Tuesday, 9 December 2014

Choices for English: ETANSW Conference 2014 Part I

28th November 2014. Session F4.3.
Presented by Deb McPherson and Helen Sykes.
This is Part I. Part II is a separate post.
These notes provide more information about the titles Deb and Helen introduced in their session at the 2014 ETANSW Conference. As always, Deb and Helen had more titles to tell teachers about than time available. In fact, they couldn't even fit everything on the two-page handout, despite resorting to a very small font. So some of these titles weren't even mentioned in the session but, as either Deb or Helen - or in most cases both of them - had read them and thought them worthwhile, they have been included here.
The majority of these titles are fiction. In presenting the fiction titles in their session, Deb and Helen extracted just a few that they recommended warmly as possible class-set titles. Of course, this is a difficult call to make: all kinds of novels can work well as class sets, depending on who your kids are and what you want to do with them, but there's a small group of books that work most of the time with most classes. Deb and Helen agreed on this short list, but then wanted you to know about a great many other terrific novels that your students will enjoy reading. To encourage you to think about developing wide reading units, they grouped these titles under some possible wide reading topics.
While the focus is always on fiction, Deb and Helen always try to draw teachers' attention to any resource that will enhance their teaching. This year they have especially concentrated on plays, which have been hard to find. They are pleased with the list they were able to offer to those who attended their session. To celebrate the release of the excellent new editions of Cambridge School Shakespeare, they also put special emphasis on great resources for teaching Shakespeare.
The annotated notes below are presented alphabetically. There is a lot to read. As always, each blurb is followed by a recommendation. If you are looking for a resource of a particular kind, skim the recommendations first.
To help you navigate such a long list of titles, Deb and Helen have reproduced (and extended a little) the handout that they gave out during their session.

An overview
Each of the titles listed in this overview is annotated in the alphabetical listing below. Some titles appear more than once in the overview.

Some class set novels
The First Voyage by Allan Baillie. Penguin, 2014.
Joyous and Moonbeam by Richard Yaxley. Omnibus Books, 2013.
Loyal Creatures by Morris Gleitzman. Viking, 2014.
The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman. Headline, 2014.
Razorhurst by Justine Larbalestier. Allen & Unwin, 2014.
Refuge by Jackie French. HarperCollins, 2013.
The Ship Kings series by Andrew McGahan. Allen & Unwin.
The Wall: A Modern Fable by William Sutcliffe. Bloomsbury Publishing, 2014 (2013).
We Were Liars by E. Lockhart. Allen & Unwin, 2014.
Wildlife by Fiona Wood. Pan Macmillan, 2013.

Some narrative apps
Midnight Feast by Slap Harry Larry.
The Rules of Summer by Shaun Tan. We Are Wheelbarrow Pty Ltd.
The Silent History. Ying Horowitz & Quinn.
Summer of the Seventeenth Doll app. Currency Press.

Some plays
The Black-bearded Bai and Other Plays from Asian Folklore by Richard Baines. Phoenix Education, 2013.
Cyberbile and Grounded by Alana Valentine. Currency Press, 2013. ISBN 9780868199849. 111 pp.
The Girl Who Ran with Gazelles by Richard Baines. Phoenix Education 2014.
His Mother's Voice by Justin Fleming. Phoenix Education, 2014.
House on Fire and Stories in the Dark by Debra Oswald. Currency Press, 2008/2011.
Jandamarra by Steve Hawke. Currency Press, 2014 (2008).
Kindertransport by Diane Samuels. Nick Hern Books, 2008.
Patient 12 by Kevin Summers. Currency Press, 2014.
The Secret River by Kate Grenville and Andrew Bovell. Currency Press, 2013.
Shellshock by Justin Fleming. Phoenix Education, 2014.
Staging Asylum: Contemporary Australian Plays about Refugees edited by Emma Cox. Currency Press, 2013.

Some Shakespeare
New enhanced 2014 editions of Cambridge School Shakespeare.
Cambridge School Shakespeare apps.
Folger Luminary Shakespeare apps.
Much Ado About Nothing directed by Josh Whedon. 2012.
Romeo and Juliet: The Graphic Novel by Gareth Hinds. Candlewick Press, 2013.
Shakespeare Uncovered DVDs.
Shakespeare on Toast by Ben Crystal. Icon Books, 2009.

Some picture books and illustrated texts
The Arrival by Shaun Tan. Lothian Books, 2014 (2006).
I Was Only Nineteen by John Schumann and Craig Smith. Allen & Unwin, 2014.
Jandamarra by Mark Greenwood and Terry Denton. Allen & Unwin, 2013.
Midnight by Mark Greenwood and Frané Lessac. Walker Books, 2014.
One Minute's Silence by David Metzenthen and Michael Camilleri. Allen & Unwin, 2014.
War Horse by Michael Morpurgo, illustrated by Rae Smith. Egmont, 2013.

Some graphic novels
The Graveyard Book Parts I and 2 by Neil Gaiman. Bloomsbury Publishing, 2014.
In the Shadow of No Towers by Art Spiegelman. Knopf Doubleday 2004.
Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan. Puffin, 2013.
Persepolis I and II by Marjane Satrapi. Vintage, 2008 (2003).
The Truth is a Cave in the Black Mountains by Neil Gaiman. Headline Publishing, 2014.
Ubby's Underdogs: Heroes Beginnings by Brenton McKenna. Magabala Books, 2013.
War Brothers: The Graphic Novel by Sharon E. McKay and Daniel Lafrance. Walker Books, 2014.

Some poetry
The Round Earth's Imagined Corners 2nd edn by Ken Watson. Phoenix 2013.
Sense Shape Symbol edited by Brian Keyte. Phoenix Education 2012.

Some non-fiction
Book by John Agard, illustrated by Neil Packer. Walker Books, 2014. ISBN 9780744544787. 141 pp. Hardcover.
Coming of Age edited by Amra Pajalic and Demeter Divaroren. Allen & Unwin, 2014.

Some films
The Invention of Lying directed by Ricky Gervais and Matthew Robertson. 2009.
The Sapphires directed by Wayne Blair. 2012. Screenplay available from Phoenix.
Wadjda directed by Haifaa Al-Mansour. 2012.

A television documentary
First Contact hosted by Ray Martin and produced by Blackfella Films. 2014.

Some novels for wide reading
Historical fiction
Alexander Altmann A10567 by Suzy Zail. black dog books, 2014.
The Bow by Catherine Mayo. Walker, 2014.
The First Voyage by Allan Baillie. Penguin, 2014.
Flora's War by Pamela Rushby. Ford St, 2013.
Hattie Big Sky by Kirby Larson. Delacorte Books for Young Readers, 2008 (2006).
No Stars to Wish On by Zana Fraillon. Allen & Unwin, 2014.
Refuge by Jackie French. HarperCollins, 2013.
A Ring through Time by Felicity Pulman. Angus & Robertson, 2013.
The River Charm by Belinda Murrell. Random House Australia, 2013.
The Road to Gundagai by Jackie French. A&R, 2013.
The Sultan's Eyes by Kelly Gardiner. A&R, 2013.
Summer of Monsters by Tony Thompson. black dog books, 2014.
To Brave the Seas: A Boy at War by David McRobbie. Allen & Unwin, 2013.

