforming their lives through their own efforts.

This review is part of my Deal Me In Short Story challenge with Jay @Bibliophilopolis.

Sunday, 23 April 2017

My Brother by Dee Huxley

My Brother is a CBCA shortlisted book that is all about family. It is written and illustrated by Dee Huxley, with the visual characters drawn by her son Oliver and the book designed by her daughter Tiffany. My Brother is dedicated to Morgan.

The story is also very personal.
This book came about because of the loss of a loved one in tragic circumstances, & our world changed forever. It is both a tribute & a release. A tribute to a beautiful, empathetic soul, who touched so many lives, young & old, & who will be loved & missed forever. A release, albeit sorrowful, to be able to make this book for him, & us, & others like us, & a hope that he is somewhere beautiful & safe now. The main character, a metaphorical gentle creature, represents the emotional journey of loss, disbelief, grief, but also a journey of hope.

Everything about this story is carefully considered. From the placement of the text on the page, to the spacing between words and within certain words. The poem-like text that uses the language of grief and loss so sparsely and evocatively. To the black and white graphite illustrations that are full of detail and pathos. Colour is gradually added in the final few pages to offer hope and some lightening of the mood.

The personal nature of this work suffuses every page, every word.
Woven through each of the drawings are, as Dee says, images of thoughts and memories related ‘to childhood, adolescence, & the few years of adulthood … resulting in a surreal, nonsensical thread throughout the book’. She adds, ‘We know their meaning, others can form their own interpretation’.

After reading about Morgan's murder here, the fragile, haunting beauty of this book leaps off the pages and into your heart. The pain, distress and grief that the Huxley family have endured over the past few years is unimaginable. Being able to use their collective creative sensibilities on this project must have been both a cathartic experience as well as another step along their road towards healing.

All the quotes in this post are from the Working Title Press teacher notes.

Thursday, 20 April 2017

Offshore: Behind the Wire on Manus and Nauru by Madeline Gleeson

I have no idea how to adequately review Offshore: Behind the Wire on Manus and Nauru.

Refugees, asylum seekers and offshore processing has polarised politics and opinion in Australia for several years now. A book like this, that attempts to provide an 'uncompromising' overview that 'gets behind the rumours and allegations to reveal what is known' will probably only be read by those already convinced that there has to be a better way to manage the perceived crisis in asylum seekers.

Gleeson has put together a thoughtful, cohesive and detailed document. Her anger and frustration at the living conditions on Manus and Nauru and the uncertainty around processing individual claims is palpable. Yet Offshore still offers the reader opposing ideas, contradictory evidence and controversial opinions in an attempt to provide a balanced argument.

However it was impossible for me to get to the end of this book without being appalled by the conditions that the asylum seekers are currently living in on Manus and Nauru. The only justification for this treatment appears to be the idea that it will act as a strong deterrent for anyone considering arriving in Australia by boat.

Given that so many of the world's governments seem to be in a race to head to the right, I'm not sure how or when this situation will ease. After reading about the amount of money our government has spent and continues to spend on maintaining Manus and Nauru, the problem is not the money.

The problem seems to be how we actually perceive asylum seekers and refugees. Currently our ability to perceive, know or understand all the reasons why this situation has occurred are shrouded in double speak and political obfuscation. This ignorance creates fear and distrust.

Morally and ethically we know what should be done, so why aren't we doing it? What is the political expediency that is driving our current course of action? Why are we deliberately creating more damage for people already damaged? What will the long term cost for this psychological damage be? For them and for us? How can we possibly think that it will end well for any of us to create this level of trauma in human beings?

My only problem with Gleeson's book is that none of these questions could be answered.

Future history students will one day be studying this period of time and citing these events as one of the causes for what happens next. They will shake their heads in wonder that we couldn't see and didn't do anything to change the course of history.

It would seem, that history does indeed, repeat itself.

James Kane from Goodreads has posted the review for Offshore that I wish I could have written.

Offshore was longlisted for this year's Stella Prize, shortlisted for the University of Queensland Non-fiction award 2016 and winner of the Victorian Premier’s Literary Award for Writing for Non-fiction 2017.

Tuesday, 18 April 2017

4 3 2 1 by Paul Auster

4 3 2 1 is a huge behemoth of a book that takes commitment and persistence to finish.

The first third of the book was absolutely stunning. I was nearly all the way through the first section of four chapters about Archie Ferguson, wondering when the four parallel lives were going to come into play, when I realised that I was already there. Being confronted with two conflicting stories about what had happened to Archie's father and his business caused me to completely reassess the previous chapters. Others may have worked out Auster's numbering device sooner but I was only reading a chapter a night before bed.

When I finally had my ah-ha moment, I doubled back to create a timeline for each life - where did each Ferguson live, what car did his mum drive, which cigarette brand did she smoke, what happened to his uncles and aunts and how did his dad's furniture business pan out? I thought I would never keep track of all the details.

However as we moved further away from the common story of Archie's origin, the four lives diverged so much that it actually became fairly easy to remember what was happening in each story and why.

Auster, well known as an adherent of metafiction, used his characters to play with his ideas about parallel lives at various times.

