Archive for the ‘Secondary’ Category

White Bird

By R. J. Palacio

ISBN 9780241397244

Penguin Books

Penguin Random House

I read the book Wonder a number of years ago and loved it. I have it as year six book club title and the children love it too. So it was a no brainer to buy a copy of White Bird which shares with us the backstory of Julian’s grandmother. For those who read Wonder, you will remember that Julian was a bully and very unkind. While there is no excuse for such horrible behaviour, we can see in Whitebird that Julian later regretted his actions. For homework Julian has to write an essay about someone he knows and he chooses his grandmother. At first she is reluctant to share her story but she goes ahead and we are taken back to the 1940’s and a world at war.

Wow! Where to start? I loved this book so much. I cried so much I couldn’t see the words on the page.

Julian’s grandmother Sara Blum, was a young Jewish girl living in occupied France, who believed her life was good and a bit like a fairy tale. Her family had nice things, food, a home, and spent time together as a family in the fields of bluebells. One day the Nazis came to school wanting to collect all the Jewish children. They ran through a forest trying to escape but Sara hid in a room upstairs in the school where a crippled classmate found her and led her to safety. Together, this boy Julien, and his family helped hide Sara in a barn and kept her safe.

Throughout the story we see bullying, kindness, trust, and mistrust, courage, hope, the futility of war and the impact it had long after the war was over. We meet strong, kindhearted people risking their lives, as well as nasty ones, ready to shoot on sight. Throughout the years in hiding, it is the friendship between Sara and Julien that is most moving of all.

This is powerful and at times uncomfortable to read but it’s a must read.
Written and illustrated as a graphic novel by R. J. Palcio you can see that the author knows exactly how her characters respond to situations, she knows their stories, their thoughts and fears and captures them in her illustrations so well, that we also know and can relate to them. We can feel Sara’s sadness and we can feel Julien’s frustration at his disability, especially as he remembers how fast he could run before polio ruined everything.

This is ideal from middle grade right through to secondary. There is so much to consider, so much to unpack and just so much more than a story about a young girl hiding and trying to survive in Occupied France. It is a story of hope.

Julian’s grandmother has a message for us all “Never again”.

 

 

 

You can read White Bird as a stand alone but if you want a little more out of it then read Wonder if you haven’t already.

Ordinary hazards: A memoir

by Nikki Grimes

ISBN 9781629798813

WordSong

I’ve long enjoyed the works of poet/writer Nikki Grimes, especially Bronx Masquerade so the minute I saw her memoir sitting on the local library shelf display of new books, I grabbed it, thrilled that it was a verse novel like many of her works and immediately issued it. Here I am a day later having already finished reading her powerful book.

Nikki’s memoir is raw, honest, but also uplifting. Nikki tells of being caught up in foster care system, her mother’s mental illness, separation from her sister Carol, and a father who was mostly absent. We feel her growing mistrust of her mother’s new husband. We share her fears and loneliness, and are angered by the abuse that is part of her life.

Nikki shares with us her discovery at six years old that she could write and the peace and courage writing gave her to cope in a world most of us will never know or understand. Writing became everything to her and her notebooks kept her secrets, hopes and dreams. Her faith too, kept her strong.

I so badly wanted to reach in to the young Nikki, wrap her in hugs, hold her tight and let her know how brave, strong and loved she is and tell her everything would be okay. I wanted to let her know that there is a place she will one day feel safe enough to call home. Despite the traumas in her life; and some of it quite harrowing, she comes out the other end strong and determined. Her writing may reflect the pain of her childhood but it also shows, strength, hope and joy. 

Loved it.

 

Death coming up the hill

By Chris Crowe

ISBN 9780544302150

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing

It’s summer break on this side of the world at the moment and I’m on a bit of a roll reading verse novels and this one is another one to shout out loud about.

Written in the form of haiku, each syllable in this young adult book represents each “soul”  of the 16,592 American soldiers who died in Vietnam in the year 1968. Apart from the absolute hard work to produce these haiku, and keep the story flowing, the research and historical background is very much evident.

It’s 1968, and war is not foreign to seventeen-year-old Ashe. His dogmatic, racist father married his passionate peace-activist mother when she became pregnant with him, and ever since, the couple—like the situation in Vietnam—has been engaged in a senseless war that could have been prevented.