Alternative futures
Chasing the Valley by Skye Melki-Wegner. Random House Australia, 2013.
The Disappearance of Ember Crow by Ambelin Kwaymullina. Walker Books, 2013.
The Divergent Trilogy by Veronica Roth. HarperCollins.
The Dreams of the Chosen by Brian Caswell. UQP, 2013.
Jump and Crash by Sean Williams. Allen & Unwin, 2013/2014.
The Sky So Heavy by Claire Zorn. UQP, 2013.
When We Wake by Karen Healey. Allen & Unwin, 2013.

Teenage life
The Cinderella Moment by Jennifer Kloester. Penguin Books, 2013.
The First Third by Will Kostakis. Penguin Books, 2013.
Girl Defective by Simmone Howell. Pan Macmillan, 2013.
Hate is Such a Strong Word by Sarah Ayoub. HarperCollins Publishers, 2013.
The Incredible Here and Now by Felicity Castagna. Giramondo, 2013.
Rain Dance by Karen Wood. Allen & Unwin, 2014.
Steal My Sunshine by Emily Gale. Woolshed Press, 2013.
The Whole of My World by Nicole Hayes. Woolshed Press, 2013.
You Don't Even Know by Sue Lawson. black dog books, 2013.
The Zigzag Effect by Lili Wilkinson. Allen & Unwin, 2013.

Fortunately, the Milk ... by Neil Gaiman. Bloomsbury, 2014 (2013).
Jamie Reign: Last Spirit Warrior by P. J. Tierney. Angus & Robertson, 2013.
Pureheart by Cassandra Golds. Penguin Books, 2013.
Refuge by Jackie French. HarperCollins, 2013.
Scarlet in the Snow by Sophie Masson. Random House Australia, 2013.

Every Breath and Every Word by Ellie Marney. Allen & Unwin, 2013/2014.
Man Made Boy by Jon Skovron. Allen & Unwin, 2013.
Pulling down the Stars by James Laidler. Hybrid Publishers, 2013.
Reboot and Rebel by Amy Tintera. Allen & Unwin, 2013/2014.

A Case Study in Aboriginal Resistance
Jandamarra by Steve Hawke. Currency Press, 2014 (2008).
Jandamarra by Mark Greenwood and Terry Denton. Allen & Unwin, 2013.
Jandamarra's War directed by Mitch Torres. 2011.

Cross-curricular perspectives
Asia and Australia's Engagement with Asia
The Black-bearded Bai and Other Plays from Asian Folklore by Richard Baines. Phoenix Education, 2013.
His Mother's Voice by Justin Fleming. Phoenix Education, 2014.
I Was Only Nineteen. Words by John Schumann, pictures by Craig Smith. Allen & Unwin, 2014.
Jamie Reign: Last Spirit Warrior by P. J. Tierney. Angus & Robertson, 2013.
Malini by Robert Hillman. Allen & Unwin, 2014.
Naveed by John Heffernan. Allen & Unwin, 2014.
Refuge by Jackie French. HarperCollins, 2013.
The Sapphires directed by Wayne Blair. 2012.
The Sapphires: The Screenplay by Tony Briggs. Phoenix Education, 2013.
Staging Asylum: Contemporary Australian Plays about Refugees edited by Emma Cox. Currency Press, 2013.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders' Histories and Cultures
The Disappearance of Ember Crow by Ambelin Kwaymullina. Walker Books, 2013.
The First Voyage by Allan Baillie. Penguin, 2014.
Jandamarra by Mark Greenwood and Terry Denton. Allen & Unwin, 2013.
Jandamarra by Steve Hawke. Currency Press, 2013 (2008).
Jandamarra's War directed by Mitch Torres. 2011.
The Sapphires directed by Wayne Blair. 2012.
The Sapphires: The Screenplay by Tony Briggs. Phoenix Education, 2013.
The Secret River by Kate Grenville, adapted for the stage by Andrew Bovell. Currency Press, 2013.
Ubby's Underdogs: Heroes Beginnings by Brenton McKenna. Magabala Books, 2013.

Rain Dance by Karen Wood. Allen & Unwin, 2014.
When We Wake by Karen Healey. Allen & Unwin, 2013.

These titles from our presentation could be useful related texts for the Area of Study: Discovery. If you are looking for other titles on Discovery, Helen has recently posted quite a long annotated list, covering a wide range of types of text, on her blog. She has also written a post called Discovery: Some strategies, based on a presentation she gave to HSC students recently at Cabramatta Public Library.
Book by John Agard, illustrated by Neil Packer. Walker Books, 2014.
First Contact hosted by Ray Martin and produced by Blackfella Films. 2014.
The Invention of Lying directed by Ricky Gervais and Matthew Robertson. 2009.
Rules of Summer by Shaun Tan. Lothian, 2013.
The Rules of Summer by Shaun Tan. App produced by We Are Wheelbarrow Pty Ltd.
We Were Liars by E. Lockhart. Allen & Unwin, 2014.

Stories of World War I
Because 2015 is the anniversary of the Gallipoli landings, we thought you might be looking for titles about World War I. The following titles, because they are newly published, are listed alphabetically in the main section below:
Flora's War by Pamela Rushby. Ford St, 2013.
Midnight: The story of a light horse by Mark Greenwood and Frané Lessac. Walker Books, 2014.
One Minute's Silence by David Metzenthen and Michael Camilleri. Allen & Unwin, 2014.
Patient 12 by Kevin Summers. Currency Press, 2014.
War Horse by Michael Morpurgo, illustrated by Rae Smith. Egmont, 2013.
The Year It All Ended by Kirsty Murray. Allen & Unwin, 2014.

The following titles, many of which we have presented in previous years, are annotated in a special section on World War I at the end:
Boys of Blood and Bone by David Metzenthen. Penguin, 2003.
Evan’s Gallipoli by Kerry Greenwood. Allen & Unwin, 2013.
In Flanders Fields by Norman Jorgensen and Brian Harrison-Lever. Sandcastle Books 2014 (2002).
The Gallipoli Story by Patrick Carlyon. Penguin, 2003.
The Girl from Snowy River by Jackie French. Angus & Robertson, 2012.
Light Horse Boy by Dianne  Wolfer, illustrated by Brian Simmonds. Fremantle Press, 2013.
Lighthouse Girl by Dianne  Wolfer, illustrated by Brian Simmonds. Fremantle Press, 2010.
A Rose for the Anzac Boys by Jackie French. HarperCollins, 2008.
Soldier Boy by Anthony Hill. Penguin, 2001.
Why? by Nikolai Popov. North-South Paperbacks 1998 (1996).
War Horse by Michael Morpurgo. Egmont, 2007 (1982).
War Horse app produced by Touch Press.
When We Were Two by Robert Newton. Penguin Books, 2011.
Young Digger by Anthony Hill. Penguin, 2002.

