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Showing posts from 2015

December 2015

TALES FROM OUTER SUBURBIA (SHAUN TAN)
When I was at high school, I drew a picture of the shopping centre that was across the road from the school. It was one of those 80's-designed affairs with an empty open-air square in the middle; furnished with uncomfortable metal seats painted in faded primary colours, uneven cheap pavers and geometric planters full of thin, sandy soil, cigarette butts and the stringy brown remains of palm trees.  And of course there were empty shops. That's a given.  When I drew the shopping centre, I made the shop-front display windows completely black.  The colours I used were all dark, there was no people or movement.  I didn't think of it at the time, but my Art Teacher said it was a creepy drawing, there was no life to it, and there should be because it's a picture of a bloody shopping centre.  I don't know why I drew it like that, but that's how that place felt to me; it made me uneasy.  Shaun Tan's pictures and narratives make …

November 2015

WONDER (R.J. PALACIO)
This book lives up to its name.  Totally.  I had heard about it and seen it kicking around at my previous school, and then the Grade 5 teacher at my current school requested it.  Good choice - all school libraries SHOULD HAVE THIS BOOK.  Yes the CAPS is for EMPHASIS.

August (Auggie) was born with some pretty serious facial defects.  He gets stared at - like, most of the time.  And it's not "nice" staring, it's staring in shock and horror, can't-believe-what-I'm-seeing staring.  Auggie for the most part has learnt to ignore it, but it still gets under his skin, and still makes him dread going into situations with new people.

So the idea of going to school for the first time? Utterly terrifying.  LOTS of new people, everywhere, and he is stuck with them for hours a day, and they will all stare, and comment, and pretend to look away, and talk about him behind his back.  Auggie knows exactly what it will be like and he is not sure he can b…

November 2015

Young Adult Books - Infographics (Link)

The link above is to a whole bunch of Infographics about YA literature trends, facts and figures.  Also thrown in are a couple of great book recommendation graphics.  I need to print out the "Book a Day" for the School Library!

So it seems that 55% of YA books are purchased by people over the age of 18.  I am guessing that probably has to do with parents being the ones with the bucks!  And will we EVER move on from the Dystopia????

Enjoy!

November 2015

CROW COUNTRY (KATE CONSTABLE) I tried, I really did.  It has a CBC Council Shortlist medal on it and everything.  But I just couldn't make it to the finish line.

It was a good concept, mother and girl move out to the country, girl discovers old Aboriginal site of significance and is mystically and magically drawn into the stories that the land has to tell - as told by the crows.  She is also drawn back in time to witness a crime against the people of the land many, many years ago - and she must decipher what it is the crows want, so the same mistakes aren't made again (or something along those lines - like I said, I didn't make it to the end!).

I am not sure why this story didn't hold my attention.  I really wanted it to.  Perhaps the plot didn't move fast enough?  The main character, Sadie, wasn't really all that interesting?  The crows weren't quite a strong enough feature of the narrative?  None of these reasons seem to really hit the nail on the head fo…

November 2015

WHAT DO GUYS ACTUALLY WANT TO READ?
Why don't guys want to read as much as girls?  There has been SO MUCH discussion on the topic, and I'm not sure if we are really making any progress as a whole.  Guys are pretty active, and I know the really active girls at my school aren't that interested in reading, either.  They want to be out and about and stimulated in a kind of visceral and physical sense, I guess.  It's kind of hard to get that from a book, unless it's an action packed thriller with lots of plot twists and fast paced movement and all the other tactics that action/adventure novels use to get your heart racing.  And so that's pretty much the first thing that I've noticed about boy readers.  It's gotta be fast, and interesting, and adventurous, and thrilling.  They have to be able to FEEL the book, not in an emotional way but in a way that gets their heart racing a little bit, gives them a bit of a sense of moving around, running...  something PHYS…

October 2015

UPPING THE DIVERSITY
Jenny Han on YA Literature (link to Huff Post article)

I haven't been reading YA for that long so I am by no means an expert... but in this digital age, knowledge is no longer a prerequisite to opinion so eh, I will go ahead and throw in my two cents.