We are caught up in Ashe’s life, his fears, the impact of the Vietnam War, his parents marriage breakdown, and a time of strong racist actions. Ashe is loyal to his parents but he is soon faced with choices; choices that will change his life forever.  There is much political unrest with the assassinations of both Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy. Throughout it all, Ashe is worried he will be drafted to join the soldiers and fight.  Ashe and his girlfriend connect, both sharing the belief that peace is a far better option than war. A good insight to a different time with good solid characters with real flaws. I was completely drawn to Ashe and his situation. The format is easy to read and has a beauty with its mix of haiku and white space on the page. Very sobering numbers and facts. A powerful read.

We need books like this to remind us of the past and to keep moving forward towards peace, no matter who we are or where we live.

The language of fire: Joan of Arc reimagined

By Stephanie Hemphill

ISBN 9780062490117

Balzer + Bray

 

The Language of Fire is a lyrical, dark, and moving look at the life of Joan of Arc, who as a teen girl in the fifteenth century commanded an army and helped crown a king of France.

Most of us are aware to some extent of the story of Joan of Arc, perhaps we’ve seen movies or were taught about her in school, but here in this novel from Stephanie Hemphill we are inside the head of Joan and are privy to her thoughts.

Joan, or Jehanne as she is known, hears the voice of God who tells her to build an army and lead France to victory. Told as a novel in verse form, it is easier to capture the moments of doubt, dismay, fear and loneliness, but also success, that Joan feels. We feel it all with her, every step of the way.

As a young, illiterate peasant girl Joan struggles at first with the idea that God has spoken to her and commanded her to do his will. In time, she understands it is her destiny, and with grit and determination as a teenage girl in a man’s world, Joan takes up the challenge, knowing the price she will eventually pay.

I don’t tend to read historical novels but this was a very good read and I was right into the story of Joan and loved seeing her mature into the brave leader she became.

We know how things ended for Joan but it still hits you as a reader when you get to there but Joan was very courageous right up until the end. However, her fight was more than physically brandishing a sword. It was a fight to be understood and to be treated with respect; for women back in the 1400’s were easy prey for men with horrid intentions. A great read, if somewhat dark at times, but that is the reality of the life of Joan of Arc.

“I am just a lowly peasant girl.

Who am I to be chosen

to save France?

The idea is surely folly

fueled by my longing

to be more than I am.”

The Rise of the Mythix: The Golden Unicorn

By Anh Do

ISBN 9781760525132

Allen & Unwin

 

The Soul Collector is a nasty man who collects everything he deems beautiful or unique. HIs most prized possession is Lucifer’s ring for the power it holds. He doesn’t care how he gets these artefacts or who gets hurt along the way, as long as he gets them for his collection.

Kelly Swift is an average teenager with a secret. She can outrun anyone and anything. Suddenly things change and she finds new strength and a lump growing in the middle of her forehead and for some strange reason she begins to hear people’s thoughts. The Soul Collector has been watching her and he wants Kelly for his own collection but she is determined not to be caught. So he takes her mother and Kelly will do anything to save her.

This is a quick read with lots of action, a prophecy, mythical creatures and an ending that leaves you hanging out for book two.

Characters are older teens but the reading is aimed at a younger audience who love a good adventurous read. Lots of illustrations give face to the characters but also break up the text. Ideal for reluctant teen readers too.

Thoroughly enjoyed the story and the references to myths and legends from the past. I’ll also be one those waiting in line for book two.

I go quiet

By David Ouimet

ISBN 9781786897404

Canongate Books

David Ouimet and his publishers have produced a stunning, imaginative sophisticated picture book. It deals with a girl who is extremely introverted. Shy and unassuming she doesn’t even have a name. She goes through life feeling overwhelmed and struggles to find a place where she can fit in. She longs to be heard. This is her journey.

I adore the fact that this solitary, nameless girl finds solace in books. 

“When I read

I know there is

a world beneath

my branches.”

Books and reading helps her and gives her courage. The illustrations are dark and moody but they are also beautiful and hopeful. It is for the more mature reader but this would be a great book to unpack with a class and delve into the depths of its beauty and meaning. Love it.

