30 September, 2013

Children's Book Council Younger Readers Short List 2013

So once again it's time to review the Short List from The Children's Book Council of Australia's shortlist. I reviewed the books from the Older readers short list, so now it's the turn of the Younger Readers. So here we go again, my reviews of all 6 shortlisted younger readers books.I tried to limit the reviews to about 6 sentences each.  Click on the link below each book to go to the Goodreads entry for it.

After by Morris Gleitzman
 The fourth book on Morris Gleitzman's story about Felix, a Jewish boy in hiding during World War II. Chronologically it comes between Then and Now although any of the books (Once, Then, Now, After)  could be read as stand alones. This takes Felix's sotry through to the end ofOlder Readers books the war. Gleitzman has an amazing ability to portray things from a child's point of view. The reader always feels they are reading something written by a child, not an adult trying to be a child. It's a book and a series which opens the door onto much more complicated and involved discussions.

The Children of the King by Sonya Hartnett
This story blends the near past and far past together. Cecily and Jeremy are sent, with their mother, out of London during the Blitz. In a country house owned by their uncle, they are joined by May, a child evacuee. While it's Cecily who is older, May is more mature, having lead a less sheltered life. In an abandoned castle they find two boys who may not be all that they appear. While I quite enjoyed this book, I was looking for something more in the end. The way things were tied together at the end just didn't sit well with me. The story of the tow boys in the castle did not seem to play a big part and the book would have stood just as well without it.

The Tender Moments of Saffron Silk by Glenda Millard
Saffron Silk keeps getting really bad headaches and no one knows why. Everyone, including Saffron is a little bit afraid, but the Silk family and their friends know how to get through tough times - live and remembering and sharing the tender moments.
This is a stunning, beautiful little book. In just over 100 pages, it folds you into the world of the Silks and lets you share the wonder of living simply with good family and friends. This book reminds you of what is important and why it's important to stop and share the tender moments. It is guaranteed to make you want to go hug your closest ones for no other reason than letting them know they are loved.

Pookie Aleera is Not My Boyfriend by Steven Herrick
I love a book in verse - quick to read with surprising depth. Pookie Aleera Is Not My Boyfriend gives the reader insight into the lives of class 6A. It explores their secrets, fears, thoughts and shows how one small act of kindness can have far reaching consequences. Steven Herrick is a master at the book in verse genre, instilling as much description and feeling into a few lines as other authors do into a whole paragraph. Perfect for you reluctant reader who finds pages and pages of text confronting - Love it!

Pennies for Hitler by Jackie French
In the horrors of the concentration camps and the mass killings of WWII, I sometimes think we forget about others affected during the war. Those who weren't persecuted, those who weren't Nazi's, but those who were just trying to survive.
Georg is one of those people. Sent away to his aunt in England after his father is killed, he becomes George. In a climate of fear and hatred he needs to hide his German heritage. When London becomes too dangerous he is sent onto Australia where he discovers that while hatred is contagious, so too is kindness.
Jackie French is such a professional writer that I doubt she could turn out something bad. Pennies for Hitler is well researched, well written and would be a great discussion starter.

The Other Brother by Simon French
Bon, a cousin Kieran hardly knows, suddenly intrudes on his life. Bon is different and Kiernan doesn't like him upsetting his life. But eventually you have to do what you know is right and choose where your loyalties lie.
The Other Brother is quite a powerful book. At times I found it hard, simply because of Kieran's attitude. Here was this child who has so much and was so begrudging of sharing any of it. If he'd been my child I don't think I would have been as patient as his mother was! But the true power of the book was the lack of quick fixes and easy explanations. Too often I find with books aimed at children the resolution comes easy and everyone is happy - friends. This book seemed to take  a more realistic approach while still showing you can make a difference to someone just by following your heart.

Unlike the Older Readers books, several of the Younger Readers books jumped out at me. Saffron Silk, The Other Brother and Pookie Aleera were absolute stand outs in my mind. In fact, it was hard to decide between Saffron Silk and The Other Brother as winner, but in the end, I must choose The Other Brother for its completely believable characters and reactions, leaving Saffron Silk and Pookie Aleera as my notables. What is really interesting is the book the CBC chose as the Winner - The Children of the King - was most probably the book I was least impressed by. Only one of my choices - Saffron Silk made their notable list and their other was Pennies for Hitler.