I was reading an article on Huff Post about YA author Jenny Han.  The article primarily discussed her novels and her writing process, but it also covered Han's perceived representation of Asian-Americans (and other minority social groups) in YA fiction, and the positive effect her YA stories have on her readers (particularly Asian-American readers).

It got me to thinking that as I reader, what better experience is there than to enjoy a novel where you feel deeply connected with the characters?  To whoop with joy or lament in despair, to feel like you've been there, done that, and know exactly how it feels? From Han's comments, it's evident that her stories speak strongly to a young Asian-American audi…

October 2015

Sandy Feet (Nikki Buick) This bright little number caught my eye a few months back, as it subconsciously spoke to my longing for some sort of beachy, sandy, tropically, salty, breezy, sunny, happy respite (I love a good adjective list to emphasis a point) to the misery that is a Melbourne winter in the perpetually sodden Dandenong Ranges .  The cover of the book is yellow with a palm tree... it says "sandy".  That was enough for me.

So I read the book and it was OK.  Perhaps not as sunny and sandy on the inside as the cover would have you believe (if you judge books by their cover - which I do), but it certainly kept me coming back despite being a bit slow to get off the ground.  Basically, the protagonist, Hunter, is a guy who has a few issues in life; his mum suffers from depression, his stepdad (endearing called "Step"), is a bit of a toss, and his sister is a pain.  And he is stuck on a loooooooong family car trip up north to "getaway" and "find…

September 2015

Blankets (Craig Thompson) What can I say about this graphic novel?!?!?!

READ IT.  NOW.
I was never a huge fan of the graphic novel until recently.  In fact, the moment I was converted was a quiet afternoon at work; my colleague and I were randomly browsing the Junior Fiction.  Enter Jane, the Fox and Me by Fanny Britt.  Suddenly I realised that graphic novels weren't all science fiction, fantasy and reluctant male readers.  The illustrations in Jane, the Fox and Me are beautiful, as is the story.  I have a colour photocopy of one of the illustrations on my fridge, which involves Mr. Rochester from Jane Eyre caressing a swim-suited sausage.  Graphic novels, why had I forsaken you????
So fast-forward to Blankets.  It's a hefty read at 600+ pages.  But it's a graphic novel so it's not a dense or taxing read.  But it still takes time.  There were moments when I would stop and just gaze upon one certain picture, or read a few words and then shift my focus to each detail in…

September 2015

Zac & Mia (A.J. Betts) I am back on the rickety reading wagon, and it's trundling along slowly, and the path meanders all over the shop, but I am finally getting places!

Next stop?  Zac & Mia by A.J. Betts.  Let me start by saying that I did NOT know this was another YA cancer story.  Should I really say "another"?  I am obviously referring to The Fault in Our Stars which immediately springs to mind with thoughts of oxygen tubes and unrealistic teen dialogue (don't get me started on that novel!).  I found Zac & Mia to be, I dunno, a bit more down to earth than The Fault in Our Stars.  That novel had me eye-rolling frequently throughout the first few chapters.  I only read the first few chapters.

But enough.  I digress.

So, Zac & Mia.  Engaging story, nice use of statistics; as a Librarian I always approve of the use of well researched facts throughout a narrative.  Both Zac & Mia are likeable, engaging characters, it doesn't get overly soppy …

September 2015

The Strange Library (Haruki Murakami) It's been a while.

And I gotta say, as a Librarian I seem to find little time to read books these days, which is sad and pathetic, but seems to be the lot of many of my Librarian friends!  It's a cycle of irony which we can't seem to escape.  What's worse is that I am constantly bombarded with books I want to read, and this just makes the whole situation even more depressing.  But enough excuses, I should make the time, and I am trying!

One little book that popped up on my radar recently was Murakami's "The Strange Library".  Mainly because a) it is written by Murakami, who is one of my favourite authors, b) it had the word "Library" in the title, and c) the hard-cover was on special from Readings for $16.99.  SOLD!