 

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

By J. K. Rowling

Illustrated by Jim Kay

ISBN 9781408845677

Bloomsbury

 

This is another beautifully illustrated collectors edition from Bloomsbury Publishers.

It doesn’t matter that I already have the set in paperback and hardback, this is something I just have to have, especially as I have the others in this beautiful format. Actually the original copies in the house belong to my now adult son, these illustrated ones are mine. The story is still the wonderful world of magic and mystery, although in this particular book the series takes a more dramatic turn and becomes darker and scarier, and sad too. It doesn’t really matter how old you are because if you are a fan of Harry Potter, then you are a fan for life. It also doesn’t matter how many times you read the books, there is always something new to discover that makes you suddenly think, so that’s why such and such happened.

Jim Kay brings a whole new element to the stories with his magical illustrations. There are stunning illustrations both in colour but also black and white which add mood and mysticism. Stunning.

Play around on the Wizarding World website to see much more.

My cat Dusty protecting my copy bought yesterday, one day after publication day.

The Quiet at the End of the World

By Lauren James

ISBN 9781406375510

Walker Books

 

I’m not a huge fan of Science-fiction but I was more than pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed this read. Totally got in to the story, characters and even the belief that everything in this Young Adult novel, could very well happen one day. That is a scary thought.

Lowrie and Shen are the youngest people on earth. A catastrophic virus caused global infertility and babies have not been born for many years. They are protected by elders but the elders have secrets; serious secrets they want to keep from the two teenagers. When the secret is eventually uncovered, everything changes and Lowrie and Shen have an impossible choice to make. Life as it exists could change forever.

I listened to the audio of this book and was hooked thinking of all the possibilities. I was in the Thames mudlarking, searching for treasure with them. I was with them when the secret came out and with them as they realised what the future would hold.  I was with them all the way and that to me, is a good book. Thoroughly enjoyed it and totally recommend it to YA readers.

Frankly in love

By David Yoon

 

While this YA book isn’t out yet, it is one I will be hunting for. The trailer is kind of cool and shows a sense of humour, particularly, with the play on words in the title. I’m hopeful there will more humour in the story.

Sometimes, I think book trailers give us a better idea of what to expect than a book review or blurb does. From what I see, the point of view will be Frank’s and that already is a bonus for me that a male character has centre stage. Look out for it soon.

It’s about a teenage boy who falls in love for fake in order to fall in love for real.

Antarctic Journeys

By Philippa Werry

ISBN 9781869664992

New Holland Publishers

When we consider non-fiction books for children, conversations often turn to the fact that everything we want them to know is online with just a quick click away. While that is definitely true, it may take many attempts and quite some time to find what they are looking for with many distractions along the way. As adults we know it is very easy to get lost on the internet and before you know it an hour has passed and you still haven’t really found what you are looking for. So with that in mind it is great to see some new non-fiction books for children, with all the information needed in one place, on two very different topics; Antarctica and Kereru.

Antarctic Journeys is a great example of what to look for in a non-fiction book. It has a multitude of colour photographs, an index, glossary, timeline, and contents page. The subheadings are bold and the photos are well-detailed. The information is well researched.

It is a book to read anyway you want. You can read it all the way through, or dip into chapters and read snippets that take your interest. I particularly liked the animal journeys, especially the cats. I also enjoyed reading about Frank Worsley and Ernest Shackleton. Their journey was an incredible tale of survival, although that can be said of all the early explorers to Antarctica. The book, as the title suggests, is about journeys of all kinds, both historic and contemporary. The writer herself made a journey to Antarctica after winning a place on the Antarctica New Zealand community engagement programme. This book captures much of her experience, and so much more.

This is an excellent choice for school libraries at all levels.

Coo-coo Kereru

By Terry Fitzgibbon

ISBN 9781869665173

New Holland Publishers

This is a combination creative non-fiction picture book. Beautifully illustrated with rhyming text on one side of each spread and information text on the opposite page. The Kereru is indeed, a beautiful bird and whenever I happen to see one, which is sadly, not very often,  I can’t help but stand quietly and watch them.