Children's Book Council Older Readers Short List 2013

So once again it's time to review the Short List from The Children's Book Council of Australia's shortlist. OK, this year I'm running a bit behind. The winners were announced back at the end of August but I have only just got around to reading and reviewing all the books! So here we go, my reviews of all 6 shortlisted older readers books.I tried to limit the reviews to about 6 sentences each.  Click on the link below each book to go to the Goodreads entry for it.

Creepy & Maud by Dianne Touchell
I loved the beginning of the book which made me once again want to Facebook the first line of books I'm reading (The first line was My dad has trained our dog, Dobie Squires, to bite my mum.) Creppy and Maud (not their real names!) live across the road from each other. Both have parents who fight, both are only children and both are social outcasts at school. They form a friendship without actually meeting, writing (sometimes cryptic) notes and taping them to their bedroom windows. After awhile I just felt the story was going nowhere, leaving me feeling frustrated. While it ended with some hope, I just felt the overall story was missing something.

Friday Brown by Vikki Wakefield
Friday Brown is a book about running away, discovering your strengths and finding value where others find none. The book covers some rather dark material  - homelessness, manipulation, abuse, drugs - often with no apologies. It's a book that draws you in, making you care about the main characters and their fate. I did find however, the lesser characters a bit two dimensional and would have liked them to be fleshed out a bit more. The end was a bit too neat for me. After the turmoil, Friday seemed to settle back into normal life awfully easily...

The Wrong Boy by Suzy Zail
I will admit when I picked up this my first thought was, really, another holocaust book. But on reflection, we need more, we cannot forget what happened and new generations need to be told the stories of those who were persecuted. As the survivors age and die, we need to not let this atrocity fade into the background.
Whenever I read a book about the concentration camps, it's a jolt to be reminded that Russian soldiers liberated many of the camps - not the stereotypical picture of Stalin's army - I wonder if younger readers realise that in the end, Stalin was no better than Hitler.
The last 50 pages of this book were the most heart wrenching - after liberation, when the main character Hanna had time to consider what had happened to others. Hanna's character survived by being the personal pianist of the commandant - a position that made her hated by other POW's. As always the question is - what would you do to survive?

The Ink Bridge by Neil Grant
The Ink Bridge explores the lives of two boys - one Afghan refugee and one Australian boy. For different reasons, both are silent, a trait that draws them together.
The story is told in three parts, Omed, Hector and Across the Bridge. I found Omed's part the most interesting and heart wrenching. While the book is aimed at older readers, I strongly suggest the adult in their lives also read it as it's fairly graphic in parts. This, like books about the Holocaust are so important. Apart from explaining the desperation of some of our refugees, it provides a great jumping off point for talking about refugees, the war on terror and the issues surrounding these topics.

The Shiny Guys - Doug MacLeod
After a horrible tragedy in his life, Colin finds himself on Ward 44, the psychiatric wing where the psychiatrist in charge is running things a little differently from a conventional psychiatric ward. Colin sees thing - the shiny guys - and along with Mango and Anthea he needs to work out what they want and how to stop them. The lines between what is real and what isn't becomes blurred, leaving not only the patients confused, but the reader as well. MacLeod has portrayed the confusion of mental illness incredibly well, although at times I felt like I was losing the thread of the story - was it about The Shiny Guys, mental illness or something else entirely?

Sea Hearts by Margo Lanagan
On the remote island of Rollrock, the men ask sea-witch Misskaella to draw forth girls from seals to make sea wive. Achingly beautiful, they are devoted wives, but when they are the only women left and their desire to return to their seal skins and the sea grows strong, what lengths will their sons go to make their mams happy?
It took me awhile to get into the book, but once I did I really enjoyed it. A fable about the dangers of pandering to your own needs and the strength it takes to do what is right. I think this book is borderline YA, it could quite comfortably sit on the adult shelves.

So those are the six shortlisted books. To tell you the truth, I didn't love any of them - not one jumped out as  clear winner for me. In the end, it I was ruler of the world, I would have chosen Friday Brown as the winner with Sea Hearts and The Wrong Boy as notables. The CBC gave the top award to Sea Hearts and notables to The Ink Bridge and Friday Brown.