Books and Reading

Australian Women Writers Challenge – 2014 Round Up

It was a strange year for reading and reviewing. I spent a lot of my spare time sewing this year, so I had less reading and writing time. But I was involved in writing round ups for the Australian Women Writers Challenge, so I felt really involved, even when I wasn’t reading or writing.

I read more than I reviewed – and I reviewed more than I managed to get up on the site. (Must fix that up today!) I managed the challenge alright, but I would have liked to review more. I’ve also recently read a bunch of AWW books, which I don’t think I’ll get to review before the new year. Maybe I should reread some of them and review them for the 2015 AWW challenge!

Away from reading and reviewing, I’ve really noticed how contributing in the challenge has had an impact on my family. My husband read a number of AWW books this year (we talked about him reviewing them as part of the challenge, but his work got incredibly busy) and has bought several copies of Hannah Kent’s Burial Rites as presents. We talk more about the books we’re reading at the moment, which is really lovely. My son has discovered lots of new favourite books – he’d particularly like to recommend Sally Morgan and Bronwyn Bancroft’s The Amazing A to Z Thing. And I’ve noticed that my reading is more diverse and in many ways, more interesting. I also asked for 2 AWW non fiction books for Christmas!

In 2015, I’m hoping to put a real effort into reviewing, hopefully with my new blog all set up and working well. I’m sure there’s many wonderful books just waiting for me to read them.

Onto some lists . . .

Books I Read

  1. The Min Min by Mavis Thorpe Clarke
  2. Playing Beatie Bow by Ruth Park
  3. Looking for Alibrandi by Melina Marchetta
  4. The Misogyny Factor by Anne Summers
  5. Moving Among Strangers by Gabrielle Carey
  6. Queen Kat, Carmel and St Jude Get A Life by Maureen McCarthy
  7. Saving Francesca by Melina Marchetta
  8. The Forgotten Rebels of Eureka by Clare Wright
  9. Peeling the Onion by Wendy Orr
  10. Showtime by Narrelle M Harris
  11. The Treasure Box by Margaret Wild

Brilliant AWW books I read but never got around to reviewing

  1. Mullumbimby by Melissa Lucashenko – this book completely floored me, but I could never work out how to put the words together to write about it. Just read it.
  2. The Intern by Gabrielle Tozer – good solid YA
  3. The Amazing A to Z Thing by Sally Morgan and Bronwyn Bancroft – deserves to be on this list due to how many times it’s been reread in our house
  4. Kaleidoscope ed by Alisa Krasnostein and Julia Rios – filled with soooo many great stories, but I particularly recommend Cookie Cutter Superhero by Tansy Rayner Roberts – I’m waiting for the television series set in her world
  5. Sprawl ed by Alisa Krasnostein – the ‘why did it take me so long to read this?’ book of the year
  6. Asymmetry by Thoraiya Dyer – A seriously good read
  7. Head of the River by Pip Harry – more great YA

Book Review: The Treasure Box by Margaret Wild (Australian Women Writers Challenge 2014)

In my last Children and Young Reader’s round up for the Australian Women Writers Challenge, I challenged people to read and review more picture books. As we’ve been visiting the library more regularly, I thought it was an excellent chance to take up my own challenge.

treasure box

The Treasure Box
Margaret Wild and Freya Blackwood

2013, Library copy

This is, quite simply, a beautiful book. Over the last year I have been falling head over heels in love with Freya Blackwood’s artwork, and this book is another example of how she tells stories through pictures. From the endpapers with their fragments of pages, to the beautiful way the use of colour changes through the book, the first thing that strikes you is how attractive this book is.

Then you read the story. At the heart of it, it’s a simple story of displacement. But, with a closer look you see that it’s much more. The library in Peter’s city is bombed and the only book that survives is held by his father. When they need to leave the city, the book is carefully packed up and Peter’s father tells him that it is a treasure, a record of their people. They undertake a long journey to safety, enduring hardship and loss, until eventually Peter needs to leave the treasure in a safe place until he can retrieve it again. It’s a story that explores loss and hope at the same time.