This book, aimed at younger children, explores the history of kereru, as far back as the myths and legends when a Kereru helped Maui fish the North Island out of the sea. The birds are also known as wood pigeons. I did find it sad that at one time Kereru had a life-span of 20-25 years but now because of introduced predators, loss of their forest homes and other things, their life expectancy is now only 5-6 years. The back of the book gives plenty of ideas of how you can help these beautiful birds.

Another good book to add to your library.

 

 

Pan’s Labyrinth: The Labyrinth of the Faun

By Guillermo del Toro and Cornelia Funke

ISBN 9780062414465

Bloomsbury 

 

Wow! Just so excited about this soon to be released novel by two awesome authors.

Pan’s Labyrinth has undergone a transformation which has apparently taken ten years to complete but from what I can see and have heard, the wait has been worth it.

The novel is said to be suitably dark and spellbinding, sinister and magical. There will be “trickster fauns, murderous soldiers, child-eating monsters, courageous rebels, and a long-lost princess hoping to be reunited with her family”. Everything you want in a great novel. There are also a number of beautiful but haunting illustrations to add to the overall quality package. 

I simply cannot wait. I loved the movie although every time I watched it there is one scene where I had to turn away and close my eyes until it is over. Every time!

This is going to be epic. 

The book trailer is very cool.  Counting down the weeks until July when it will be published. 

 

You shouldn’t come in here. You could get lost. It has happened before. I’ll tell you the story one day, if you want to hear it. 

In fairy tales, there are men and there are wolves, there are beasts and dead parents, there are girls and forests. 

Ofelia knows all this, like any young woman with a head full of stories. And she sees right away what the Capitán is, in his immaculate uniform, boots and gloves, smiling: a wolf.

But nothing can prepare her for the fevered reality of the Capitán’s eerie house, in the midst of a dense forest which conceals many things: half-remembered stories of lost babies; renegade resistance fighters hiding from the army; a labyrinth; beasts and fairies.

There is no one to keep Ofelia safe as the labyrinth beckons her into her own story, where the monstrous and the human are inextricable, where myths pulse with living blood …

A place of Stone and darkness

by Chris Mousdale

ISBN9780143773122

Penguin Random House

 

 

Chris Mousdale’s book A place of Stone and Darkness had me hooked right from the start.

It is a stylishly produced hardback novel which crosses a mix of genres. There is fantasy, adventure and mystery all in a wonderfully imagined, dystopian underground world. Chris Mousdale  also illustrates the book and includes maps of the Striggs world, a glossary of their language, and character portraits, as well as a number of gorgeous earthy illustrations.

Deep, deep down underground is the world of the flightless Striggs.  They have lived there for thousands of years after being forced from the surface by savage humans. The Striggs have adapted to life underground but their world is threatened with pollution to its water and members of the flock are becoming ill and dying. While exploring in one of the tunnels Ellee Meddo, finds a human, a Toppa, as they are known, who has fallen through an old unused well. Toppas are known to be dangerous and feared at all costs but this Toppa is young and hurt and Ellee can’t just leave him. With the help of her brother Sidfred, Ellee hides the boy but eventually he is is discovered by other Striggs and that creates friction and more action. One Strigg in particular, Kass, wants to just kill the boy. The action is fast paced, even nail-bitingly at times, so that it was very hard to put the book down. I just wanted to keep reading.

In order for the community to work and survive, the Striggs believe in the mantra; “Be one, be all, be everything”. When the group decide that they must return the boy, to the surface, this mantra becomes more important, especially when faced with danger from other humans. The world of the humans is violent and one of social decay. If the Striggs are discovered by humans it could mean the end of their world. I can tell you, their worlds do collide and the suspense built so quickly I was almost holding my breath wondering what was going to happen next. 

I loved this novel for so many reasons. The fast-paced action, its total believability, its warmth, the friendships, the loyalties and even the subtle messages. Yes, there are messages about our environment, trust, human kindness and taking risks. This is a wonderful read and one that I predict will go far. Great for older readers and with its buff coloured pages is ideal for children with dyslexia.  Loved it!

This would make a good class read aloud and teacher notes can be found here to explore this novel further.

Ursa

By Tina Shaw

ISBN 9781760651244

Walker Books

undefined

Ursa is the latest book out by New Zealand author Tina Shaw. It is a Young adult book set in a disturbing time of tension and oppression.