Archie 3 said early on,
The world wasn't real anymore. Everything in it was a fraudulent copy of what it should have been, and everything that happened in it shouldn't have been happening....but an unreal world was much bigger than a real world, and there was more than enough room in it to be yourself and not yourself at the same time.
Later on Archie 4 remarked,
there seemed to be several of him, that he wasn't just one person but a collection of contradictory selves, and each time he was with a different person, he himself was different as well.
All of the Archie's developed a few influential friendships and key interests (sport and literature in particular). They appeared in different ways and took different forms for each Archie.

The early years of the four Ferguson's were clever, fascinating and exciting writing. I was hooked.

I reached the halfway point of the story so quickly, I felt sure I would finish the rest within a week. A personal chunkster record! But then we hit Archie's early twenties and my attention and enthusiasm began to flag. I had been waiting for some 'big event that rips through the heart of things and changes life for everyone, the unforgettable moment when something ends and something else begins.' Just like Archie 1.

Instead, the stories had settled into just another coming of age story in America in the sixties.

I put the book aside for a couple of weeks to see if a mini-break would help.

It didn't.

I ploughed my way through the next four chapters of Archie, but failed to recapture my enthusiasm. Everything that had charmed me early on just annoyed me now.

Usually I love books that mention books that the characters are reading, but by the end of 4 3 2 1, Archie's huge reading list felt like nothing more than a whose who of classic and modern literature with no surprises and seemingly little relevance to the story. To discover that one of the Archie's was writing a book called The Ferguson Story added another metafiction layer, but failed to excite me.

I have worked and reworked this response to 4 3 2 1, and I'm still not happy with it. Like the book, I feel it is unsatisfactory and overly long. But an inadequate posted review is better than an unposted draft waiting for brilliance.

Perhaps that's how Auster felt too.

For another 4 3 2 1 review try My Booking Great Blog.

Sunday, 16 April 2017

Brona's Salon

Brona's Salon is a newish meme which aims to gather a group of like-minded bookish people 'under the roof of an inspiring host, held partly to amuse one another and partly to refine the taste and increase the knowledge of the participants through conversation.'

I will provide a bookish prompt or two to inspire our conversation.
However please feel free to discuss your current read or join in the conversation in any way that you see fit.
Amusement, refinement and knowledge will surely follow!

I'm so glad that I have a stock pile of picture book drafts tucked away for a rainy day.
This past month has been pretty hectic, with review writing being the main casualty.

I'm hoping the Easter weekend will be catch up time.

Over the years, my reading interests have gone through many, many phases (obsessions).
 However there are a few that keep returning.

  1. - Holocaust literature (one day I will understand man's inhumanity to man!)
  2. - the French Revolution (all those Louis' & Napoleon's, the brutality, and man's inhumanity to man).
  3. - Russia, especially pre-revolution (the beauty, the poverty, the literature & man's inhumanity to man).
  4. - Chinese history (the power, the philosophy, the inventions & man's inhumanity to man).
  5. - Indian literature (the colour, the religions, the art & man's inhumanity to man).
After reading and loving Do Not Say We Have Nothing last year, it would seem that Chinese history is firmly back in my gaze. Which segues nicely into what am I reading now...

What are you currently reading?

Empress Dowager Cixi: The Concubine Who Launched Modern China by Jung Chang

Empress Dowager Cixi (1835–1908) is the most important woman in Chinese history. She ruled China for decades and brought a medieval empire into the modern age.
At the age of sixteen, in a nationwide selection for royal consorts, Cixi was chosen as one of the emperor’s numerous concubines. When he died in 1861, their five-year-old son succeeded to the throne. Cixi at once launched a palace coup against the regents appointed by her husband and made herself the real ruler of China—behind the throne, literally, with a silk screen separating her from her officials who were all male.

In this groundbreaking biography, Jung Chang vividly describes how Cixi fought against monumental obstacles to change China. Under her the ancient country attained virtually all the attributes of a modern state: industries, railways, electricity, the telegraph and an army and navy with up-to-date weaponry. It was she who abolished gruesome punishments like “death by a thousand cuts” and put an end to foot-binding. She inaugurated women’s liberation and embarked on the path to introduce parliamentary elections to China. Chang comprehensively overturns the conventional view of Cixi as a diehard conservative and cruel despot.

Cixi reigned during extraordinary times and had to deal with a host of major national crises: the Taiping and Boxer rebellions, wars with France and Japan—and an invasion by eight allied powers including Britain, Germany, Russia and the United States. Jung Chang not only records the Empress Dowager’s conduct of domestic and foreign affairs, but also takes the reader into the depths of her splendid Summer Palace and the harem of Beijing’s Forbidden City, where she lived surrounded by eunuchs—one of whom she fell in love, with tragic consequences. The world Chang describes here, in fascinating detail, seems almost unbelievable in its extraordinary mixture of the very old and the very new.

Based on newly available, mostly Chinese, historical documents such as court records, official and private correspondence, diaries and eyewitness accounts, this biography will revolutionize historical thinking about a crucial period in China’s—and the world’s—history. Packed with drama, fast paced and gripping, it is both a panoramic depiction of the birth of modern China and an intimate portrait of a woman: as the concubine to a monarch, as the absolute ruler of a third of the world’s population, and as a unique stateswoman.