Interestingly, this book has made me think about how we ‘allocate’ picture books to different ages. When I borrowed it from the library, I wasn’t necessarily thinking of it as a book Squirm would enjoy. I picked it up because I’d read a wonderful review of it and was interested in it myself. I don’t think you’d see this book on any lists of ‘books for 2 year olds’.

But Squirm loves it. He looks through it on his own, he requests it by name. When we read it he points out familiar things in the illustrations and is just starting to talk about what happens. This afternoon we talked about ‘cupping hands’ and what that looks like (the people in the book cup their hands to catch the fragments of books which fall from the sky). Obviously he doesn’t understand about war or enemies or the history of people being forced to move from their homes. But he understands the part about the book being treasure and about them keeping it safe – he builds his story from that point.

It reminds me of my experiences with reading The Red Tree (by Shaun Tan) with children of different ages. I’d read it with children between the ages of 7 and 12 and noticed that their thoughts and reactions were different depending on their age. They borrowed from what they knew – their schema – to make the book work for them. And no matter what their age, they all enjoyed it and made it meaningful to them.

I think in our need to classify things we can be too quick to move picture books (and other books) into age groups and by doing this we can also be too quick to say ‘no, you shouldn’t read that, it’s too old/young for you’. We forget that comprehension is more fluid than test writers would like to believe, completely built on our own experiences. The reader who is two will have a different experience of a book from the seven year old, the twelve year old, the eighteen year old or the thirty year old. But that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t have the chance to experience the book at all.

This thought also applies to older readers who can read novels reading picture books, or competent readers who are reading adult books going back to read Young Adult or children’s novels. Earlier this year I reread some Robin Klein books which I enjoyed as a child. It was amazing how many things I saw in them that I hadn’t seen before, how many themes I now understood better from the benefit of adulthood. I can’t help but think that it’s important to give our children those experiences as well.

I really recommend The Treasure Box to readers of all ages. It’s a beautiful book for talking about language, for talking about books and stories and how stories are important to our history. It’s a beautiful book for talking about war and displacement and keeping promises as much as you are able to. It’s a beautiful book about hope.

Book Review: Lone Wolf by Robert Muchamore

lone wolf

Lone Wolf by Robert Muchamore

This is the fourth book in the second CHERUB series, but the first one not connected to the Aramov clan. Instead this one, which concentrated on drug dealers, served as a bit of a cleanser after the intensity of the first three. It also served as an introduction to James Adams: Mission Controller.

Although I enjoyed the Aramov storyline, I did find it a little dense at times – I would spend a fair bit of time trying to remember which character was which and who was aligned with who. (Part of this was because I wasn’t rereading the books like I might have in the past.) I’m not sure Muchamore’s at his strongest across multiple books, though. In this story our agents are in position to engage with a highly organised drug ring, and a teenaged girl who used to work with her mother and then her aunt in opposition to the ring.

James as a mission controller works for me – he’s younger (I believe) than other ones we’ve seen, but there’s an element of his behaviour which makes me think of Zara or Ewart from the early books. Some of the reminders about his past as a CHERUB agent were a little over-laboured in the writing – even those who haven’t read the first series would be able to pick that up before the last couple of chapters when we’re reminded of it, yet again.

I still don’t feel like Ryan has been completely fleshed out the way characters were in the first series. Maybe because I haven’t reread them as much, but he often just feels like James v.2 – which is kind of boring since a) we’ve read those books and b) James is right there. Ning is a much more fascinating character, but this was a plot heavy book rather than a character development one, so we didn’t see a huge amount of that.

The plot was downright fun. It’s hard not to compare it to Class A, but this felt like it was amped up to a higher level. It feels like Muchamore is happier to hurt his characters now, and they seem to engage in riskier behaviour. There were points where I wondered whether James would get a dressing down for allowing his agents to get into such dangerous situations – there didn’t seem to be the same evaluation of the risk as in the first series.

This is a series I used to recommend to my students a lot – it was a ‘gateway’ series for a lot of students who weren’t really into reading. The characters feel realistic, they fight, swear, drink and get together. The plots are usually tightly written, but there’s not a huge amount of inference required. The action scenes are particularly good – I’d imagine a lot of readers can ‘see’ them when they’re reading. As this later series gets into the life of an adult James and with the riskier behaviour, I’d say it’s definitely better for teenagers and up, while the early books of the first series are better for the younger readers.