Annotated titles
Alexander Altmann A10567
by Suzy Zail. black dog books, 2014. ISBN 9781922179999. 279 pp.
This is a companion volume to Zail's The Wrong Boy. In both books Zail is using fiction to explore her father's experience as a Holocaust survivor. Both books are set in Auschwitz. In The Wrong Boy Hanna survives, largely because her skill as a pianist means that she is removed from the worst of the daily life of the camp. In Alexander Altmann A10567 it is Alexander's experience with horses that saves him. Both novels portray the horror and the brutality, but both also celebrate resilience and offer the reader some hope.
One of the strengths of this novel is Alexander's inability to suppress his humanity. He has convinced himself that the only way to survive is to become numb and to refuse all offers of friendship, but he cannot resist caring for the horses and discovers that he can also find strength from a friendship with Isidor, the city boy who has no knowledge of horses but is much cleverer than Alexander at working the system. The climax of the story comes when Alexander is put in charge of the commander's new horse - a wild, unbroken horse that must be ready for the commander to ride in just twelve days. It is a life-and-death race: Alexander knows that the commander will kill both him and the horse if he does not succeed.
Recommendation: I have had positive reports of The Wrong Boy when used as a class set with girls in Years 7 and 8. In a co-ed class, why not offer students a choice of either The Wrong Boy or Alexander Altmann A10567? If you have equal numbers of girls and boys, you will probably need slightly more copies of Alexander Altmann A10567: sadly, boys are nervous about being seen to choose a book with a female protagonist, while many girls - especially those who love horses - will readily choose Alexander Altmann A10567. You could supplement the choice with other books for the age group about Germany and World War II, such as Jackie French's Hitler's Daughter and Pennies for Hitler, John Boyne's The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas and Morris Gleitzman's Once. -HS

The Arrival
by Shaun Tan. Lothian Books, 2014 (2006). ISBN 9780734415868. 128 pp.
There are few schools not using this stunning wordless text and, now that it is available in paperback, there should be even fewer. This made history when it won the NSW Premier’s Award for Best Book of the Year in 2007. There was an outcry about the fact that a wordless book had won the award. The fact that the book was classified as a children’s book added insult to injury for some people: children’s literature is seen, in some eyes, as an inferior kind of art.
For those who did not look at it from such a limited viewpoint, The Arrival was a glorious discovery. As an artefact, it is a delight – one of those books that is a joy to pick up, something to be treasured, and loved, and shared. It tells a story, without any words other than the title, of a man leaving his wife and child in a country where life is hard and travelling across the sea to a new world, where at first everything is very strange indeed. It is the universal migrant story, and Tan’s choice of sepia tones, reminiscent of old photographs, is perfect for telling such a story. His use of surreal images dramatically represents the new world as seen through the eyes of the newcomer.
This is a big book – it reportedly took Tan four years of work. Although like most picture books the pages are unnumbered, there are 128 of them. Most picture books have 28 or 32 pages. To sustain the story, without words, through a work of such length is in itself a triumph. Most – although not all - pages consist of grids of small images, comic-book style. This is the perfect example of the graphic novel form.
The Arrival also won the Children’s Book Council of Australia Award for Best Picture Book in 2007.
Recommendation: The publication of a paperback edition is a great joy. Use this wonderful text with older readers, from Years 9 upwards. It is worthy of close study in its own right, but use it as well in any unit of work about the migrant experience or about cultural diversity. -HS

The Black-bearded Bai and Other Plays from Asian Folklore
by Richard Baines. Phoenix Education, 2013. ISBN 9781921586699. 168 pp.
This is a collection of six short plays, all based on traditional tales from Asia and all written to be read and performed in secondary English classrooms. The tales are from Vietnam, China, Indonesia, the Philippines, Japan and India. The stage adaptations have been made with an eye on students' tastes: these are very modern adaptations, with lots of action, some wicked - and often black - humour, and plenty of visual gags. There are detailed stage directions, both at the beginning of each script and throughout, and some suggestions for classroom discussion and follow-up at the end of each play.
My favourite is the title story, 'The Black-hearted Bai', described as a play about 'the triumph of intelligence over brute force'. The brutish bully gets his comeuppance very satisfactorily, but there is an amusing twist at the end where the triumphant good guy reveals nefarious plans. When 'The Director' - one of the cast - complains that that's not the proper ending, he is told that this is the modern version. The play uses in an exaggerated way the sort of distancing techniques characteristic of Brechtian theatre: students who perform 'The Black-hearted Bai' will never have problems understanding Brechtian theatre.
Baines uses other interesting techniques to transform these traditional folk tales into plays that will appeal to students. The Vietnamese story of the old fisherman with the incredibly beautiful wife is framed by two gossiping fishermen who comment on the life of their fellow fisherman, usually getting things wrong. The problem of how to resolve the ending of the East Javan tale about the evil villain Ken Arok, who kills all his opponents and takes the princess as his wife, is solved by the appearance as a final chorus of the Ghost of one of Ken Arok's victims, who can give us a quick wrap up of what happened next. The story of 'Ido and the Devil', from the Philippines, is modernised, which causes all kinds of hilarious problems As the Devil himself says:

Well, what did you expect? Fire and brimstone? Burning sulphur pits? That's all very passé I'm afraid, very last millenium. Now it's all middle class values, casual attire and Oxford English.

The last play in the collection - 'Harisarman' - has sequences of the kind found in Bollywood musicals. It would be great fun exploring examples of Bollywood film with students as preparation for their staging their own version.
Recommendation: These plays offer a good balance of action, excitement and humour, as well as an introduction to the folktales of Asia. They are practical scripts that students will be able to perform. They will have most fun if they can perform them on a real stage with lighting, but they will work in the classroom too. They would be best with students in Year 9 or 10, as some references are a little too mature for younger classes. They are also a great springboard for students working to turn other traditional tales into playscripts. -HS

by John Agard, illustrated by Neil Packer. Walker Books, 2014. ISBN 9780744544787. 141 pp. Hardcover.
This little non-fiction text is a history of written communication, from the Sumerians five thousand years ago to the e-books of today. What makes it especially appealing is that it comes to us as autobiography: 'My name is Book and I'll tell you the story of my life ...' The text is concise, just enough information to enable us to understand each major stage in the development of Book, and it is ably supported by the quirky illustrations and the use of various quotations and extracts. My favourite is from Ibrahim Muteferrika (c. 1674-1745), an Hungarian-born scholar and diplomat of the Ottoman Empire, who wrote about the invention of the printing press:

The famine of books will be at an end. All nations will be able to acquire books at low cost. What glory for our Empire, and what prayers for its perpetuity will be made, when they see so many good books which communicate knowledge to them, of which till then they had been destitute. This motive alone should suffice for our invincible Emperor to protect and permit the establishment of printing.