How did you find out about this book?

When Empress Dowager Cixi first came out it in 2013 it attracted a lot of media.
It has been on my radar ever since.

Why are you reading it now? 

We ended up with a reading copy of Cixi at work recently.
One rainy lunch time I needed something to pass the time, Cixi was my first choice.

First impressions? 

I loved it.

But where does the truth lie? Is this a biography or historical fiction?
It almost reads like fictionalised history and although I'm loving the story a little niggle is growing. Something is not quite right with the historical sources or the authors interpretations.
It feels like Chang wanted to write a certain story and she's making the historical record fit her agenda.

Now it could be said that all history books are guilty of that charge, it's just that some authors carefully disguise what they're doing.
Chang has not been subtle about her agenda.
She is clearly writing herstory, not history.

Which character do you relate to so far?

I do not relate to any of the main players, but I am fascinated by their story.

I'm also thrilled that many of the places that Cixi lived in or visited are also places that I visited and explored during my time in China in 1996. Being able to picture the palaces and towns being referenced adds to my reading pleasure.

1996 Little Potala Palace, Chengde

Are you happy to continue?

But I feel more cautious about my initial enthusiasm.

Where do you think the story will go? 

As a biography, I have to assume that we will go all the way to 1908 and Cixi's death, with some commentary about the immediate after effects of her reign.

I hope there is also a discussion about the new Chinese sources that Chang has had access to and how they influenced her.

If you'd like to join in #BronasSalon tell us about the book you're reading right now and how it relates to one of your reading obsessions.
Or tell us about the genre or period in history that you obsess about? 

Thursday, 13 April 2017


Busting! is the latest in Aaron Blabey's incredible run of hilarious, rhyming picture books. Poor Lou is desperate to go the loo, but there's a queue!

Blabey once again deals with an embarrassing, uncomfortable issue that we've all had at one time or another and reminds us that a good belly laugh makes just about any topic picture book worthy! Although we hope that poor Lou doesn't laugh too hard until he's had time to do his do.

I don't know how Blabey continues to put out such consistently good, fun (and often award winning) books. He has his Pig the Pug seven deadly sins series (we're up to book 5 out of 7) and the Bad Guys early readers with episode five due out next month.

Then there are his stand alone titles including Sunday Chutney, Pearl Barley and Charlie Parsley, Stanley Paste, Thelma the Unicorn, Piranhas Don't Eat Bananas, I Need A Hug and Don't Call Me Bear just to name a few.

I Need A Hug is the seemingly simple, repetitive tale of an echidna who needs a hug. But she's has a body full of prickly spiky needles. We all need affection and this book can be fun to read aloud with toddlers as you cuddle up together.

This is not my favourite Blabey as the echidna comes across as a being rather needy. I'm also not sure that I agree with her difficulty in respecting the others physical boundaries when they say 'no'. And don't get me started on the snake who wants a kiss! 

However I have yet to try this book out on it's target audience.

Don't Call Me Bear has a more aggressive edge than Blabey's other books as Warren the koala tries to convince everyone that he is NOT a bear! Warren's frustration levels build as he tells us all, using some well known teaching tactics, that Australia has no bears, none whatsoever. Warren's teaching style may be a tad OTT, but via a quick history and biology lesson we learn a lot about koalas.

This is rhyming humour with a lot of attitude for an older audience. The illustrations are signature Blabey and the reader learns a lot about the various characteristics of bears and marsupials by the end of the book.

Aaron Blabey lives in the Blue Mountains with his wife and children. After reading his bio, you get the idea that he is one of those types with a lot of creative energy to burn.

I hope this little Blabey-fest has convinced you to try out some of his picture books on the younger members of your tribe. I feel confident that laughter and cries of 'again, again' will ensue.

Tuesday, 11 April 2017

Mopoke by Philip Bunting

Mopoke is my new favourite picture book. I've always had a bit of a thing for owls, especially owls in literature and art. As a (former) teacher, I was often given owl cards and trinkets. Owl Babies by Martin Waddell is one of my favourite picture books and who doesn't love Harry Potter's Hedwig?

Philip Bunting is a Queensland based author and illustrator who has bowled me over with his debut picture book all about owls.

Mopoke is the common name for the southern boobook owl native to Australia. It's a rather cute creature with a great call (see below).

Bunting has used his book to highlight the importance of fun and individual interpretation when reading books aloud to children. I tried Mopoke out on B16 who appreciated the humour. However he was concerned that the pages were too dark for little kids to enjoy!

I didn't have that problem.

I found the simple but stylish colour palette and design eye catching and very reasonable (after all, we all know that owls are nocturnal). As a former preschool teacher, if my classes had commented on the dark pages, I would have used that as a great discussion starter about the nature, behaviour and habitats of owls.

The illustrations and text complement and enhance each other beautifully - it's the classic 'picture worth a thousand words' scenario.

Mopoke is highly recommended for those with owl fetishes, lovers of fun word play and for the wise and discerning reader.

I found a video of a real life mopoke (below) and if you listen real close, you can hear his mates calling their distinctive two-tone call in the background.

