Kate DiCamillo will surely go down in history as one of the great children's authors of the late 20th/early 21st century. This perfect short novel capKate DiCamillo will surely go down in history as one of the great children's authors of the late 20th/early 21st century. This perfect short novel captures both the deepest fears and the surprising wonders of childhood, embodied in the characters of three young girls, unlikely friends, who meet at exactly the moment they most need each other. At times, this curious, fey, prickly, fierce and vulnerable trio reminded me of the friendship of Beth Ellen, Janie and Harriet from Louise Fitzhugh's under-rated The Long Secret, but each (Raymie, Louisiana and Beverly) are also their own glorious creation.
Set in 1975, before mobile phones and helicopter parenting ruined a kid's chances to have adventures, Raymie Nightingale is unsentimental and unflinching in its insistence that sometimes everything doesn't work out the way we want, but that other things, and people—and sometimes minor miracles bordering on the magical—can still happen (although the latter probably only when you're 10). I loved this book, I love these girls, and the author's note at the end made me cry. Oh so very recommended....more
Newly short-listed by the CBCA, this is very fine, measured and at times beautiful writing in a kind of dystopian mode for older children and youngerNewly short-listed by the CBCA, this is very fine, measured and at times beautiful writing in a kind of dystopian mode for older children and younger teens. It offers a great deal to think about in terms of belief and how a desire for social order and safety can lead to dangerous choices and the sacrifice of ethics. Am also in PhD mode very interested in the function of landscape in the story (although it's not fantasy so doesn't really fit my criteria) and in feminist mode am intrigued by gender roles in the society it depicts. ...more
Years ago, when I was writing an article about the great Bidjigal warrior Pemulwuy for The School Magazine, a fellow from the Aboriginal education uniYears ago, when I was writing an article about the great Bidjigal warrior Pemulwuy for The School Magazine, a fellow from the Aboriginal education unit told me—well, he told me many things, but the one that stayed with me was the idea that the Land will always remain true to itself. It must have been about exactly 20 years ago, because it was after the Port Arthur massacre, and he told me how that Land had always been a place of blood to its original people, and that it had come as no surprise to them that, if such a thing were to happen in Tasmania, that is where they would expect it to be.
The Land that we Sydney folk call the Botanical Gardens was, he also told me, a place of ceremony, and so sacred that even the blundering white invaders instinctively felt its power and left it untouched, and undeveloped, despite its prime Harbourside location that would make someone beyond a fortune if it were ever sold off.
I don't know if Patricia Wrightson was ever told this, but if she wasn't, then she too was clearly sensitive to its significance: at the heart of An Older Kind of Magic is the intention of a wealthy man, who owns department stores and newspapers and television stations (but not, it is true, a casino), to reclaim the Gardens for car parks, for in his estimation, the City will die without cars.
One of the things I have been discussing with my supervisor Brooke (she is my co-supervisor and an Aboriginal woman) is how, for Australia's First Nations people, time is not a line, but a cloth that folds in and over upon itself.
I feel a little like I was folded into that cloth today, reading a novel I last read probably 40 or more years ago, and finding how much I remembered of it, and mapping it over a city I know so well, and remembering the stories and knowledge my Aboriginal friends and colleagues have been so generous in sharing with me over the years.
This is why literature is my heart, and why, when I remember it, I love study and research so much....more
Disclaimer—Marie-Louise is a dear friend and one of the loveliest people I know. She's been a picture book artist and writer for many years, and thisDisclaimer—Marie-Louise is a dear friend and one of the loveliest people I know. She's been a picture book artist and writer for many years, and this is her first junior novel. I'm not even going to pretend to be unbiased—I loved this book and read it in one sitting on a rainy Sunday afternoon with my cats playing tag-team on my lap and a couple of small squares of home-made chocolate fudge to hand. Perfect reading conditions, in other words.
But friendship and personal admiration aside, I really did love this book. It's a classic adventure novel, with ghosts and a type of time travel, but also with a slightly darker contemporary edge. Set in the old mill building where Marie-Louise had her artist's studio for many years, it's the story of 12 year old Jessie, recently moved to Dublin after the death of her father, who stumbles across a bead factory with her dress-designer/maker mother. The bead factory turns out to be a front for a couple of private detectives, who are actually investigating paranormal activity in the building in the shape of a mysterious portal at the top of four steps that lead to a brick wall—and a couple of ghosts.
One of these ghosts is the enormous Greenwood, who was hanged on the site of the building in 1201 and has been trying ever since to solve the riddle of the Timecatcher (a kind of vortex behind the portal where time past continues on), which he accidentally opened before his death.