Recommendation: This is a great text for Discovery. Like many non-fiction texts, its subject-matter is discovery. It traces the many inventions, experimentations and findings through the centuries that gave humanity better means of written communication. In the process, many discoverers are celebrated, such as the Chinese scholar Ts'ai Lun two thousand years ago, who experimented until he invented paper, to the German Friedrich Koenig in 1814, who invented a new press powered by steam. Most of these discoveries are of the kind described by the Board of Studies' rubric as emerging 'from a process of deliberate and careful planning'. It would be hard to think of anything more powerfully 'far-reaching and transformative for the individual and for broader society' than access to the written word.
This text is also a process of discovery for the reader, enlightening us to the possibilities of presenting a non-fiction text in an unconventional way. This is a delightfully charming and imaginative approach to the subject-matter, which could have been long, dull and tedious. From the decision to tell the story in the voice of Book, to the quirky illustrations and accessible page layout, to the inclusion of Agard's own poem about libraries, this is a joy - as we encounter and explore each new idea.
This would also make a great choice as a non-fiction text for whole class study. It's a welcome change from the usual biographies and autobiographies that we depend on mostly - which really offer us few opportunities to extend students' understanding of written text because they are so similar to novels. This is a totally engaging non-fiction text that provides the reader with a good deal of information in a very palatable way. -HS

The Bow
by Catherine Mayo. Walker, 2014. ISBN 9781925081015. 362 pp.
This sequel to Murder at Mykenai is as good a read as its predecessor. Both are fast-paced and inventive stories of the young Odysseus and his adventures, spiced with a good deal of humour. In the first part of the book Odysseus has to try to recover his dead grandfather's gold - gold that is badly needed in Ithaka. But the gold is hidden somewhere in Argos where Thyestes has vowed to kill Odysseus. So Odysseus has to go in disguise, with only a riddle to help him find the gold: 'Look beyond the Jaws of Death'.
One of Mayo's talents is to present Odysseus, the legendary hero, as a very human character. She does this brilliantly with the disguise, putting him in a fat suit pretending to be the servant to his father's also-disguised advisor, Eurybates. The noble quest to find his grandfather's gold becomes the disgusting task of digging up a grave; young readers will enjoy the stomach-heaving detail. There's even more fun when he finds the gold but needs to hide it. The only place is in his fat suit:

With shaking hands, he pulled the neck of his tunic open, undid the ties at the top of the leather paunch and prodded his knife inside. The lambs' bladders had blown up even more as they began to rot, and the stink exploded into his face as he punctured each one.

In the second part of the story Mayo takes interesting liberties with the myth of the Great Bow of Eurytos, a bow which no man for generations has been able to string and shoot. It is Odysseus, of course, who achieves this, in a final dramatic moment when he also stops an assassination attempt, but again the super-heroism is punctured by human reality: the girl Odysseus is so in love with, Skotia, is instrumental in saving his life but resists his advances. On the final pages, Odysseus reflects that he should be feeling exultant, but he's not.
Recommendation: There has long been a myth that young people don't like reading historical fiction. That statement needs to be refined: they don't like reading boring historical fiction, and nor do I. Mayo's books are anything but boring. These are great reads for Years 7 and 8. They may even inspire students to go on to investigate Homer. -HS

Cambridge School Shakespeare
It is well-known that I worked for Cambridge University Press for some years, but my enthusiasm and advocacy for their school Shakespeare editions long predates that period. The Cambridge School Shakespeare editions were first published in 1992-3, based on the teaching philosophy of the legendary Rex Gibson, who influenced the teaching of Shakespeare in schools worldwide. They used a distinctive two-page format, which has since been imitated by other school editions, but it is the use that is made of that two-page format that makes the Cambridge editions so special. The Shakespearean text is on the right-hand page. The left-hand page has a brief running synopsis, glossary words and suggested activities for students. The activities are based on Gibson's teaching philosophy, mostly approaching the plays as scripts to be performed. Students are encouraged to experiment, to try reading a line in different ways. They are provided with strategies for becoming fluent in their reading of the Shakespeare text. They are asked to consider practical problems of stagecraft: how do Macbeth's witches disappear - on Shakespeare's stage, in a modern theatre?
In 2005-6 the Cambridge School Shakespeare editions were updated, with a new introductory 8-page colour section of photos from stage productions, chronologically arranged to give an overview of the play. What I loved about this feature was that the photos were chosen from a wide range of very different productions, making it immediately clear to students that there is no one way to perform - or to read - the plays.
Now, in 2014, Cambridge has produced new enlarged full-colour editions of eleven plays (Hamlet,
Macbeth. Julius Caesar, The Merchant of Venice, Much Ado About Nothing, Othello, Romeo and Juliet, The Taming of the Shrew, The Tempest, Twelfth Night), with three more to come in 2015 (As You Like It, King Lear, King Richard III). There are lots of new features that I like, including the larger page format, the inclusion of more colour photos and the glossary entries organised so that they align with the words in the text. But, best of all, the activities are still there; they are still in line with Gibson's philosophy; and many of them are in colour-coded boxes, to make them easier to navigate: Characters, Themes, Stagecraft, Writing about the play, Language of the plays.
Recommendation: Cambridge School Shakespeare has long been the recommended edition for NSW HSC. They are based on the Shakespearean text that has been established by scholars preparing the tertiary-level editions for the New Cambridge Shakespeare series. Some schools prefer to use the tertiary-level edition for their Advanced students, but for the majority of students the Cambridge School editions are perfect. For teachers, the suggested activities offer a wealth of possibilities for engaging students in the texts. -HS

Cambridge School Shakespeare 'Explore Shakespeare' apps
available on iTunes.
Cambridge University Press has released apps for six of Shakespeare's most popular plays:
·      Romeo and Juliet
·      Macbeth
·      A Midsummer Night's Dream
·      Twelfth Night
·      Hamlet
·      Othello
These are very accessible. You get, of course, the full text of the plays, and it is the text established by scholars for the New Cambridge editions, so it is a quality text (not necessarily a given for downloaded Shakespeare texts). You can turn on the sound and follow as the text is read by professional actors. You have three different levels of glossary, depending on the amount of detail you want: you can turn them all on if you wish. The photo icon will give you a number of photos from different stage productions at the beginning of each scene. The synopses icon gives you scene synopses or detail synopses - or both if you wish. The activities icon gives you individual, pair or group activities - and, most importantly, these are drawn from the Cambridge School Shakespeare editions and reflect the Rex Gibson philosophy of approaching the plays as scripts to be performed. There is also a circle icon that I find helpful: when that is turned on you get a diagram at the beginning of each scene that allows you to see everyone who will appear on stage during that scene.
There is also quite a lot of supplementary material, gathered under 'Explore' - characters, themes and use of language - and 'Examine' - diving into meaning and context. This is useful and worthwhile, but it is the enhanced experience of reading the play that I love. Personally, I like to have the sound and photos turned on, and the glossaries. I then go back and re-read, turning on the activities and the circle facility.
These are currently $8.99 each on iTunes.
'Explore Shakespeare', which gives a taste of each of the plays and allows you to experiment with the way the app works, is available as a free download.
Recommendation: I've downloaded these for my own pleasure. If you are in the fortunate position of having a class of students all with iPads, you are probably also in the position to ask students to purchase an app. I will probably be revealing myself as a luddite, but I think if I was in such a fortunate position I would still want students to have the printed text. Accessible though these apps are, I don't think I would be sending students off to experience the play alone, with the app as their only guide. I think that I would be wanting to prepare them for a scene and I would be wanting to make my own decisions about when to pause them, when to have them ask questions, when to use some of the suggested activities. I'd personally still want to teach from the printed text, with the app available as support - both in the classroom and at home. Of course, in an ideal world, where you've taught Twelfth Night in Year 8, Romeo and Juliet in Year 9, Macbeth in Year 10 and Othello in Year 11 (all with both books and the accompanying apps), by Year 12 they might be ready to tackle Hamlet on their own. -HS