Mopoke was published by Scholastic Australia Feb 2017.

Saturday, 8 April 2017

Out of Africa by Karen Blixen

Out of Africa by Karen Blixen has been my nemesis for quite a long time now. I've tried to read it several times after seeing and enjoying the movie back in 1985, but it baulked me at every attempt. I found the language stilted and dry and too descriptive.

Thirty years later it finally proved different. I wasn't put off by the old-fashioned language or writing style.

Occasionally the language still jarred my modern ears and eyes, but Blixen was obviously in sympathy with and empathetic towards the local people of Kenya.
The discovery of the dark races was to me a magnificent enlargement of all my world.

We ourselves, in boots, and in our constant great hurry, often jar with the landscape. The Natives are in accordance with it.

Certain stories and sections were beautifully wrought with Blixen bringing the reader right into her world. The first three sections were full of interesting and unique stories. Lulu the gazelle, local customs, tribal justice and tales about many of her servants provided the reader with an insider's view of a world that most of us will never be able to experience. Not only because that time in history has now passed but simply because most of us live out our lives not far from the place or culture of our birth.

An African forest is a mysterious region. You ride into the depths of an old tapestry, in places faded and in others darkened with age, but marvellously rich in green shades. You cannot see the sky at all in there, but the sunlight plays in many strange ways, falling through the foliage. The grey fungus, like long drooping beards, on the trees, and the creepers hanging down everywhere, give a secretive, recondite air to the native forest. I used to ride here with Farah on Sundays, when there was nothing to do on the farm.

The sense of adventure, curiosity and drive that makes someone leave their home, to explore another country completely different to their own and to embrace what they find there is not something that many people do voluntarily. Blixen was obviously an unconventional woman. Her independence and pioneering spirit would have been unusual in her time. She must have faced censure and disapproval at every step.

In Donald Hannah's biography, The Mask and the Reality (1971), she is quoted as saying,
Here at long last one was in a position not to give a damn for all conventions, here was a new kind of freedom which until then one had only found in dreams!
Yet none of this is evident in her book.

All the emotion is sucked right out of it.
We don't get to know Blixen - what makes her tick, why she embarked on this adventure in the first place, what obstacles she faced, how she felt about anything. We also don't get to know Denys at all. He is just this guy who flies in and out at times. When he dies, you feel nothing. You have no sense of who he was or why he was important to Blixen.

Thanks to wikipedia I found out that she wrote a letter to her brother Thomas in 1924, where she said,
I believe that for all time and eternity I am bound to Denys, to love the ground he walks upon, to be happy beyond words when he is here, and to suffer worse than death many times when he leaves...

None of that feeling is portrayed in the book.

Perhaps my problem with Out of Africa was expectation.

I was expecting a cohesive story about her life and times in Kenya, instead it was simply a collection of anecdotes, observations and character sketches, strung together by Blixen at a later date. One whole section, called From an Immigrant's Notebook, was purely snippets of information loosely collected from a journal or letters - all the bits she didn't have the time or inclination to flesh out into longer stories perhaps.

Thanks to the 1985 movie, I was also expecting to get a sense of Karen and Denys' turbulent relationship. Obviously the movie combined various sources of information to round out the anecdotes from Out of Africa, as none of this was revealed in the book.

The insights into Kenyan life and culture were fascinating but Out of Africa is not a memoir or an autobiography. For me, this was disappointing and ultimately unsatisfying.

There is now a museum in Blixen's old home in Kenya.

Out of Africa fulfils several bookish challenges. It is

Thursday, 6 April 2017

Antoinette by Kelly diPucchio

Kelly DiPucchio has won me over - head, heart and soul - with her two enchanting picture books about Gaston and Antoinette. They ooze charm, cuteness (but don't tell them!) and good humour.

Antoinette continues the very chic tale, that began with Gaston, about these two adorably diverse dog families from Paris. Fee-fe, Foo-fo, Ohh-la-la and Gaston have remained friends with Rocky, Ricky, Bruno and Antoinette, but this time it is Antoinette's turn to question where she belongs and what she is good at.

It's not until Ohh-la-la goes missing that Antoinette realises what her special talent is.

When Antoinette not only finds but rescues the missing Ohh-la-la in the nick of time, Mrs Poodle cries out in relief, "You found my Ohh-la-la." I defy the hardest of hearts not to chuckle at this point!

Caldecott Honoree Christian Robinson has illustrated both books with his mixed media collage and acrylic pictures. In a Q&A on Fishink, Robinson says of his artistic influences that,
I’m a bit of a sponge and my work is influenced and inspired by so many illustrators and painters that I love. Illustrators like Ezra Jack Keats and Abner Graboff inspire me to play with collage and cut outs. Designers like Paul Rand and Bruno Munari inspire me to keep things simple and have fun. Artist like Picasso and Mattise push me to explore color and shapes.

Given that I adore the simple designs and complementary colour palette that Robinson uses, I would have to say that he has successfully found his own unique style.

We can only hope that DiPucchio and Robinson have much more to say and illustrate about Gaston and Antoinette, because, I for one, am certainly not done with these two canny canine families.