Little did I realise that this lovely wee tale is in fact a short story, bound in a beautifully illustrated (and lovely smelling - very important) pink hard-cover edition with a library card sli…

May 2015

Millie and the Night Heron / Rain May and Captain Daniel (Catherine Bateson)
Please remember I have only "officially" been a school librarian for a little over a year, so when it comes to getting to know children's authors, I am but a babe in the woods.  In my latest endeavour to chop back some of the forest I picked up two books, completely separately, and thought "I'll read those".  Turns out those two books were Millie and the Night Heron and Rain May and Captain Daniel.  I didn't look at the author at all, and it wasn't until I started Rain May I realised they were both by Catherine Bateson. An author who lives in my area of Melbourne.  Who, for all I know, may even live up the road from me.

Anyways, turns out that any self-respecting children's librarian should immediately know of Catherine Bateson.  Well, now I do.

I have only read these two examples of her work, and let me say, there are quite a few similarities between the two.  I am no…

May 2015

Cicada Summer (Kate Constable)
I stumbled across Cicada Summer in a very "professional" attempt to increase my general knowledge of junior fiction. I had heard of Kate Constable, most recently through her acclaimed novel Crow Country, which won the 2012 CBCA Young Readers Book of the Year (haven't read it yet - should do soon!)  Cicada Summer wasn't quite what I expected, mainly because I totally judged the book by it's cover and didn't read the blurb at all.  Regardless though, I found it to be quite an engaging story, and surprisingly atmospheric for a junior fiction novel.

Eloise doesn't speak much.  Actually, she doesn't say anything at all, and hasn't really spoken since her mother passed on a wee while back.  Instead, Eloise speaks through her art, as she is quite a talented artist.

Eloise's father, who is an "entrepreneur" and forever chasing his next big bucks breakthrough, has just been given a beautiful, but decaying art …

May 2015

The Boy and the Toy (Sonya Hartnett / Lucia Masciullo) Those familiar with children's literature will be familiar with the name Sonya Hartnett.  With an impressive list of titles to her name, there is no doubt that Hartnett is an author of quality children's literature, and The Boy and the Toy is no exception.

Once there was a boy whose father was a great inventor.  He had to go on many important trips, and so he invented the best toy in the world to keep his son company whilst he was away.  The boy and his toy passed the days having lots of fun together, but when the boy started to look for new things to keep him occupied, the toy has other plans...

A fabulous tale about "real" friendship, that includes warm and beautifully detailed pictures of the boy and his toy, I found myself thinking on the message of this book long after I finished reading it.

Highly recommended as a bedtime read for those aged 4-6.

May 2015

Grandpa's Gate (Liliana Stafford/Susy Boyer)
Grandpa's Gate was a random selection from the picture book shelves of my school library. It's a few years old now (2003), so not sure how easy it will be to find, but I loved the story so much I feel it deserves a review.

Young Suzy has a very special relationship with her Grandfather.  They spend many hours together constructing all manner of wondrous inventions in his shed, including a beautiful wrought iron gate which remains almost complete (it could do with a coat of paint).  As Suzy grows older, the family situation requires Suzy to move away.  She is so upset she slowly drifts away from her Grandfather, but when he has to move back into the family home, Suzy is afraid of how much he seems to have changed - will they still be as close as they used to be?
A sweet story which is an engaging tale of the bond that exists between Grandfather and Granddaughter.  Maybe I felt a resonance with the story because I remember spendin…

May 2015

Mbobo Tree (Glenda Millard/Annie White)
There is no denying that many picture books are beautiful to look at, but when you find one that is not only beautiful, but moves you with it's simple and strong story, you know you're onto a winner.

Mbobo tree follows the life of a large, beautiful and bountiful tree within a small African village, and the life of a small baby girl who is found in the branches of the tree.  When the tree is threatened by an outsider to the village, the young girl goes to great lengths to protect the tree that gave her life.