Chasing the Valley
by Skye Melki-Wegner. Random House Australia, 2013. ISBN 9781742759548. 405 pp.
Book 2 is Borderlands (ISBN 9781742759562, 2014, 416 pp.)
Book 3 is Skyfire, (ISBN 9780857981721, 2014, 400 pp.).
Danika lives on the streets in the city of Rourton in Taladia where the king drops alchemy bombs on his subjects to subdue rebellion and where young men and women are conscripted to die in foreign wars. In this world individuals have magical proclivities that emerge with increasing age. Danika’s ability has to do with Night while others may exhibit Fire or Water, Earth or Beast. When life on the streets becomes unbearable, Danika escapes over the city walls and joins a group trying to find the fabled Magnetic Valley, where people can live safe and free lives. The group attracts another member, Lukas, a runaway prince. They are chased by the king’s hunters and stumble upon a plot by the king to destroy the secret valley they are trying to find. It is with Lucas’s help that they destroy the king’s airbase and fortress and press on to find the Valley.
In Book 2, Borderlands, the crew are still being pursued by hunters and have to contend with the King’s plan B to invade the Magnetic Valley. As they battle through dangerous terrain and waters they encounter, evade and are caught by their pursuers, make deals with smugglers, find an old friend much changed and discover more about their emerging powers.
Melki-Wegner, a young Arts/Law student from Melbourne, has created an interesting mixture of the real and the magical in these fantasy novels. The novels are a quick and accessible read and Book 3, Skyfire, promises explosive surprises and terrifying new dangers as they finally enter the sought-after Valley!
Recommendation: The first person narrative coupled with the fast pace and exciting action sequences will appeal to students in Years 7 - 8. -DM

The Cinderella Moment
by Jennifer Kloester. Penguin Books, 2013. ISBN 9780143568216. 288 pp.
Angel's one ambition is to be a fashion designer. Her only hope is to win a fierce competition run by one of the most famous designers in Paris. Finding the money for the materials she needs is not easy, as her single mother's income is limited, but - despite the difficulties - she seems to be on track to deliver her entry on time and of a quality that meets even her exacting standards.
But complications arise. Angel's mother has worked for many years as housekeeper for a wealthy businessman in New York and Angel is best friends with his daughter, Lily. Lily is desperate to go to London to attend a two-week drama school that might give her her chance to pursue a career in theatre. At the same time, Lily has had an invitation from the French grandmother she has never met to spend a fortnight in Paris. Lily persuades Angel to swap identities to allow each of them the best possible opportunities to pursue their dreams.
There are further complications in the way of an evil potential stepmother, Margot, and her equally obnoxious daughter, Clarissa, who has also entered the fashion design competition. Even more disconcertedly, there's a Prince Charming in Paris whom Angel (pretending to be Lily) finds very appealing indeed.
This is a fun and uncritical look at the world of Paris fashion and of the wealthy elite.
Recommendation: This will be enjoyed by girls in Years 7 - 8. -HS

Coming of  Age: Growing Up Muslim in Australia
edited by Amra Pajalic and Demeter Divaroren. Allen & Unwin, 2014. ISBN 9781743312926. 200 pp.
This is a high-interest collection of personal experiences by well-known and less well-known Australian Muslims.
Recommendation: This would be an excellent collection to explore with a Year 9 class. An extended review of this title will be published soon in Deb's usual article in English in Australia. -DM

Cyberbile and Grounded by Alana Valentine. Currency Press, 2013. ISBN 9780868199849. 111 pp.
These are high-interest plays by a leading Australian playwright.
Recommendation: These would be excellent plays to explore with a Year 9 class.
An extended review of these titles will be published soon in Deb's usual article in English in Australia. -DM

The Disappearance of Ember Crow
by Ambelin Kwaymullina. Walker Books, 2013. ISBN 9781921720093. 443 pages.
This is Book 2 of The Tribe. Book 1 is The Interrogation of Ashala Wolf.
This is absorbing post-apocalyptic fiction. Set many centuries into the future, after humanity was almost wiped out in an environmental catastrophe, this - like many other titles in the genre - is set in an authoritarian society where those that do not conform are eliminated. In this case, the misfits are teenagers who begin to develop 'abilities'. These abilities are powerful and diverse, covering such things as the ability to create storms, earthquakes or fire, to fly, to communicate telepathically or - in the case of the main character, Ashala Wolf - to sleepwalk. Some teenagers manage to escape. Ashala has become leader of The Tribe, a group of teenagers living in the Firstwood. The Tribe want to end the tyranny that threatens them.
Book 1 is breathtakingly exciting, as Ashala is captured by the enforcers and interrogated by the Machine. There are several totally unexpected and audacious plot twists: nothing is what it seems. Book 2 follows the same formula but is perhaps not quite as terrifying. This time the emphasis is on Ashala's friend, Ember Crow, who has disappeared. Ember is certainly not at all what she seems, and the uncovering of her true identity takes us much deeper into the origins of this post-apocalyptic world. The necessary exposition is sometimes a bit too much, but the new characters are fascinating, especially the despicable and scary Terence, Jules with his remarkable 'ability' and the intriguing and powerful Leo.
Book 1 is confined almost entirely to one location - Detention Centre 3 - and takes place over just a few days. Book 2 is much more extensive, both in time and place. As a result, Book 1 is more intense, but readers will not be disappointed with Book 2.
What sets this series aside from others in its genre is the author's decision to draw on her heritage and include the concept of the Rainbow Serpent as part of the story. The Aboriginal understanding of country underpins the story. Ashala values and feels herself to be part of the Firstwood and its giant tuart trees. She seeks advice from her ancestral spirit, the giant Serpent.
There are discussion notes on the Walker Books website.
Recommendation: This series has deservedly attracted a devoted fanbase among readers from Years 7 - 10. Both books are great to add to a fantasy or a post-apocalyptic wide reading selection. It is useful too to have something so different from an Indigenous writer. -HS

The Divergent Trilogy
by Veronica Roth. HarperCollins.
Book 1: Divergent (ISBN 978007420438, 2011, 496 pp).
Book 2: Insurgent (ISBN 978000744298, 2012, 544 pp.)
Book 3: Allegiant (ISBN 9780007534944, 2013, 544 pp.)
This is a high-interest, dystopian series with a film tie-in.
Recommendation: This would be a good series to place in a Year 8 or 9 wide reading unit on dystopias.  An extended review of this title will be published soon in Deb's usual article in English in Australia. -DM

The Dreams of the Chosen
by Brian Caswell. UQP, 2013. ISBN 9780702236051. 376 pp.
This is the third book in the Deucalion sequence. The first book, Deucalion, was published in 1995 and the second book, The View from Ararat, in 1999, so we have waited a long time for this. But it was well worth waiting for, and it will be great to see a new generation of readers discover how satisfying Caswell's science-fiction/fantasy is.
Caswell's fans were always gifted readers, readers who want something that challenges them - both in the quality of the writing and in the ideas. However, they want as well what we all want when we read fiction: believable characters with whom we can empathise and a plot that keeps us turning the pages. Caswell delivers in all areas.
This third volume is set a thousand years after Deucalion was settled and many centuries after all contact with Earth was lost. Deucalion has known eight hundred years of peace and prosperity, a time during which the abilities of the inhabitants of the new world have evolved, especially their skill in telepathy. Now an expedition is to set off to find out what happened on Earth.
It is an exciting adventure. Characteristically, Caswell moves from one voice to another as well as moving backwards and forwards in time and space. The cast of characters is large and the settings diverse. This is a novel that requires a reader to concentrate. The rewards, however, are great. The expedition discovers an Earth that is primitive and afraid of knowledge; a violent society ruled by a small group of powerful families. The members of the expedition find that their technology is of little help in this ruined world, but they must find a way to save themselves and the small group of people on Earth who have befriended them. Most of all, they must ensure that knowledge is preserved.
As always with Caswell's work, this is about the big questions. Perhaps the biggest question of all is: what makes us human?
Recommendation: While this can be read as a read-alone title, it would be wonderful to introduce the current generation of students to the whole trilogy. The previous two books in the sequence have been republished with a contemporary look. Bright kids in years 9 - 11 will enjoy the Deucalion trilogy, especially those who love science fiction/fantasy. -HS

