1. Graphic Novels/Picture Books for Independent Readers (10-16 years)
'Playground' compiled by Nadia Wheatley, illustrations and design by Ken Searle
With stunning photographs and illustrations, take us into the daily life of Indigenous children (past and present) who are connected with their land from birth. The stories and drawings help the reader to understand Indigenous life in all its facets - learning, playing, understanding and respecting the earth, the first days of life, relationships in families, what 'home' was, languages, daily food gathering and hunting, the place of song, dance, art and ceremony. Daily practices that changed little for thousands upon thousands of years. With the arrival of European people there have been adaptations, but Indigenous children remain embedded in their culture. Daily life is different, but Indigenous children are still learning from country and community.
'I am Thomas' by Libby Gleeson & Armin Greder
It is an interesting work that tackles an important topic, but I can't imagine why a picture book seemed like the right way to do it. My reading of the book left me with lots of questions. I love Libby Gleeson's work but I kept wondering in such a stripped down telling of her story, why did she choose the life pressures that she did. Are these truly the greatest pressures that children face - school success, conformity to adult views, war and religion? What about sexuality? Substance abuse (particularly alcohol)? Fashion? Body image? Pressures from popular culture? And ideologies of all kinds?
While the excellent teaching notes from Allen & Unwin (here) do address a broader range of issues, the book doesn't do so directly. Granted school success is right up there as a pressure adults place on children. And war and religion might be issues for a small group, but again, are these the dominant issues for many 10-16 year-olds? This is a clever book, but it seems to me that while the topic of this book is important, the execution misses the mark. It feels like a blunt instrument being used when dealing with a very significant issue with so many subtleties and nuances that can't be portrayed in this format. I can't imagine who would buy this book except maybe teachers driven by a desire to help children not to conform, while potentially encouraging them to conform to their own worldview and prejudices. An interesting book but I was left disappointed.
'Shakespeare's Hamlet' staged on the page by Nicki Greenberg
Nicki Greenberg. It is an imaginative and epic 415-page graphic novel. Hamlet has become an expressive black inkblot whose form changes shape according to his circumstances and mood. This is not a kid's picture book! Rather, it is one more attempt to present Shakespeare in new forms. Not just to make it more accessible (for some might find some other word-only attempts less challenging) but to tell it afresh.
There is no doubt that Greenberg’s Hamlet is unique. At 400+ pages it is hardly an easy 'read'. But might it not help the young uninitiated reader of Shakespeare to see new things? I'm not sure, only readers 13+ will be able to help us to answer this question.
The language of Shakespeare is given new emphasis as the play is performed on paper. This is a play 'staged' in a book as the title suggests. It is a very interesting book but I can't help but feel that a retelling like Leon Garfield’s Shakespeare Stories is not a better way in. It is hardly stuff for the poor reader, but more likely the gifted who wants to experience Shakespeare with new depth and relevance. It might just do this for some.
Shortlisted for Children's Book Council of Australia (CBCA) Picture Book of the Year 2011
2. Novels for Independent Readers (10-13 years)
'Surface Tension' by Meg McKinlay
In the heat of summer as a dry spell leads to rapid falls in the lake it begins to reveal something of its past and with it a strange and dark secret that is linked to Liam's past. Will they solve the mystery and find the truth before the old town is flooded again? This is a gripping mystery that readers 9-13 will enjoy.
'The Valley of Blood and Gold' by Tony Palmer
'Graffiti Moon' by Cath Crowley
They spend the night tracking down Shadow’s art and learning many things. And Lucy learns much about herself and Ed as they do so.
'Six Impossible Things' by Fiona Wood
This is a book about a boy experiencing first love. It is loosely based on Cinderella (the main character's name is an anagram of 'Cinderella') but sits well with many traditional tales of rescue and arrival through love. The main character is beautifully developed and makes it easy to be drawn into the story and his highs and lows with his first brush with love. From captivation, to humiliation and all points in between before.....
'Vinnie's War' by David McRobbie
So opens the prologue of David McRobbie's story of a 12 year-old boy who's fractured life is about to be changed once again by World War II. Like many English children in war torn Britain Vinnie is sent away from the bombing of the London Blitz. What awaits him? With little more left of his old life than his trusty harmonica he is shuffled onto a train bound for who knows where? But here he meets fierce Kathleen, sweet Joey and gangly Dobbs. Three evacuee children find themselves thrown together in the country town of Netterfold, which seems beautiful and peaceful - until they meet the locals.
Vinnie and his new friends find they have their own war to fight as they face up to terrifying teachers, bad billets, and hostile neighbourhood kids who set out to make their lives as 'vaccies' miserable. And when things start to go missing, they discover that there are mysteries lurking in Netterfold's shadows, just waiting to be solved...
This is a beautifully written story as we have come to expect from David McRobbie. While the setting and broad storyline are not original, the particular tale is engaging and well told. Boys and girls 10-16 will enjoy this book.
'The Life Of A Teenage Body-Snatcher' by Doug MacLeod
It isn't every day that the reader is introduced to the fascinating and at times gross world of the resurrectionists; liberators of corpses for the purpose of medical research. But this isn't just a book designed to shock (Doug MacLeod is too good an author for that!); it is an hilarious tale with great suspense, excellent character development and even some love interest. Thomas as narrator is earnest, but always we are on the edge of farce as more bodies are uncovered.
Boys aged 13-16 will enjoy this book and many girls as well, who like grim topics with lots of humour. The book is on the CBCA shortlist of best books for 2011, and deservedly so!
It is World War II in Eastern Europe and two gypsy brothers - Tomas and his younger brother, Andrej - have escaped Romany that has been overrun by the Germans. They carry Wilma, their baby sister, in a sack and reach an abandoned town where they discover a zoo. In it they find a wolf, monkey, bear, eagle, lioness, seal, chamois and llama with some surprising events as they contemplate what next. And then, an amazing twist, the starving animals tell the boys what has happened. The boys are scared but they grasped that animals, like people should not be imprisoned.
Sonya Hartnett’s story is a parable that brings into focus the greed and cruelty of people. And yet they learn that with hope and courage we can survive. Hartnett's character Andrej’s offers an insight into the hope, wisdom and resilience that can be found within the human spirit. This is a wonderfully different story that is well told.
The book is on the CBCA shortlist of best books for 2011
'The Piper's Son' by Melina Marchetta
Melina Marchetta, in this her 5th novel, offers us a wonderful story about a group of friends from her best selling, much loved book Saving Francesca. It is now five years later and Thomas Mackee needs to be saved. But Tom seems to want oblivion instead. He seems to hate the world but deep down the secret is he hates himself. He is kicked out by his flatmates, finds himself in hospital and seemingly on a slippery slope to destruction, but his favourite Aunt Georgie offers slim hope. He pleads to stay with her and his life heads in a different direction.
Tom doesn’t only have his own life to worry about. His father is a former alcoholic whose drinking problem forced Tom’s mum and sister to relocate to Brisbane. He starts working at the Union pub with his old friends and ends up living with his grieving father again. He realises that his family and friends need him to help them and that it isn't just his life that needs to be put back together.
The big question is will he be able to work out what's important and where he wants his life to lead before his messed up life ends in disaster?
The book is on the CBCA shortlist of best books for 2011. It is suitable for readers 14+.
Other related posts
2011 Children's Book Council of Australia Book of the Year Shortlist (HERE)