Rita’s Revenge – Lian Tanner

Rating: 5 out of 5.
Rita’s Revenge, (2022), by Lian Tanner, published by Allen & Unwin

Rita is crestfallen after her failed attempt to win the duck’s Talent Night contest with her poetry. She is ridiculed by the flock and firmly told that writing and reciting poetry is not in the list of rules for the duckpond! Reprimanded by Great-Aunt Myrtle and teased ruthlessly by Vera who thinks she is cleverer, Rita must make amends and is tasked with taking revenge on Clara (find out more about this smart chook in A Clue for Clara if you have not yet read it).

To re-establish herself in the flock, Rita sets out to investigate Clara, who is constantly surrounded by her human friends. Rita decides she needs an army and enlists Tracy; outcast because of her past friendship with the now disgraced and relocated Jubilee Crystal Simpson; and sets about training her, and later, her wayward younger brothers, in the art of unarmed combat based on the actions of the heroic drake, General Wa, which the children mistakenly take for a slick dance move. As Rita follows Clara, Clara is following clues as all is not what it seems in Little Dismal and another crime is being planned and plotted. Through a series of mis-steps and misunderstandings, Rita inadvertently foils criminal acts not realising that her arch enemy is the intended victim until it is too late – or can Rita save the day?

Similar to Clara, Rita creates her own daily and weekly timetable – dictated by the mood and need of the moment, and these timely references wittily break up the action and hint at disasters to come – there are many!

Today (but a different today from the last one) is divided into half past egg, half past training, school o’clock, war o’clock and half past watching (pp. 64-68)

Lian Tanner plays with language throughout – cleverly, facetiously and consistently as window into a duck’s mind with a sub text that critiques human behaviour and aspirations. The embedded duck-eyed perspective is maintained throughout and adds delightfully to this madcap tale to present underlying messages about friendship, honesty, being kind and celebrating difference as well as problem solving and team work. Try navigating a duck’s day and a lengthy week, (is it still half past the egg on Choose Day?) through the eyes of Rita, and support this wilful and stubborn duck as she endeavours to master skills such as reading and writing that Clara has under the wing. Rita’s efforts will have you doubled up with laughter. The first point of view, predominantly through Rita’s jaundiced eyes is artfully maintained and nicely balanced with the unsent letters Tracy writes to her past friend, Jubilee, and through these we see how Tracy is gradually transformed through the attention Rita pays her and this prompts her to reflect on her own behaviour and be welcomed back into the group – and ultimately to amend past wrongs and help save the day.

This book is a quack – from the first paddle to the final flight. Although younger children will enjoy the story, 10 to 12 year-olds will revel in the word play and adults will quack up laughing. Although the story has sufficient background to fill in the gaps, to fully appreciate Rita’s Revenge, you do need to start with A Clue for Clara. Cheryl Orsini’s pencil illustrations add to the frivolity and the various font styles and layout add verve and atmosphere.

Lian has written about the evolution of Rita’s Revenge and the support she got from a group of fellow children’s authors in a recent blog post and you can also join in the fun as Rita opens the first box of ‘her’ books hot off the press.

There are useful Teachers’ tips available to to extend classroom reading experiences and make the most of Rita’s passion, dare I say talent?, as a springboard for exploring and writing poetry. Why not start with an acrostic poem, just like the homework Rita completed for Tracy?

Fly beside me
Rest your wings on mine
I will support you
Even through the storm
Nothing will harm you, because I am a
Duck. (p. 343)

What more can be said?

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Tyenna: Julie Hunt & Terry Whitebeach

Tyenna (2022) by Julie Hunt & Terry Whitebeach.
Allen & Unwin

Tyenna (Tye) loves to spend her summer holidays with her grandparents in the Central Highlands of Tasmania – away from busy Melbourne, her chaotic and self-centred mother Opal, and Jas, her second, and more thoughtful, Mum. This summer is particularly hot and dry lightning brings the threat of fire to the tinder dry landscape. On arrival, the local community of Merrick and her grandparents at their boarding lodge at Chancy Point are preparing against the threat of fire and Tye has to forestall her holiday plans and trips into the wild, especially her favourite pencil pine forest in the Great Western Tiers. Best friend Lily and she are busy supporting Lily’s mum in feeding the numerous native animals brought in for care, along with long-time resident at the lodge, old-timer Lance, who is increasingly forgetful. Unexpectedly, she runs into Bailey, a boy on the run and in hiding and reluctantly promises to help him and not tell others of his presence in the area.