Sunday, 2 April 2017

#6Degrees April 2017

#6degrees is a monthly meme hosted by Kate @Books Are My Favourite and Best.

Oftentimes I haven't read the starting book for this meme, but I can assure you that I only play the next 6 books with ones I have actually read.
If I've read the book during this blogging life, then I include my review, otherwise, you just have to take my word for it!

This month the starting book is Room by Emma Donaghue.
Are you game?

Old image alert - Kate @Books Are My Favourite & Best now hosts #6Degrees but this is a good refresh of the rules.

Room by Emma Donoghue was one of those books that I read when this blog was still mostly about kids book, so my review was very quick and simple and combined with several other books.

The back blurb about a young woman and her child being locked away in a room by an unknown abductor, kept me at bay initially. However, when it was shortlisted for the 2010 Man Booker Prize, I decided to read it.
And I loved it - in a sad, horrified, tragic kind of way.
While I understood completely why it didn't win the Booker that year, I preferred it (by far) to the book that did win (The Finkler Question).

The same thing happened in 2002.
I loved and adored Tim Winton's Dirt Music. Yes, it was flawed (especially the cheesy, OTT ending) but Dirt Music is probably my favourite Winton to date.

And I far preferred Dirt Music to the ultimate Man Booker winner for 2002 - The Life of Pi - which I have never been able to read, even though I've tried several times.
I simply cannot get past page 2.
But I did love the movie.

It's not often that I prefer the movie to the book. The only other one I can think of was Out of Africa.
I tried to read the book a couple of times in my younger years, but Meryl Streep and Robert Redford kept getting in the way. However, I am now reading Out of Africa for my latest #CCspin.

Obviously, for me, this was a book that I needed to be a more mature reader to appreciate properly.
It's gentle pace and many descriptions of the people and places in Kenya didn't appeal to my younger self.

Meryl Streep is my next link to another movie /book combo that had a big impact on me.
The French Lieutenant's Woman by John Fowles.

The book and movie were very different beasts.
The book was historical fiction, full of moral dilemma's about the role and place of women in society, double standards, psychology and complicated relationships.
The movie was too, but it added the extra complication of being a modern movie about people making a movie about TFLW. Both were set in Lyme Regis.

Jane Austen's Persuasion featured a very famous scene set on The Cobb at Lyme Regis (click on the link above for TFLW to see my photos of these places when I visited Lyme in 2007).

Foolish Louisa Musgrove, in an attempt to impress her man, jumped from the steps on The Cobb into the waiting arms of her lover. 
But she jumped too high and too soon.

Literature abounds with women doing foolish things in an attempt to impress their lover - or their wanna be, hopeful, future lover as the case may be.

Jane Austen has many of these women in her books, but I'll go off on a little tangent and target a very modern fool for love instead - Bridget Jones.

Helen Fielding used Austen as her template when she created Bridget Jones's Diary - the story of a young, single London woman trying to find love in all the wrong places.

Finding love in all the wrong places reminds me of the rather saucy book I read when I went to the UK in my early twenties. Forever Amber by Kathleen Winsor was a pot-boiler in its time, but felt quite tame by the time I read it in the early 90's.

I managed to go from modern England and a woman trapped by a man to Restoration England and a woman trapped by society.

Where did your #6degrees chain take you?

Next month the starting book will be The Slap by Christos Tsiolkas.

Friday, 31 March 2017

Rockhopping by Trace Balla

Rockhopping is Trace Balla's follow up book to Rivertime with Clancy and Uncle Egg once again getting ready to head off an eco-adventure.

I love these books a lot.

I love their gentle pace and laid back attitudes.

I love their environmental credentials and back to nature ethos.

I love their attention to details.

I love their emphasis on problem solving, responsibility and being capable.

I love their zen-like, go with the flow, be in the moment philosophy.

But most of all I love how these books remind us that we are all a part of nature. Our natural environment is affected by our interactions with it whether we live in the city or the country.

As Balla says in the Teacher's Notes produced by her publisher, Allen & Unwin,
When you stop trying to get anywhere and just be, a whole world of wonder can open up to you. And when you stop going with a plan and follow the flow, you may find a world of unexpected opportunities revealing themselves to you. The more you look the more you find out. It’s also about realising we are part of the natural world, rather than separate to it, and that we are not alone, but surrounded by other life. Themes of growing up and realising what we are capable of are also explored.

Rockhopping is also respectful to the indigenous tribes of The Grampians (Gariwerd) in Victoria. Balla uses traditional names and common names for places as well as referring to aspects of Aboriginal culture throughout the book.

Commonsense, logic and thorough preparation are also applauded. There is a page of items that Clancy and Egg collected before they went off on their adventure. Practical handy survival tips are interwoven into the story at various points.

Balla adds an historical perspective to one of the sections. Day five shows a timeline with Clancy and Uncle Egg discussing the value of a good walking stick on a big bushwalk. The timeline then shows the same stick being used by a logger, a goldminer, a Chinese market gardener, a squatter and a Jardwadjali woman to dig.

Several trips to the region were integrated into ongoing discussions with local indigenous elders which helped Balla ensure that the local knowledge was authentic and up to date.