This story actually manages to be quite moving in it's few pages.  Definitely recommended as a read-a-long for those aged 4-6 (particularly as some of the African names will require help sounding out).

May 2015

Bad Behaviour (Rebecca Starford) Scroll back a few posts and you will come across my review of Alice Pung's recent novel Laurinda, an unsettling story of the nastiness that teenage girls can inflict upon each other in an "exclusive" girls school setting. When the opportunity arose to delve into another account of the sinister world of privileged teenage girls and their power plays, I eagerly nabbed the chance. And so enter Bad Behaviour, author Rebecca Starford's personal memoir of her year in an exclusive outdoor education school in Victoria, Australia,

Just like the good old "train wreck" from which you can't look away, the behaviour of these girls towards each other, and particularly towards the weak, is both compelling and disturbing.  Read any review of Bad Behaviour and Lord of the Flies is bound to be mentioned at least once.  To be fair, it's hard not to think of William Golding's classic when reading Starford's memoir.  What is it …

April 2015

I Was Here (Gayle Forman) In my little school library, we have a couple of Gayle Forman's novels, including the popular If I Stay, which I have to admit to not having read yet.  It's been on my list, but I always seem to pick up other books instead.  And it's still on my list, mainly because when I Was Here came across my processing desk I thought eh, I'll give it a go instead.  I'll get to If I Stay one of these days!
Let's say upfront that Gayle Forman tends to deal in weighty topics, and I Was Here is no different.  The novel's narrator, Cody, is left behind in the wake of the suicide of her best friend, Meg.  Cody had no idea that Meg was considering suicide, and is left grieving, baffled and alone, but also determined to find out the reasons why Meg would take her own life.  In her search, Cody discovers that her best friend hadn't shared many details of her new life at the University of the Cascades.  When Cody goes to collect Meg's possession…

April 2015

Beautiful Monster (Kate McCaffrey)Let me start by saying that I had mixed feelings about this book.  

I went in with high expectations.  Beautiful Monster had been recommended to me as a great read, and as I had read In Ecstasy (also by Kate McCaffrey) and thought it to be a highly intelligent and worthwhile book, I was expecting another novel of the same calibre.  In Ecstasy deals with the attractions and dangers of dabbling with Ecstasy as a teenager - everyone should read it!  Beautiful Monster deals with anorexia, another important topic for teenagers...but I found that it just didn't engage.  

The story follows teenager Tess, who, after losing her brother to a terrible accident has to deal with this loss, all the while witnessing her mother breaking apart with grief.  The strained family relationships and Tess' own belief that if she could just be perfect, everything would get better, make for a destructive combination.  These are the bones of a good, emotional story, but I…

April 2015

Laurinda (Alice Pung)I remember being a girl in high school.  The constant worry of what others thought of you, the fear of speaking up in case what you say was ridiculed, the conflicting desires of fitting in yet also standing out, the desire to achieve and compete whilst casually pretending you couldn't care less.  It all boiled down to the struggle between who you thought you should be, and who you actually were.  Of course you didn't know that at the time.  Reading Laurinda brings all these thoughts back to the foreground, and sadly reminds me that the struggles of school life don't seem to have changed much.

Laurinda is a novel set in the fictional all-girls school named, unsurprisingly, Laurinda.  It follows the narrative of Lucy Lam, a Chinese-Vietnamese immigrant who earned the inaugural "Equal Access" scholarship, and soon discovers that surviving Laurinda has little to do with academics and achievement, but more to do with politics, power, fear and true …

April 2015

Jeremy (Chris Faille / Danny Snell)Even though my blog is pretty much dedicated to YA fiction, I also like to chuck in a couple of children's books, or even the odd junior fiction title.  This is mainly because my library has so many on offer, and I like to think that reading these books is akin to "professional development" (much more enjoyable than a Powerpoint lecture on collection development!!)

I was putting out some picture books for display and came across this one and thought the cover picture was awesome.  OK, so I totally judged the book by it's cover...  but then, it's hard not to with a picture book, right?