And then fire shifts from a threat to a reality and everything changes.

Tye, a 13 year old with a strong commitment to environmental responsibility, is a memorable, likeable protagonist dealing with challenges in her family life and a moral dilemma to work through. The various threads of this story – family, friendship, responsibility, caring for the environment and living through a serious and life threatening fire and its aftermath, are woven into a realistic and contemporary tale that will engage independent readers to show how adversity can strengthen us and that resilience can help us to actively work towards a more positive future. Tyenna is recommended for 11 to 14 year old readers and is a worthy addition to the contemporary realistic genre representing the now all too familiar issues in surviving natural disasters that many of your young people are grappling with.

Tyenna is written with a strong sense of place – the wild, rugged and isolated regions of inland Tasmanian are evocatively captured along with an array of down to earth, and equally rugged characters, typical of those that live in and love the area around the Great Lakes and central Tasmania. A love of the land, and respect for the original Aboriginal owners permeates the story and includes acknowledgement of traditional land management practices with fire. Julie Hunt and Terry Whitebeach share some of their extensive research into the region, the rural fire services and the extent and tragedy of this particularly fires season in 2019 to present an accurate, though fictional, interpretation of living through a real fire event and its impact on residents, wildlife and the environment. This has been inspired by their own personal experiences with facing a fire threat and their realisation of the importance of planning for the threat of fire including preparation of your property and a clear evacuation strategy which are clearly articulated within the story. A map of Tasmanian and the region at the start and an informative annotated time line provides the real life context for this story and the events that unfold. Find out more about the setting, the pencil pine tree and events that inspired this story in this brief introduction to the book but the authors.

Tyenna is the first installment in a new series: Through My Eyes: Australian Disaster Zones that tell stories about young people showing courage and resilience in the face of danger – through conflict or disaster. Discover more Through My Eyes titles. Extensive teacher notes are available from the Allen & Unwin website I am indebted to Julie Hunt for providing me with a copy of Tyenna to read – a wonderful and engaging story that puts forward important messages in a caring and supportive way. A great read that I highly recommend.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Backyard Birdies – Andy Geppert is SO Clever!

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Hatchette Australia are to be commended for this recent addition to their publications list. Visit the website to have a glimpse of the end papers, find out how to make a bin chicken hat and learn a bit about the illustrator (and I now think – word comedian) Andy Geppert. In Hatchette’s words, Backyard Birdies is “an extraordinarily good looking and somewhat factual illustrated introduction to the birds of Australia

It is hard to categorise this book beyond saying it is a ‘must read’ for young children. A combination of factual information with fable, fantasy and the ridiculous woven in between.
Geppert presents a number of common birds found in backyards in Australia. On each double page there is an illustration of the bird, a size comparison (with a bucket!), a soft, and surprisingly accurate watercolour illustration of the bird, a location map of Australian and blobs of paint to show each bird’s colours. Also, a check box to tick if you see the bird and a ‘stapled on’ label with the scientific name. All quite accurate in detail but extremely whimsical in the presentation.

The text is a clever and artful combination of expository writing – factual and descriptive – but with opinion and humorous asides and advice added in – and sometimes complete nonsense.
“This is an ibis.
Ibis have long curved beaks
for catching food in rock pools,
tropical billabongs and bins.
If you see an ibis in your backyard,
you either have a billabong,
or a bin.”

The overall design is excellent, the end papers provide a silhouette of each bird from mid body upward and these are numbered with the corresponding page number and bird name provided in a list. At first look this presents as a serious and useful contents but with some quirks that hint at the ridiculous elements within – swan (giant inflatable); pigeon (roof chicken)

This is an innovative, original, very funny but also informative book about familiar birds for young readers, but some of the jokes may go over their heads. Older readers will quickly pick up on and then hone in on the tongue in cheek presentation. Delightful, original and highly recommended.

Posted in Australia, Science, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

The Beatryce Prophecy – Kate DiCamillo

Rating: 5 out of 5.
The Beatryce Prophecy
Walker Books

I always look forward to reading a Kate DiCamillo book and this did not disappoint! Magically evocative and expressive writing sets this book into a fantasy but familiar Medieval past with kings, monks and prophecies all brought down to earth with the arrival of Beatryce – a wounded girl who can read and write!!!! – to be cared for, and hidden, at the monastery by Brother Edik – writer of prophecies that has foretold of girl who will unseat a king.