Balla received lots of support from local elders. She said in an interview on Reading Time that,
Milipiri Elder Wanta Jampijimpa has given me encouragement to keep doing these stories, that he says are about ‘reading country” and giving hope. Renowned environmental educator David Suzuki has also given me encouragement about my books inspiring kids to be in nature. These two elders encouragement points to passing on wisdom that we often lose sight of in our modern, often urban culture.
Rockhopping has been shortlisted for this years CBCA Younger Readers award.

Wednesday, 29 March 2017

Reflection by Rebecka Sharpe Shelberg

Reflection: Remembering Those Who Serve in War by Rebecka Sharpe Shelberg & Robin Cowcher has been made a CBCA Notable book for 2017.

A rather big part of me sighed when I saw this book, as I'm feeling overwhelmed and inundated by war books at the moment. The trouble is, all these lovely picture books have been put together so thoughtfully, they all approach the war story from a slightly different angle and they all have something worthwhile and relevant to say about war and peace.

Reflections is a war story very simply told. Each double page has a one sentence story that relates to what is happening across both pages - one page reflects a scene from war; it's facing page reflects a modern image of memorial.

The book begins with the Boer War and moves through WWI, WWII, the Korean War, Vietnam, East Timor, Iraq, Afghanistan, Bosnia and IraqII.

The final double page spread includes a brief information box about each of the wars that Australians have fought in overseas.

Robin Cowcher's illustrations in Reflections augment the style that I loved so much in Little Dog and the Christmas Wish. Her wistful mix of water colour and line drawings creates a nostalgic feel that allows the past and the contemporary to blend together visually.

I created this list of children's war books a couple of years ago. I've updated it with all the new titles. Please let me know if I've missed something obvious (especially any Australian titles or classics).

WW1 Books for Children & Teens:

(A) 1914 by Sophie Masson
(A) 1915 by Sally Murphy
(A) 1916 by Alan Tucker
(A) A Day To Remember by Jackie French and Mark Wilson
(A) And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda by Eric Bogle & Bruce Whatley
(A) ANZAC Biscuits by Phil Cummings & Owen Swan
(A) ANZAC Sons by Allison Marlow Paterson
(A) An ANZAC Tale by Ruth Starke & Mark Holfeld
(A) ANZAC Ted by Belinda Landsberry
(A) The ANZAC Tree by Christina Booth
(A) The Beach They Called Gallipoli by Jackie French
Biggles series by Cpt WE Johns
(A) The Bombing of Darwin by Alan Tucker
(A) Boys of Blood and Bone by David Metzenthen
(A) Digger the Dog Who Went to War by Mark Wilson
(A) Dont Forget Australia by Sally Murphy
(A) Evan's Gallipoli by Kerry Greenwood
(A) Eventual Poppy Day by Libby Hathorn
Finding Winnie: The True Story of the World's Most Famous Bear by Lindsay Mattick
(A) Flambards (series) by K M Peyton
(A) Fromelles by Carole Wilkinson
(A) Gallipoli by Kerry Greenwood
(A) Gallipoli by Alan Tucker
(A) The Horse Soldier by Mark Wilson
(A) In Flanders Field by Norman Jorgensen
(A) Jack's Bugle by Krista Bell
(A) The Last ANZAC by Gordon Winch
(A) Light Horse Boy by Dianne Wolfer
(A) Light House Girl by Dianne Wolfer
(A) Loyal Creatures by Morris Gleitzman
(A) Memorial by Gary Crew
(A) My Father's War by Sophie Masson
(A) My Gallipoli by Ruth Stark
(A) My Mother's Eyes by Mark Wilson
(A) One Minute's Silence by David Metzenthen & Michael Camilleri
(A) Our Enemy My Friend by Jenny Blackman
(A) The Poppy by Andrew Plant
Private Peaceful by Micheal Morpurgo
(A) The Red Poppy by David Hill & Fifi Colston
Rilla of Ingleside by L M Montgomery
(A) Roly, the ANZAC Donkey by Glyn Harper
(A) A Rose For the ANZAC Boys by Jackie French
(A) The Silver Donkey by Sonya Hartnett
(A) Simpson and His Donkey by Mark Greenwood & Frané Lessac
(A) Soldier Boy The True Story of Jim Martin the Youngest ANZAC by Anthony Hill
(A) The Soldier's Gift by Jane Tanner
(A) Tank Boys by Stephen Dando-Collins
War Games by James Riordan
War Horse by Michael Morpurgo
(A) When We Were Two by Robert Newton

WWII Books:

(A) After by Morris Gleitzman
(A) Angel of Kokoda by Mark Wilson
(A) Angels of Kokoda by David Mulligan
Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys
(A) The Blue Cat by Ursula Dubosarsky
(A) The Bombing of Darwin by Alan Tucker
(A) The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak
(A) The Boy and the Spy by Felice Arena
Boy in the Striped Pyjamas by John Boyne
Carrie's War by Nina Bawden
(A) Children of the King by Sonya Hartnett
Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein
Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank
(A) Forgotten Pearl by Belinda Murrell
Front Lines (series) by Michael Grant
Going Solo by Roald Dahl
Goodnight Mister Tom by Michelle Magorian
Henderson's Boys (series) by Robert Muchamore
Hero on a Bicycle by Shirley Hughes
(A) Heroes of Tobruk by David Mulligan
(A) Hitler's Daughter by Jackie French
I Am David by Ann Holm
(A) Kokoda by Alan Tucker
(A) Little Paradise by Gabrielle Wang
(A) The Little Refugee by Ahn Do
Maus by Art Spielgelman
Milkweed by Jerry Spinelli
(A) Now, Then and Once by Morris Gleitzman
Number the Stars by Lois Lowry
(A) Pennies for Hitler by Jackie French
Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes by Eleanor Coerr
The Silver Sword by Ian Serralier
(A) Soon by Morris Gleitzman
The Snow Goose by Paul Gallico
Summer of My German Soldier by Bette Greene
The Wave by Rhue Morton
When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit by Judith Kerr
(A) The Wrong Boy by Suzy Zail
(A) Yoko's Diary by Paul Ham

Other Wars (Refugees & Peace):

(A) The Afghanistan Pup by Mark Wilson
(A) Amina by J L Powers
(A) The Arrival by Shaun Tan
Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepytys
(A) The Bone Sparrow by Zana Frallion
(A) Bread and Honey by Ivan Southall
(A) Caesar The War Dog by Stephen Dando-Collins
The Conquerors by David McKee
(A) Emilio by Sophie Masson
(A) Flight by Nadia Wheatley
(A) I Was Only Nineteen by John Schumann
The Lotus Seed by Sherry Garland
(A) The Midnight Zoo by Sonya Hartnett
(A) My Grandad Marches on ANZAC Day by Catriona Hoy
(A) Naveed by John Heffernan
Never Fall Down by Patrica McCormick
(A) One Thousand Hills by James Roy & Noel Zihabamwe
(A) Parvana by Deborah Ellis
The Red Badge of Courage by Stephen Crane
(A) Refugee: The Diary of Ali Ismail by Alan Sunderland
(A) Refugees by David M Miller
Shadow by Michael Morpurgo
(A) Shahana by Roseanne Hawke
(A) Treasure Box by Margaret Wild
The Twelth Day of July (Sadie & Kevin series) by Joan Lingard
(A) Vietnam Diary by Mark Wilson
(A) We're All Australian Now by A B Paterson & Mark Wilson
When the Wind Blows by Raymond Briggs
Z for Zachariah by Robert O'Brien
(A) Ziba Came on a Boat by Liz Lofthouse

Read (pre-blogging days)

The lovely Louise at A Strong Belief in Wicker has also played around with a list of war books for children. Between the two of us, we've covered a lot of ground!

Monday, 27 March 2017

April is #Zoladdiction month!

After a Zola free year in 2016, Fanda is back this April with her wonderful #Zoladdiction2017.

So far I've been reading the Rougon-Macquart series out of order, but I'd like to rectify that this year, by going back to the very beginning with The Fortunes of the Rougons. First published in 1871, my Oxford English edition is translated by Brian Nelson.

The Fortune of the Rougons is the first in Zola's famous Rougon-Macquart series of novels. In it we learn how the two branches of the family came about, and the origins of the hereditary weaknesses passed down the generations. Murder, treachery, and greed are the keynotes, and just as the Empire was established through violence, the "fortune" of the Rougons is paid for in blood. 
Set in the fictitious Provencal town of Plassans, The Fortune of the Rougons tells the story of Silvere and Miette, two idealistic young supporters of the republican resistance to Louis-Napoleon Bonaparte's coup d'etat of December 1851. They join the woodcutters and peasants of the Var to seize control of Plassans, and are opposed by the Bonapartist loyalists led by Silvere's uncle, Pierre Rougon. 
Meanwhile, the foundations of the Rougon family and its illegitimate Macquart branch are being laid in the brutal beginnings of the Imperial regime.
I also have a copy of The Disappearance of Emile Zola by Michael Rosen to dip into. Perhaps I will rename this book We're Going on a Zola Hunt though, in honour of Rosen's more famous book!

It is the evening of 18 July 1898 and the world-renowned novelist Émile Zola is on the run. His crime? Taking on the highest powers in the land with his open letter 'J'accuse' and losing. Forced to leave Paris, with nothing but the clothes he is standing in and a nightshirt wrapped in newspaper, Zola flees to England with no idea when he will return.
This is the little-known story of his time in exile. 
Rosen has traced Zola's footsteps from the Gare du Nord to London, examining the significance of this year. The Disappearance of Zola offers an intriguing insight into the mind, the loves, the politics and the work of the great writer.
Will you be joining us for #Zoladdiction2017?

Saturday, 25 March 2017

The Fellowship - check in time.

The 25th March is Tolkien Reading Day which seemed like an auspicious day to host our latest check-in post. The theme for the 2017 TRD is Poetry and Songs in Tolkien's Fiction. Therefore I will start our #HLOTRreadalong2017 business with Bilbo's Walking Song,

The Road goes ever on and on,
Down from the door where it began.
Now far ahead the Road has gone,
And I must follow, if I can,
Pursuing it with eager feet,
Until it joins some larger way
Where many paths and errands meet.
And whither then? I cannot say.