Every Breath
by Ellie Marney. Allen & Unwin, 2013. ISBN 9781743316429. 335 pp.
Every Word
by Ellie Marney. Allen & Unwin, 2014. ISBN 9781743316511. 334 pp.
Every Breath was shortlisted for the 2014 Inky Awards.
Every Breath is a compulsive read: a murder thriller with two intense and interesting protagonists. The narrator, Rachel Watts, has recently moved to Melbourne after the bank foreclosed on the family property. She and her family are mourning the loss and finding life in the city difficult. One of her few friends is the very strange boy who lives a couple of doors down the street - Mycroft, a seventeen-year-old with a troubled past and a talent for attracting trouble in the present. He is also extremely bright with a passion for scientific knowledge, especially forensics. When Mycroft and Watts find an old tramp that they have befriended savagely murdered in the park near the zoo, Mycroft is not satisfied with the police investigation. They set out to solve the crime themselves.
The story is compelling because they are embarking on a very dangerous path, but it is also a lot of
fun. Mycroft's knowledge of forensics is intensely irritating to the hapless Detective Pickup who is in charge of the case. Even worse is Watts' friend Mai, 'a short Asian chick in a punk anime-schoolgirl outfit' whose knowledge of law outclasses the detective. Mycroft's capacity for attracting trouble and for alienating figures of authority keep the action interesting. At one point, a frustrated Watts yells at him: 'For god's sake, Mycroft, it's not funny! How can anyone so smart be such an utter moron? What on earth were you thinking?'
The climactic scene in the lions' den at the zoo is as funny as it is scary.
Every Breath was shortlisted for the 2014 Inky Awards.
Every Word is the sequel. One of the interesting things we learnt about Mycroft in the first book is the trauma he experienced as a boy when his parents were both killed in a car accident. Mycroft was in the car but survived. He is convinced that the killing of his parents was deliberate. In Every Word he hears of a similar accident and leaves suddenly, without even telling Watts, for England, where his forensic skills again get him into unlikely places. Watts, worried for him, follows him to England and before long they are both in great danger.
Recommendation: These are great reads for teenagers. They will appeal mostly to students in Years 8 or 9. -HS

First Contact
hosted by Ray Martin and produced by Blackfella Films. 2014. Rated M.
First televised in November 2014, this three-part documentary is reality TV modelled on the successful Go Back to Where You Came From, which is one of the prescribed texts for Area of Study: Discovery.
The documentary is presented by well-known journalist Ray Martin. Six Australians were selected who had little knowledge of Indigenous Australia. Initial interviews with the six participants revealed not only ignorance but prejudice and racism in some cases. The documentary is 'a journey of conflict and discovery': the purpose is to immerse the six participants in Indigenous life and to observe how the experiences change their attitudes and beliefs. The three episodes take the participants to very different communities across Australia. The third episode was followed by Insight, the SBS current affairs program, where five of the six participants were questioned about what they had discovered.
The subject-matter of the documentary is clearly discovery: each participant is exposed to 'new worlds' and 'new ideas', in the words of the Board's rubric. The discoveries are unquestionably 'confronting and provocative'. The exposure leads in most cases to 'new understandings'. This is, however, an artificial voyage of discovery in some ways, manipulated by the producers of the documentary. It is reality TV and the parameters of the process of discovering are strictly controlled. It is the producers who determine which experiences the participants will have. The discovery is 'carefully planned', but not like a scientific experiment where the purpose of the planning is to ensure an objective result: the purpose here is to create good television. The sequence, for example, showing the reaction to the killing of the turtle for food made good television footage, with the outrage and disgust of the non-indigenous spectators. It did very little to address any real questions about the relationship between Indigenous people and the land that provides them with their food. -HS

The First Third
by Will Kostakis. Penguin Books, 2013. ISBN 9780143568179. 248 pp.
This celebration of family is great fun - and at times quite sad. Billy's grandmother has explained that life is made up of three parts: 'In the first third you're embarrassed by your family; in the second, you make a family of your own; and in the end, you just embarrass the family you have made.' Billy's Yiayia, who has held the family together for so many years, is getting old and frail. She gives Billy her bucket list - things he must do for her before she dies, all involved with bringing the family together.
The book opens with a traditional Greek family lunch, a copious spread with much too much food, just like so many other family celebrations - except that, on this occasion, the banquet is spread out on Yiayia's hospital bed. As Yiayia is in that bed and inclined to move suddenly when excited, quite a lot of the food ends up on the floor.
Billy is devoted to his grandmother and takes her bucket list very seriously, impossible though it seems. There is much hilarity in his attempts to find a new partner for his mother by impersonating her on internet dating sites and some sadness as he tries to work out how to help his two brothers, both of whom are leading miserable lives. Billy is aided in his project by his best friend, Lucas, who is one of the great characters in the novel. Lucas is irrepressible; he takes his cerebral palsy in his stride but finds it harder to deal with the fact that, as a gay man, he might never find a partner because of his disability.
There are lots of jokes in this novel, including the ones Billy composes when he has an unexpected stint as a stand-up comic. A lot of the jokes are aimed at Billy's Greek ethnicity, including his grandmother's poor English, but they are jokes that celebrate and unite, not jokes that denigrate.
This won the 2014 Inky Award and was shortlisted for the Prime Minister's Literary Award: Young Adult Fiction 2014. It was also shortlisted for the 2014 Children's Book Council Award for Older Readers.
Recommendation: This is a great read for both boys and girls in Years 7 - 8. Humour is always welcome, as are titles that reflect our multicultural society. -HS