The city of Ursa is inhabited by two races of people. The Cerels and the Travesters; the have and the have-nots, the oppressed and the oppressors. The Travesters have everything, they live in good housing, have food and clothes while the Cerels live in abject poverty, unhealthy, overcrowded housing. Leho is fifteen and lives with his blind mother, grandmother, sisters and brother crammed in a tiny space accessed through a manhole. They are almost always hungry. His father has been taken away, deemed a threat to society. Men keep disappearing. Rules are everywhere. The Cerels are said to be inferior so are not allowed to breed. No more babies. The end of their race is inevitable. It is a hostile world and dangerous. Leho has had enough. He wants changes, he wants freedom for his family and friends. He is prepared to risk everything.

Ursa is very much an allegory for what happened in World War Two inside Nazi Germany and the more I read, the more familiar the story became and the more sick I felt that this kind of hatred was actually once real. I connected with Leho and his family. They are strong characters in a world they did not choose but must do everything they can to survive. The repercussions for trying to make changes can be fatal but Leho is determined. Revolution is in the air. Shaw gives us believable characters, in a bleak and desperate setting. Day-to-day life is hard but Leho’s, older brother Jorzy entertains the family at night with stories. These stories weave themselves into the novel, story within a story, offering further understanding to the plight of these people.  Jorzy too, wants change but he is more patient than Leho, plans more but Leho can’t wait. The tension between the brothers builds as does the overall suspense. One wrong move and it could all end in disaster. It is certainly a book that will leave you thinking. Can this happen again? How can we make changes for a better world. This is a solid read which keeps you going, and keeps you thinking.  A well-deserved winner of the Storylines Tessa Duder Award.

 

Bess the brave war horse

By Susan Brocker

Illustrated by Raymond McGrath

ISBN 9781775435563

Scholastic NZ

 

Bess is a fine filly of a horse frolicking in grassy fields in New Zealand when she is chosen by Captain Guy Powles to be his horse. He said she was a beautiful horse and strong enough to carry him through battle. We follow Bess’s journey as she spends weeks at sea, cramped and sweaty below deck in a ship heading for Egypt. Bess and the other horses were often frightened , especially when the seas were stormy. When they finally arrived in Egypt life became busy with preparations and training to help the soldiers on the battlefield.  Bess and her master had a wonderful relationship where they cared for each other and more importantly, trusted each other. The book provides us with a different perspective of World War One. The language is descritptive and features some wonderful alliteration.

“fine filly, frolicking in the fields with her friends”

“On shore, strange smells, sights and sounds greeted Bess.”

This is a beautifully illustrated picture book for older readers. I love the end pages with their two-toned illustrations of Bess; first as a young horse and then back home in New Zealand, fully grown and happy. The end pages alone would look good framed on any wall. The colours throughout mirror the dusty fields and dark uniforms worn by the soldiers. The research by both author and illustrator is obvious and makes this book an important one to have in your school libraries.

The sad fact is that out of 10,000 horses that went to war, only four came back to New Zealand. Bess was one of them. Her story is true.

Chinatown Girl: The diary of Silvey Chan, Aukland 1942

My New Zealand Story.

By Eva Wong Ng

ISBN 9781775435778

Scholastic NZ

The first thing you notice in this re-release of Chinatown Girl is its fresh new cover.  It is bright, eye-catching and appeals to the preteen and early teen reader. Twelve year Silvey Chan begins her diary on January 1st 1942. The World is at war and life throws many complications at Silvey and her family, friends and the Chinese community she belongs to.

Like other books in the My New Zealand Story series, which focus on certain events in New Zealand’s history, Chinatown Girl  provides insight into the Chinese community in downtown Auckland. Through Silvey’s diary entries we find out what it is like to be different from others, including racism with Government poll taxes for Chinese people. We read about many Chinese traditions and the constant fear as the war continues overseas, but seems to get closer and closer. At school they children practice air-raid drills just in case. We also read about rationing and the consequences of a world at war.

There is much excitement in town when the American soldiers arrive and new friendships are made. 

Silvey is likeable and inquisitive and her diary makes a good and informative read about life in 1942 New Zealand. Silvey is determined to make something of her life and I bet she does.

You can find teacher notes here if you want to take this beyond a simple read.