How are you going with your journey through The Fellowship of the Ring?
Are you going on and on?
Or perhaps you cannot say!

Have you found your way to Rivendell yet? Or did you get stalled in The Shire? Perhaps the Black Riders scared you from the path? Or maybe Tom Bombadil bored you to tears with his hey now! merry dol's!

Are you one of those who has raced ahead impatient to find out what happens next?

I confess that I am one of those readers who skim or skip the long poems in LOTR.
I was determined to read them this time round, which is partly why I have allowed generous reading times for each book. But I'm failing somewhat.

I happily read the smaller poems and songs, like Bilbo's walking song, but the 4 page epics are beyond me. I don't see the point of them and I'm just not that interested.

However Tolkien's ability to create a brand new world, complete with history, geography, myths and legends is very impressive. His descriptive passages are made to be read with the map alongside so that you can trace your finger over the paths, rivers and mountaintops that Frodo and his friends walk.

I have heard some people complain about how long it takes for the action to get going in LOTR, but I love our extended time in The Shire at the beginning. Meeting Bilbo again and getting to know Frodo and his friends has a lovely cosy, comfortable feel to it.

Bilbo's one hundred and eleventh birthday party is a lot of fun. The excitement, the excess, the humour. But even here, there is a sharp edge. Bilbo's sarcasm, Gandalf's growing concerns about events outside The Shire and the obvious power of the ring over Bilbo.

I was impressed to see that it was Tolkien who in fact coined the word 'tweens' in reference to hobbits in that irresponsible twenties phase between their childhood and coming of age at thirty-three.

Tolkien's usual foreshadowing techniques let us know that we should enjoy our warm, cosy time in The Shire as more dangerous times are fast approaching. Rumours of strange things happening, whispers and murmured hints reach our ears. Prepare, beware, watch out!

He uses words like strange, unwholesome, queer, dark, deadly, malice, revenge, enslaved, peril, torment, wretched and fear to great effect during these first few chapters. This time is clearly the calm before the storm.

It takes a while for Frodo to get going though.
As much as the most avid fan may enjoy this time in The Shire, by the end we are urging Frodo on his way. 

The casual passing of time that brings us to eve of Frodo's 50th birthday and the slow packing up and selling of Bag End almost feels irresponsible. 
His last leisurely stroll though The Shire on the way to Crickhollow is not as dramatic or as dangerous as I remember from the movie. Tolkien allows Frodo a real sense of leave-taking.

The tension builds as the menace of the Black Riders is felt, but a couple of near-misses is all that we witness at this point. The danger still feels like it is out there somewhere.

I had forgotten all about Tom Bombadil (he was absent from the movie).
I'm not sure why he's in the story at all, except as one of Tolkien's safe havens from the increasing danger. And the danger is not just in the form of Black Riders. We must beware stone-wrights, old man willow and some of the more suspicious folk in Bree.

I hope you're enjoying your time in Middle Earth as much as I am.
I haven't had as much time as I originally hoped to write more regular posts with this book, but the main thing is to read with pleasure and fellowship. The blogging can take care of itself!
#HLOTRreadalong2017 (with linky)

Thursday, 23 March 2017

Picture Book Technology & Online Safety

It was only a matter of time before we saw picture books for children that contained themes about mobile phone use. The two latest offerings deal with the positive aspects as well as the addictive nature of technology and social media.

Australian writer/illustrator Nick Bland gives us The Fabulous Friend Machine. Popcorn the hen is a very friendly chook. She's even won awards for friendliness. One day she discovers a glowing device on the ground near her home. It appears to be very, very friendly.

But Popcorn quickly learns that spending hours and hours talking to her new online friends can cause problems with her real life friends. And who are these new friends anyway?

After nearly being running over by a tractor (because she was too busy looking at her screen) and discovering that her new online friends were actually wolves, Popcorn rediscovers the value of paying attention to her real life friends. She also learns to exercise more caution when using her new friend machine.

Nick Bland is a CBCA and ABIA award winning illustrator. He doesn't appear to have his own web page, but he did have an exhibition last year in Darwin (where he now lives), to show off some of the work featured in his previous 26 books. Bland's usual medium is acrylic paint and pens.

Tek: The Modern Cave Boy by Patrick McDonnell also deals with the addictive nature of mobile devices, online games and binge TV viewing, but plays around with the book's formatting to do so. McDonnell's Tek looks and feels like a tablet, with firm dark edges and a screen like set-up on each page. You can even see the battery life running low as you read along.

Both books use humour to convey their message. However Tek needs to learn to disconnect so that he reconnect with his family, friends and the real world around him. His technology obsession is making him uncommunicative and anti-social.

McDonnell is an American author/illustrator best known for his comic strip MUTTS. His recent forays into picture book territory have already elicited New York Times bestsellers and a Caldecott Honor winner.

Have you come across any other picture books dealing with online behaviour and mobile phone use for children?

Another Australian title is The Internet is a Puddle by psychologist Shona Innes - initially written to help some of her clients, it teaches us how to play safely online.

Please add titles or links to any other picture books (from anywhere in the world) in the comments below so that we can build up a picture book online safety resource list.