Jeremy is a baby Kookaburra (a native Australian bird, for those not familiar with the name). He has fallen out of his nest, and is being cared for by a loving family as he grows.  The story is simple, the pictures of wee Jeremy are so cute, and in the end (spoiler alert!!) Jeremy learns to fly and is reunited with his family.  The book also includes…

April 2015

Jasper Jones (Craig Silvey)I first came across Jasper Jones as a prescribed text at the school in which I worked.  Half the kids complained about it (but hey, any text prescribed for English is bound to get a few complaints) but those who were brave enough to actually confess they enjoyed it, said it was "pretty good" (from a teenager, this translates to a glowing and hearty recommendation).  If you believe the publishers spin on the cover, it's billed as an Australian "To Kill a Mockingbird", and I guess once you get reading you can see the strong parallels.  Aside from the fact that Atticus Finch is mentioned numerous times.

Jasper Jones is the outcast of the small (fictional) mining town of Corrigan, the teenage scapegoat who is seen as the source and instigator of anything that remotely resembles "trouble".  He is also the son of a drunk, and half aboriginal, so he is basically a happy blend of many of society's prejudices.  So when Jasper find…

March 2015

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian (Sherman Alexie)I wanted to live up to expectations.

That's what it comes down to.

The power of expectations.

I hadn't heard of this book until I started looking into "Best of YA Literature" lists, and it kept popping up.  As I work in a school library, I felt it my duty to give it a blat!  

The novel follows the life of a Native American teenager who is acutely aware that he is Native American.  He is also aware of all the issues and expectations that come with this.  Arnold, or "Junior" as he is also known, lives in the "poor-ass" Spokane Indian Reservation (the "rez"), and outlines for the reader (in both written and pictorial form), the depressing reality that is his daily existence. Alcohol, violence, hardship and the complete lack of hope are the main themes, with topics discussed including (but not limited to) the potential success of his parents had they been white (teacher and musician…

March 2015

The Cardturner (Louis Sachar)Most people familiar with the YA fiction scene would know Louis Sachar for his novel Holes. There is no doubt that Sachar is a great author, and The Cardturner is no exception. Sachar manages to take a totally uncool storyline for a YA novel (playing Bridge with oldies), and create a novel that still has all the elements of YA success; best friends, romance, little sisters, annoying/embarrassing parents, and a journey of self-discovery.

Alton Richards is in his late teens and has fallen into the role of being "Cardturner" for his rich (and blind) uncle, Lester Trapp.  This is of great pleasure to Alton's mother, whose only concern seems to be to whom Uncle Lester will leave his sizable fortune. As with all rich, mysterious relatives there is always an age-old scandal to gossip about, and Alton is somewhat skeptical about having to spend time with his Uncle given "the details" of his past.  But does Alton really know the truth?

The und…

February 2015

Diary of a Penguin Napper (Sally Harris)Diary of a Penguin Napper is the first novel from Melbourne-based author, Sally Harris, which I discovered upon wandering into a bookstore in Richmond the other day.  I started chatting with a nice guy who I can only assume was the owner, and he convinced me to buy a copy (evidently he's a good salesman!).  I then proceeded to enjoy reading the book. OK, so I am a lot older than the target audience of 8-12 year olds, but hey, I can appreciate a good junior novel when I read one!

Basically, Marty and his amusingly-named best friend Turds (yes, Turds) need to raise money fast so Marty can go on camp with the love of his eleven-and-a-half year old life, Jessica.  I won't go into too much detail, but in the end, kidnapping a penguin seems to be the best option to raise the bucks.

Told as a kind of retrospective from Marty's point of view, the story is well paced and has it's amusing, if not slightly predictable scenarios and characteri…

February 2015

100 Best YA Books of all time?  You be the judge!OK, so Time Magazine has just posted a list of what they believe to be the best 100 Young Adult books of all time (follow the link below):

TIME's 100 Best YA Books of all time

How many of these have you read? More importantly, how many of these are in your local or school library?