Edik with his skewed and drifting eye, Answelica the vicious but compassionate goat and astute judge of character and Jack Dory a fast message runner sent to fetch a scribe for soldiers’ dying confession unite to change the course of history. In the process, not only does the prophecy unfold, but past losses and pains are explained and strong bonds of love and friendship are formed in the face of adversity.

Death and tragedy are overcome through the companionship of the group and the book is magically illustrated by Sophie Blackall with lustrous black and white pencil illustrations, some full page, illuminated lettering for the start of each chapter and to support clever old worldly headings and phrases.Targeting primary readers, form about age 10 upwards, a magnificent and unusual story. Highly recommended.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Tish… is [a] Perfect

Rating: 5 out of 5.

This book is amazing, original and refreshing – story, illustrations, design and overall presentation – it has to be a contender for an award. Many readers would have encountered Edwina Wyatt‘s whimsical and quiet style in her earlier books about Magnolia Moon books and I feel that her third novel shows growth and maturity in her writing. For me this was a more engaging and intriguing read as its original plot keeps the reader guessing – so a more demanding and captivating read.

Tish by Edwina Wyatt & Odette Barberousse
Simon & Schuster

Meet Tish, who is a Perfect – that is, an imaginary friend who has been created out of the need and wishes of the person how has created him – hence he is ‘perfect’ for that person in that moment. Tish is brought into existence through a tiny spark by Charles Dimple and the two form a tight bond. Once school starts, Tish realises that there are other Perfects, attached to other school children but they gradually disappear. He comes to fear Time and its implications as his friend grows up and develops new interests and makes friends, but Tish is caught in the time that he was created. Eventually Tish can no longer be seen and, fearing that he will end up Nowhere, he moves out looking for a new Somewhere where he can continue to exist. And so his journey continues and in each new iteration – there are two more – he adapts to be the Perfect of each new child’s needs and dreams but maintaining key aspects and items from his past.

Odette Barberousse has done a superb job with the illustrations that are divine and.. dare is say it… perfect! Soft black and what pencil sketches with minimal colour to emphasise specific aspects of Tish’s appearance in the eyes of each of each of his Someone’s. The chapter headings are intriguing, include a relevant image as a tease, and capture Tish’s metamorphosis from one Perfect to another, with his name gradually evolving along with his appearance. Silky paper and occasion use of colour in the headings and illustrations result in a polished and high quality book.

Wyatt’s ability to create a parallel world where the imagined live and the use of language to separate the humans from the Perfects is superb. Conveying complex philosophical concepts on Time, Space and the Imagination, mature readers will find much to ponder.younger readers may miss some of these subtle and deeper moments but will delight in the story in its own right. A truly amazing read for 8 to 10 year olds and I think a delightful read aloud as well.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged | 1 Comment

Future Girl – Asphyxia

Rating: 5 out of 5.
Future Girl by Asphyxia
Publisher: Allen & Unwin

What a fantastic finale to my reading for 2020!

Reading this book is a sensory experience – a wonderful story packaged as a gloriously illustrated personal diary.

Written in the first person (narrative, not diary entries). Piper recounts a 6 month period of her life when she transforms from a needy and dependent deaf teenager to a strong, independent young woman and social and environmental activist.

Set in Melbourne in the near future and under the guise of a supposedly independent prime minister, natural resources are scarce, including fuel, power and food, as a mega bio food corporation dictates policy for profit. Piper’s mother is the scientific face of the company but loses her job when the artificial food is making people sick. On the hunt for bike to use as transport, Piper meets Marley, a young man with a deaf mother who signs fluently and her life and destiny change.

The book celebrates diversity in multiple layers. Deafness is presented as normal for those who are hearing impaired. There are mixed and same sex couples, affluent and poor families, all coming together in the struggle to grow food to survive and in doing so, becoming communities rather than isolated individuals living in the same street.

On reaching the end of this immersive story you will come away with a deeper understanding of what it is like to be deaf and marginalised, independent home food production from soil enrichment to planting, and a little bit of animal husbandry. And hopefully, you will also take note of the world we live in and how rapidly we are heading toward a society much like Piper’s, where we are commercially driven and compelled to be consumers of packaged, reconstituted and artificial food, destroy nature, reduce access to public spaces and monitor communications.