The First Voyage
by Allan Baillie. Penguin, 2014. ISBN 9780143307679. 184 pp.
Set thirty thousand years ago, this novel explores what it must have been like for Australia's first peoples to make the journey from what is now Timor to the shores of what we call Australia. The stretch of water to be crossed was narrower then than it is now, but it was still substantial, given the fragility of the boats that were used and the total ignorance of the boat people as to what might lie at the end of the journey.
The story is told through the eyes of a teenage boy, Bent Beak, from the tiny Yam tribe. Bent Beak's people have been on the move for some time: they had lived previously on Long Island, with its huge mountains and 'the jungle that roared at night', but that had been only a short crossing, made on a calm day, to an island that was visible across the water. The Yam tribe's enemies, the much larger tribe - the Crocodile people - had also come from Long Island, and more of them cross over to Bird Island every day. Bent Beak's father and other members of the Yam tribe have been killed by Crocodile warriors, whose spears have sharp flint stones that are superior to the spears the Yam tribe use for hunting and fishing. The Yam tribe Elder, Eagle Eye, knows that the only way to save his people is to move on again - to follow the birds that fly south. In a postscript, Baillie identifies Long Island as the Indonesian islands where Flores, Lembata, Pulau Alor, Ataura and Palau Wetar can be found today.
We share Bent Beak's journey, as the warriors cut the tall black bamboo that they will use to construct their fragile rafts, as they struggle against the attacks of the Crocodile people, and as the women and children gather food and water to take with them on the voyage. As their food and water dwindle, their greatest threat is the unknown: they have no idea how far away the land that Eagle Eye insists must be there might be. There are five rafts in the beginning, but they are separated in a terrifying storm. Bent Beak's raft finally breaks up on rocks on the shore of a land that is bountiful in some ways - an abundance of oysters and fresh water - but threatening in others, occupied by giant animals unlike anything the Yam tribe has seen before.
While The First Voyage can be categorised as historical fiction, it is also a kind of fantasy. This is a superb imaginative adventure on the part of the author, as he uses his knowledge of the landscapes and of the sea to picture what the journey might have been like for Bent Beak and his companions.
We come to know well each member of the tribe on Bent Beak's raft. Bent Beak himself is an engaging character and we share his concern for the safety of the girl he loves, The Wind, and of the orphaned Waterlily. The old man, Eagle Eye, who had the courage to persuade his people to venture into the unknown, dies almost in sight of land, but a new life, Moonlight's baby, is born. Distant smoke even suggests that other rafts have survived the journey.
I don't usually reveal as much as that about the ending of a novel, but the ending is not what is most important here. We know this is a story about the first peoples coming to Australia, so we are not surprised that some of them make it. The interest is in the journey - the fascinating detail of the getting there. Baillie brilliantly imagines those details, especially the construction of the bamboo rafts.
While the link is never made specifically, the reader can't help but think of other boat people making perilous voyages in fragile craft to escape their enemies, as the Yam people fled the Crocodile tribe.
Recommendation: This short, fast-paced novel offers young people a fascinating insight into what might have been. It deserves a place in our selection of titles to explore Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Histories and Cultures. It will work well as a class set title with Years 7 - 8. It would be interesting to use the opening sections of Wheatley's Australians All alongside a reading of this novel. Wheatley presents the history as we know it, with some insight as to where our knowledge has come from; Baillie has drawn on this knowledge but has shaped it with his imagination to give us a sense of the lived experience. -HS

Flora's War
by Pamela Rushby. Ford St, 2013. ISBN 9781921665981. 238 pp.
Flora has been visiting Egypt for years, accompanying her archaeologist father. This year she is sixteen, school is behind her, and she is looking forward both to helping her father with his work, which she finds fascinating, and indulging in the social whirl enjoyed by the wealthy British, Americans and Australians in Cairo. This year is different, too, because World War I has begun. At first, this just means that there are plenty of handsome officers to dance with, but then as the wounded begin to be shipped in from Gallipoli to overcrowded hospitals with inadequate staff, Flora and her friends become involved in meeting the hospital trains and transporting the wounded.
It is the setting - so beautifully researched - that is the novel's great strength. There are detailed descriptions of the work that is being done to uncover the tombs from the time of the pharaohs, as well as superb pictures of the wealthy hotels and the comfortable mansions inhabited by the ex-pats. The descriptions of the overflowing hospitals and the conditions on the trains carrying the wounded are just as well researched. Perhaps most memorable is the account of the ward for men who have been mentally damaged by their experiences.
This was a Notable Book for the CBCA Older Readers' Awards for 2014.
There are teachers' notes on the Ford Street Publishing website.
Recommendation: This is a satisfying coming-of-age novel and a useful addition to young adult fiction about World War I. It is for readers in Years 7 - 8. -HS

Folger Luminary Shakespeare apps
available on iTunes.
These are produced by the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, the famous research library that has the largest collection of Shakespearean manuscripts in the world. Whereas the Cambridge School Shakespeare apps are designed specifically for a secondary school audience, the Folger apps are aimed at an adult audience. They would be particularly useful for tertiary students as you have search, copy, highlight and note-making functions, as well as the possibility of posting notes directly to a Facebook discussion group. There is professional audio, with occasional alternative readings of speeches. Explanatory notes slide open in a tray to the left of the play text and there is an expert icon that alerts you to scholarly commentary on a speech or a scene.
Titles available are:
·      Hamlet
·      Macbeth
·      A Midsummer Night's Dream
·      Othello
·      Romeo and Juliet
The price on iTunes currently is $14.99.
Recommendation: The expert notes are particularly useful if you are teaching a play for an examination. -HS

Fortunately, the Milk ...
by Neil Gaiman, illustrated by Chris Riddell. Bloomsbury, 2014 (2013). ISBN 9781408841792. 144
This is aimed at quite a young audience - as young as Year 3 or Year 4, but it is such huge fun and Gaiman is so popular with teenagers that it might be worth adding to a wide-reading selection. It is actually a celebration of the joy of storytelling. Mum's away at a conference and, although she left Dad with very precise instructions, things aren't going too well. More specifically, there's no milk in the fridge. Eventually the kids persuade Dad to go out and buy some milk, but he's away a long time. His son accuses him of having run into someone and lost track of time, but Dad defends himself. Something odd happened. Dad proceeds then to tell the most remarkable tale.
Recommendation: There's a lot to be said to offering kids books that are just for fun. -HS

Girl Defective
by Simmone Howell. Pan Macmillan, 2013. ISBN 9780330426176. 294 pp.
This is a confidently written, very contemporary thriller. The protagonist, Sky, is anything but confident: she is the 'girl defective' in a seriously unconventional family. Her mother has left them some years previously to follow her career as an offbeat artist in Japan; her father lives in a world of his own, making a precarious living selling old vinyl records; and her little brother, Gully, has serious emotional problems. Sky herself feels inadequate and immature, especially when she's in the company of her friend, Nancy. Nancy, who is four years older than Sky, is worldly and world-weary, making Sky feel very naive and inexperienced. The novel is at heart a sympathetic coming-of-age novel as Sky struggles to come to understand herself, her family, the boy Luke she falls in love with, and the world around her.
While the plot is intriguing, it is the characters who make this novel so powerful. Howell is especially convincing in portraying Sky's immediate family. Gully, who is ten but seems younger because of his hang-ups, is the star: he hides from the world behind a pig snout mask that he refuses ever to take off. The reader shares Sky's worry about how vulnerable he is. Dad, who drinks too much and is generally pretty hopeless, begins a bumbling but rather sweet relationship with one of the local cops, a woman from his past. Sky comes to share Luke's obsession with finding out what happened to his sister, Mia, who has been found dead in the canal.
The setting of the novel is Melbourne's St Kilda, and it is the gritty side - the homelessness, the prostitutes, the drug trade - behind the tourist glamour that Howell focuses on. Sky lives in an area where it is unsafe to walk home alone at night. Teenage parties are broken up by police. Girls like Mia and Nancy get caught up in the apparent glamour of the pop music scene, and some of them end up dead.
Howell writes beautifully, with great economy:

She put on her mirrored shades even though it was night. For a moment I saw myself reflected. I looked like a small, dark thing. Like a possum or a raisin. I'd never been kissed, never had a boyfriend. I didn't even know any guys other than Dad and Gully. Before Nancy I never smoked or drank, what I knew about sex you could ice on a cupcake.