Australian Women Writers Challenge: 2014

Last year, I excitedly jumped into the Australian Women Writers challenge. It was wonderful in many ways, and I completed the challenge, though (for reasons to do with my own goal setting and perfectionist behaviour) I let it drop completely in the second part of the year.

This year, I’m taking a much more relaxed approach to it, and looking at children’s and young adults books, particularly ‘classics’. Sadly, there’s a long list of classics I’ve never touched and another list of classics which I haven’t read in a very long time. I’ll probably review some newer ones as well, especially picture books I read with my son.

I have a short list of books I want to tackle, and I’m definitely signing up for the full Franklin (read 10, review at least 6).

What Australian kids classics (written by women, of course) would you recommend?


Advent Calendar Book Reviews: Day 7 – The Monster at the End of this Book by Jon Stone

In the lead up to Christmas, I’ll be sharing short reviews of great books and who they’d be perfect for. Find the master list here

Day Seven – The Monster at the End of This Book by Jon Stone


Genre – Picture Book

There was, apparently, a whole range of Sesame Street books written – but while I remember this one from my childhood, I don’t remember any others. This is the one which managed to break beyond the fact it ‘belonged’ to a television show, and reached out to children (including my sister and myself) in a very real way.

I think the secret lies with two things – there’s the breaking of the fourth wall (much like ‘Don’t Let the Pigeon‘) which lets Grover talk directly to us – to tell us that there’s a monster at the end of the book and that he’s scared of that. Then there’s the ‘interactive’ aspect (like Tap the Magic Tree), where turning the page ‘destroys’ walls and other means to try and stop the reader from turning the page. Plus there’s a really jovial feeling with this book, although Grover is scared, the reader knows that everything will probably be ok at the end.

We actually have this one as a board book, and Squirm loves looking through it – it’s exactly the right size for his little hands and it’s quite a sturdy book.

Highly recommended for toddlers and preschoolers – it’s also brilliant for parents to read aloud and children to turn the pages!


Advent Calendar Book Reviews: Day 6 – The Pigeon books by Mo Willems

In the lead up to Christmas, I’ll be sharing short reviews of great books and who they’d be perfect for. Find the master list here

Day Six: The Pigeon books by Mo Willems


Genre – Picture Book

It all started with Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus. This mischievous pigeon, who would do almost anything in his quest to convince you to let him drive the bus, worked his way into my heart. I felt for him, wanted to make him happy, even while I denied his bus driver dreams. Then I refused to let him stay up late, and um-ed and ah-ed about letting him have a puppy, and -sadly- laughed at his pain when he came across a duckling even more persuasive than he was.

Mo Willem’s Pigeon is a child favourite for a reason. He breaks the fourth wall and pleads directly with the reader. The illustrations are so basic (try drawing the pigeon – it’s quite easy) but so emotive – you know exactly what the Pigeon is thinking all the time. My toddler loves him, Grade 3 students who looked at it in detail loved him, my Grade 5,6 and 7 students loved him, all the adults I know love him.

If you know a child who hasn’t met the Pigeon yet, you really, really need to buy a copy of one of the books for them. Go on, you know you want to. Your mother would do it. Please!

Highly recommended for absolutely everyone


Advent Calendar Book Reviews: Day 5 – CHERUB by Robert Muchamore

In the lead up to Christmas, I’ll be sharing short reviews of great books and who they’d be perfect for. Find the master list here

Day Five: CHERUB by Robert Muchamore


Genre – Young Adult Fiction Novels

I can’t believe I’m still recommending these – but there’s a very good reason for that! The books, which now make a lengthy series (plus a follow on, prequel type series)  follow James – an impulsive, somewhat troubled 11 year old who gets into a tonne of trouble after the death of his mother. James is headed for a worrying future, when he wakes up and finds himself in a strange environment, surrounded by kids who can’t talk to him.

Turns out that CHERUB wants him. And what’s CHERUB? Well it’s a spy agency where the spies are all children and teenagers.  And the series follows them through their adventures, their ups and downs and just what teenaged spies do in their rest time.