Piper, a girl of the future, gets caught up in a movement and I hope that Future Girl becomes a movement too.

The author, Asphyxia, has an amazing website to explore and delve into her passions, learn more about Auslan and view her beginner courses and learn to sign; explore amazing art work and get a glimpse of a companion book on how to make your own journal.

Posted in Australia, Fiction, Secondary | Tagged , | Leave a comment

A Clue for Clara – Lian Tanner

Rating: 5 out of 5.
A Clue for Clara by Lian Tanner
Published by Allen & Unwin, 2020

This is one of the most entertaining and cleverest books targeting primary age students that I have read in a very long time. Clara is the downtrodden chook in the barnyard – picked on by all the other hens and bullied by head chook Grandmother Polly and boss of the coop Rufus the rooster.

Clara, is determined to be a detective and has learnt a bevy of detecting skills watching detective dramas on TV with Digby (the Boss’s son). She has taught herself to write (badly), morse code and is currently mastering semaphore using her wings. When, through circumstance (hiding from the bullying chooks), she ends up in the back of a police car with the policeman’s daughter Olive she takes Olive on as her sidekick. She just needs to a) make Olive understand this and b) find a crime to solve.

And there is a crime, right under her beak, if she could only see it, with stock being stolen off the local farms. Clara of course, thinks stock is soup, so can’t work out why there is such a fuss of over stolen soup. The plot thickens, the chicken puns mount up and, with Clara’s help, not only does Constable Dad save the day but he and Olive are starting to come out of the fug of despair resulting from the death of their wife and mother.

The wit and humour – through the play on words, ideas, puns, misunderstandings and the totally convincing portrayal of chooks makes this a fantastic read. Lian Tanner’s website gives no hint that she keeps chooks (she does have a cat – a fat cat!) but there must be some chook history in her past to have so perfectly captured the personality of Clara and her barnyard family. The reader gets drawn into viewing the world through a chook’s eye perspective and Tanner maintains this flawlessly throughout – it will crack you up (egg yolk / joke). A cracking crime, whimsical sketch illustrations by Cheryl Orsini, some illustrated text for emphasis and a combination of the Clara’s story and Olive’s secret letter writing to her keep connected to her mum, make a wonderful and highly entertaining combination. I leave you with the rules of the chook yard which Clara devoutly follows every day – and the witticisms just keep coming from that point on.

#1. Get Up Early So You Don’t Miss Out.
#2. Keep A clean House So As Not To Attract Rats
#3. A Varied Diet Is A Healthy Diet (p. 14)

and the day’s schedule starts with…

Pre-dawn, also known as First Squawk
Proper Dawn, a.k.a Worm Hunt… (p. 26)

There is so much potential to play with language when reading this book to kids – but don’t overdo it and ruin a great adventure – enjoy the escapade and cross your fingers and hope that Clara comes back with another crime to solve.

Thanks Lian, your recent blog post, From Brizzlehounds to Chooks, inspired me to race to the chook / book store and get hold of Clara, and it certainly did not disappoint. This is just the sort of fun, light-hearted entertainment that kids need at the moment.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Day Zero – Kelly Devos

Rating: 5 out of 5.

The story is set during the New Depression and opens in the aftermath of a bitter political struggle between The Opposition and The Spark where the The Opposition, under the he leadership of the charismatic Ammon Carver, unexpectedly wins the election. Jinx’s Dad, Dr Maxwell Marshall but sees he is turning into a power hungry despot, had always been close to Carver. Jinx’s new family favour The Sparks. A series of terrorist attacks across the country bring down 5 major banks (owned by Carver) and the witch hunt for her dad begins, but also, inexplicably, her step father whose computer has mysterious code on it – the code that triggered Day Zero.

An action packed and fast paced thriller set in the near future in the United States. Main protagonist, 17 year old Susan “Jinx” Marshall is a coder and expert hacker, who just wants to have fun gaming. Her family is complex, with a young brother Charles with diabetes, her parents divorced, mother remarried, half sister McKenna and her older brother Toby all part of the mix and all with significant roles to play as they fight, merge forces and fight again. Her computer whizz dad, a survivalist who has trained is family to deal with worst case scenarios, is on the run.

The plot twists and turns with new characters coming into play as it soon becomes clear that there is no one you can trust or rely on. The economic devastation of the banks’ destruction includes the loss of data, and suddenly the country is thrown into economic crisis as people lose their savings and money is no longer available.