The other ghost is that of G, a boy about Jessie's age, who died in an accident in the abandoned mill building some forgotten years earlier. G can't remember who he was, which he puts down to the head injury sustained in the accident. G quite likes being a ghost, but is frustrated by his inability to leave the confines of the mill, and remains angry with the friends who left him to die.
Add to the mix the evil spirit of a man hanged alongside Greenwood who is determined to re-enter the Timecatcher and steal the source of its power, chuck in a bit of Viking mythology, a great big whack of Irish history, all in the hands of a writer with great control over her narrative (voice and rather complicated plot) and you end up with a terrifically fast-paced but also intellectually challenging plot for smart kid readers (and others). Enjoy. And think of my friend M-L! ...more
I loved Penni Russon's mysterious, elliptical novel of place, dreams, grief and identity. I was going to add time to that list, but that's not strictlI loved Penni Russon's mysterious, elliptical novel of place, dreams, grief and identity. I was going to add time to that list, but that's not strictly accurate—it's not a time slip novel at all, although it feels very much like one, and reminds me of books like Charlotte Sometimes and even somehow Jill Paton Walsh's Goldengrove Unleaving. (The latter, I think, largely somehow in a shared mood or tone, as well as the non-straightforward narrative, of which, it must be said, I am a fan. It might also have something to do with the melancholia in fairy tales that Penni refers to in her author's note.) I also reckon fans of Phillip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy would find much to be challenged and intrigued by in Only Ever Always—there are echoes of Lyra-like characterisation in Clara in particular. And from there we can also draw a line to 19th century literature, in the somewhat Dickensian overtones to Clara's world (has there ever been a more over-used word in book reviews than Dickensian?!) and the narrative courage of the great Victorian novelists.
There's a lot to say about Penni's narrative choices in Only Ever Always—in particular, the use of the second person narrative voice in certain sections of the novel, which somehow seems to draw in and implicate the reader as a participant, as a third version of Claire/Clara—but that might be best left to my teaching (and personal ruminations). What can I say, I'm a narratology geek (although not as big a one as I'd like!).
With parallel stories, worlds and characters, this is not a novel for a casual reader—it requires close attention, not just from the intellect, but from the heart. It's a book where not having all the answers is the most satisfying and in fact only conclusion—because life isn't always neat and tidy, and open endings suggest adventure and the great wonder of uncertainty—for the brave. If that sounds like a book for you— as it is a book for me—then I whole-heartedly commend Only Ever Always to you.
The usual thing to say about books like this is that anyone who has ever loved (and lost) a beloved pet will adore it (and BYO tissues), and that is cThe usual thing to say about books like this is that anyone who has ever loved (and lost) a beloved pet will adore it (and BYO tissues), and that is certainly true of Just a Dog, but it's also selling it a little short if one were to leave it at that. Just a Dog is a beautifully balanced and modulated sequence of stories about Mr Mosely (aka Moe), best-beloved dog of the Ingram family, told by the eldest child, Corey. As Corey relates funny and sad and scary stories about Moe, he also reveals much about the hardships and trials, as well as the joys and loves that come to his family over those dog years. It's a beautiful device, but it only works so well because Moe is such a great dog-character, and Corey rings so deeply true as a child-narrator who doesn't entirely understand everything that's going on in his family, but who does, at the heart of it, understand Family. And it's also just a really lovely book about a great dog and the boy who loved him. And you can never have too many of those. ...more
Books like this make me feel kind of warm and nostalgic for my own favourite childhood reading. I have been bemoaning for years now the fact that we hBooks like this make me feel kind of warm and nostalgic for my own favourite childhood reading. I have been bemoaning for years now the fact that we have been badly negecting the dedicated (Australian) child reader of somewhere between the age of 8 and 12, more or less, and this book reminds me why I feel that way. It's a deeply intelligent book, but also highly accessible; complex on one level (big ideas about physics and time travel) yet straight forward on another (shifting friendships and Working Out How the World Works). It's a puzzle and a mystery, and yet at the same time a classic schoolyard yarn.
Oh, and—time travel! Whee! Always loved the conundrums and this handles them beautifully. Plus, well drawn characters, convincing but not overwhelming period setting, carefully controlled lot development. I can't recommend it highly enough. ...more
Gleitzman may at last have found the perfect character for his particular style of storytelling, which frequently employs a child protagonist who is nGleitzman may at last have found the perfect character for his particular style of storytelling, which frequently employs a child protagonist who is naive and unworldly—in some cases, perhaps a little unrealistically so, although he always pulls it off in the end. In this case, Grace, the protagonist-narrator, is truly unworldly and believably naive. She's been raised in a closed, fringe Christian sect, kept away from outsiders/sinners, but also encouraged to ask questions and always be true to herself by her parents. But when her father oversteps the mark with the elders and is expelled from both church and family, Grace has to sort out the truth behind everything she's been raised to believe. Recommended. ...more