These books were always huge successes with Year 7s in my classroom. There’s some more adult stuff in the later books, so parents might want to read them before passing them onto their kids.

Highly recommended for teenagers and nearly teenagers. Plus anyone who likes spy books.


Advent Calendar Book Reviews: Day 4 – Cathy Cassidy Books

In the lead up to Christmas, I’ll be sharing short reviews of great books and who they’d be perfect for. Find the master list here

Day Four: Books by Cathy Cassidy


Genre – Middle School Fiction Novels

One of my wonderful students introduced me to the author Cathy Cassidy. She was adamant that I would enjoy her books – and she was absolutely right.  Cathy Cassidy writes about interesting kids, from diverse and different backgrounds. They have challenges thrown at them and usually there’s a romance involved in some way or another, and things end up mostly ok by the end. They’re great escaping books – not too heavy, but not too light, and a great insight into the lives of other kids.

These books would be brilliant for children aged from around 9 or 10 (she has written a series for younger kids too). They would probably mostly appeal to girls, although the stories are quite universal for all kids. They aren’t terribly well known in Australian, although they were readily available in some bookshops a few years ago

Highly recommended for girls aged 9 – 15


Squirm’s Book Reviews: Imagination Edition

Each week I review books we’ve read with Squirm. Find other reviews here

Imagine a Day by Sarah L Thomson and Rob Gonsalves


Imagine a day . . . . . . When you can dive
down through branches
or swim up
to the sun

This beautiful book matches simple, poem like text with some of the most amazing art work I’ve seen in a picture book. The art work – the real star of this book – takes the reader into a magical world where things aren’t exactly as they seem. Instead bridges are actually made of people, standing tall on top of each other; blue balloons can turn grey skies blue, and children can build cities out of alphabet blocks.

The illusions in the painting almost creep up on you, and you can spend ages looking at them and trying to work out just how the artist has created them. It would be an amazing book to use with art activities, especially if you took time to look at other art illusions like these. Squirm was too little to really understand the illusions, but he loved the colourful art, and the poem-like quality of the text lulled and calmed him as he went off to sleep.

(You can find Rob Gonsalves’ Official Facebook page – with lots of art – here)


Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak




When Max wore his wolf suit and made mischief of one kind or another, his mother called him a wild thing and sent him to bed without eating. But then Max finds himself in his little boat, sailing across the seas to where the Wild Things are.

I can’t believe I haven’t reviewed this book before! It’s an absolute classic and there’s a very good reason why. The art work, while relatively simple (especially compared to Gonsalves’ work!) is wonderfully evocative, and the sparse text allows plenty of room for imagination, while allowing older children to read along. And of course, there’s the wonderful ending, when Max comes home to a hot supper – that moment which reminds the parents reading it, just what it was like to be a child.

There’s a few books I think every child should experience, and this is definitely one of them. If you haven’t got a copy yet, head out and get yourself one!

Advent Calendar Book Reviews: Day 3 – That’s Not My . . . Series

In the lead up to Christmas, I’ll be sharing short reviews of great books and who they’d be perfect for. Find the master list here

Day Three: That’s Not My . . . Series


Genre – Baby/Toddler/Preschooler Board Book

These wonderful books (and there’s a lot of them) have a familiar refrain. From the front cover we are introduced to the premise – That’s not my . . . because it’s coat is too furry or feet are too scratchy or it’s wheels are too bumpy. Accompanying the words is a lovely textured section which just invites the reader to reach out and touch. This is repeated page after page until the last page when we meet ‘my’ robot or frog or puppy or penguin.

Squirm absolutely adores these books – he was gifted his first ones and then we managed to add to our collection thanks to the 5 for $20 deal at Big W. They’re wonderful to read together, but Squirm has also really enjoyed reading them on his own – they’re just the right size for him to handle and turn the pages, and because the pages are thick, he hasn’t been able to damage them by chewing them!

If you can get your hands on some of these, I can’t recommend them enough. They also make wonderful presents if you know any babies or toddlers who love sensory experiences!

Highly recommended for babies and toddlers. And people who like sensory experiences!