This is a great read for older teens – say 14 or 15 upwards – complex, brutal, at times violent, but a strong sense of doing what’s best for family threaded throughout. It would also be an excellent supporting text for a senior class investigating politics and democracy or for a study on economics and the impact of financial disasters on society.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Raúl Colón – Wordless story teller

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Imagine by Raúl Colón

This wordless picture book is visually stunning with an imaginative interplay between the protagonist, a boy if indeterminate age, and the art works he views in the Museum of Modern Art. Riding on his skateboard through an empty cityscape of New York, he arrives a the museum where he views several famous paintings that take his interest. Then the paintings come to life, stepping out of their frames to engage with the boy where they traverse New York City and share some significant local experiences together – climbing the Statue of Liberty, travelling on the subway, riding the Cyclone roller coaster, eating hotdogs, jamming in Central Park and then catching a yellow cab back to the museum. The figures return to their paintings and the boy skateboards home – but on the way he creates a mural on a blank suburban wall and immortalises his day’s experiences. Colon provides an author’s note at the end, detailing his inspiration, his joy and appreciation of museums and some insights into the artworks that feature in the text. These include Pablo Picasso’s ‘Three Magicians’, Henry Rousseau’s ‘The Sleeping Gypsy’, and Henri Mattise’s ‘Icarus’.

As a wordless picture book, Colon successfully tells a powerful and emotional story that enthralls the reader. He creates texture through lines and a softening effect by using dots and the combination of several techniques and tools – pencils, lithographs and watercolour – so that his illustrations glow with warmth and light, with subtle inclusions embedded into seemingly plain spaces – e.g. revisit the cover after viewing the book to discover key characters.

A beautiful, stunning and inspirational book suitable for primary, secondary (and adult readers).

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Equally impressive art work is evident in Colón’s earlier wordless picture book Draw!

A book that celebrates the imagination, creativity and joy in the act of illustrating. Stunning illustrations cleverly shift from the real world to the imaginary one as a boy sits in his bedroom and begins to draw. His first picture is of an African elephant and this become his transport as he explores and illustrates a number of African animals. The story itself is rather bland, lacking tension, with no pressing sense of danger or adventure. However as a stimulus for artistic endeavours it could be useful in the primary classroom. The design and transitions to shift between reality and fantasy are excellent.

There are some internal images on the Morgan Gaynn site.

Posted in Africa, Arts, North America, Primary | Tagged , | Leave a comment

The Mummy Smugglers of Crumblin Castle – Pamela Rushby

Rating: 5 out of 5.

For a wonderful read, follow the adventures of Hattie – or Hatshepsut – who was found abandoned as a baby outside of Hatshepsut’s Mortuary Temple in Egypt when her Egyptologist parents disappeared never to be seen again. Shipped off to England to live at Howling Hall with an Uncle Heracles who hunted game and had not time for young nieces the story starts in 1873 at Miss Fractious’ Boarding Establishment for Young Ladies. Hattie hears of her uncles demise (death by crocodile) and she is bundled off to live in the fens around Ely with her great uncle Sisyphus and great aunt Iphigenia and the sleek black cat Sekhmet and a bundle of troublesome kittens. All are obsessed with ancient Egypt – Sisyphus translates ancient texts and Iphigenia runs mummy unwrapping parties – both bringing in money to curtail the crumbling state of Crumblin Castle. With the dark and brooding Raven brother and sister organising the parties and the finances, Hattie gets caught up in the flurry of parties, dressing as an Egyptian princess to add colour to the events but a growing affinity and concern for the souls of the long dead bodies within their shrouds. Then the sinister and secretive behaviour of the Ravens raises her suspicions.

A law forbidding the export of Egyptian artifacts and not a mummy to be found in London results in everyone (except the cats) heading to Egypt where mummies are sought, friendships made and history eloquently explored.

Packed full of fascinating historical information, minute and graphic details on the mummification process, mythological connections brought to life in the 1870s along with a determined and perceptive young girl, villains, adventure, a quest and a crime to unravel this book will resonate with readers around 10 to 13. Highly entertaining on many levels and creatively supported with black and white illustrations by Nelle May Pierce.

Highly recommended – history, eccentric family, criminal activity and a mystery all packaged together. Pamela Rushby’s notes at the end add extra detail, historical context and explains some time frame slip ups to improve the read.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , | Leave a comment