With the lights soft and everyone's faces all shiny happy I felt flooded with warmth - it was like we'd been infected with a buzzing, shaggy, loveliness that I guess meant the best kind of family.

The Scenic Railway would have qualified as an old St Kildan. It had been around since 1911. Its white wood lattice lassoed the park and made all the other rides with their Day-Glo and bad murals look crass and eighties. From the highest point I could see St Kilda's up-down streets, her patches of green, her apartment blocks like computer monitors stacked on top of each other.

There are teachers' notes on the Pan Macmillan website.
This was shortlisted for the Prime Minister's Literary Award: Young Adult Fiction 2014.
Recommendation: I can't say that I enjoyed this novel, but I admired it. I wouldn't use it as a class set, but I would certainly recommend it to girls in Years 7 - 9. -HS

The Girl Who Ran with Gazelles and Other Plays from Arab and Persian Folklore
by Richard Baines. Phoenix Education 2014. ISBN 9781921586798. 163 pp.
This is an entertaining collection of plays written for student performance. They read well in class but they would be even more fun to perform. Each takes about thirty minutes, and they all leave lots of scope for student ingenuity in devising stage sets and costumes. The last play in the collection, a wonderfully ridiculous rendition of 'Aladdin and the Magic Lamp', even encourages students to write their own music. Each play is based on a folktale or legend, although Baines takes plenty of liberties with the originals.
The title play, 'The Girl Who Ran with The Gazelles', is based on a Moroccan folktale. It tells the story of a very feisty woman who is betrayed by the man who was supposed to be protecting her in her father's absence. She takes a complete and satisfying revenge, going under cover as a local innkeeper so she can expose the wrongs that have been done to her.
The Persian legend of 'Sohrab and Rustum' is framed by mother-and-son tourists contemptuous of the statue in the square when they discover it is honouring a poet. The statue, which comes to life once they have gone, is indignant. This is fun, although the allusions to Matthew Arnold brought back awful memories for me of having been bored to death in my second year of high school by his epic poem. Arnold's version of the legend may attract greater fame, but Baines' version will go over much better with your students.
'The Return of Sinuhe' from Ancient Egypt begins and ends with an old man dictating to a scribe how he wishes to be laid to rest in the midst of the royal tombs of Thebes. In flashback, we discover the trials and triumphs of his young life, culminating in a challenge:

OLD SINHUE [to the audience] I suppose you want to see the fight? I thought so. There is always a fight. At some point you are always pushed to make a stand, are you not? Well, for me, this was it. It was fit enough, but my opponent was a strong man and a feared warrior. It was not a question of choice.

Students will enjoy staging the fight.
Recommendation: I would use these with Year 9. It is often hard to fill the gap between plays suitable for Years 7 and 8 (mostly dramatisations of novels) and the adult plays we teach n Years 10 and 11. This - and the companion volume The Black-hearted Bai, annotated above - fill that gap admirably. Students will enjoy the humour, which is perhaps a bit too mature for Years 7 or 8; they will like the challenge of working out how to stage the plays; and they will have an opportunity to explore a range of dramatic techniques. -HS

The Graveyard Book: The Graphic Novel Part I
by Neil Gaiman. Bloomsbury Publishing, 2014. ISBN 9781408859001. 192 pp.
The Graveyard Book: The Graphic Novel Part 2
by Neil Gaiman. Bloomsbury Publishing, 2014. ISBN 9781408858998. 176 pp.
These volumes are high-interest graphic novels by a leading British writer, based on his very successful novel for the Year 5 - 8 age group, The Graveyard Book.
Recommendation: These graphic novels would be a delight to explore with a Year 7 or 8 class.
An extended review of these titles will be published soon in Deb's usual article in English in Australia. -DM

Hate is Such a Strong Word
by Sarah Ayoub. HarperCollins Publishers, 2013. ISBN 9780732296841. 246 pp.
Sophie is in Year 12 in a school in Sydney's Bankstown where nearly all the students are Lebanese. She is uncomfortable at the prejudice being shown to a new student, Shehadie, because he has an Australian father and is not considered to properly belong. She is also stressed by what she sees as the restrictive demands of her parents on her social life. She is aware that her parents are clinging to the ways of the village that they left behind in the 1970s, and she knows that in modern Lebanon cultural practices have changed, but she cannot get her father in particular to see reason.
Every chapter begins with 'I hate ...' The constant litany is that she is an outsider, partly because of her parents' restrictions but also because of who she is. Her fellow students, for example, think that she's strange because she has decided to research the experience of asylum seekers for one of her school subjects. A lot of the 'hating' is about the trivia of teenage girls' existence, but the larger questions about stereotyping and discrimination are there as well.
This is a well-intentioned book that makes a contribution to the small group of young adult novels that reflect our multicultural society. Ayoub has chosen to make Sophie a Lebanese Christian, and the Lebanese-dominated school she attends is a Catholic one. Sophie's own values (despite railing against her parents' old-fashioned views) are conservative: she intends, for example, to remain a virgin until she marries. The novel is in many ways a celebration of the success of Australian migration and of the contribution of Lebanese migrants to Australian society.
The novel ends on a very positive note: 'Hate is such a strong word ... But I LOVE the fact that I'm going to find myself, so that someday I'll stop using it.'
Recommendation: This is a good coming-of-age story for girls in Years 7 - 8. -HS
Hattie Big Sky
by Kirby Larson. Delacorte Books for Young readers, 2008 (2006). ISBN 9780440239413. 289 pp.
This is a Newberry Honour book by an American writer about a sixteen-year-old girl’s experiences of homesteading in the USA state of Montana in 1917.
Recommendation: This would be an excellent novel to explore with a Year 7 or 8 class in a wide reading unit on identity, challenge and endurance or prejudice.
An extended review of this title will be published soon in Deb's usual article in English in Australia. -DM

His Mother's Voice
by Justin Fleming. Phoenix Education, 2014. ISBN 9781921586866. 85 pp.
This play opens at the time of the Cultural Revolution in China and concludes during the period of student dissent that led to the Tiananmen Square protests. It is in some ways a very large play in scope, touching on such huge political events and a considerable period of time, but it is a very personal story in other ways, centred on the relationship of mother and son. Yang Jia was a talented musician, as was her husband. They played western classical music at a time when that was regarded as bourgeois treachery by the Red Guards. The husband was killed, the piano was smashed and Yang Jia was forbidden to continue to teach music. Despite this, she secretly taught her young son, Quian Lu, to play on a keyboard painted on their kitchen table, covered of course by a tablecloth. While the boy touched the keys, his mother hummed the notes. The boy grows up to become a great classical pianist.
This is a love story between mother and son, but it is also a love story across cultures. Quian Lu falls in love with the Australian girl, Emma, who acts as his translator. Their relationship is complicated by the fact that Emma is the daughter of a diplomat who has spent years nurturing the sensitive Australia-China relationship.
This play is also a window into the extraordinary changes that have occurred in China in such a short space of time. There is the brutality of the Red Guards in 1966 and a glimpse of the awkwardness in 1976, when China is opening up a little to the West and beginning its great commercial march forward but when western visitors are kept under close and suspicious watch. By 1978 a young Chinese pianist can play on the stage at the Sydney Opera House, but - like many of the few who were allowed out to travel - he begs for asylum. By 1988 the Chinese government is keen to have what they call a 'reconciliation' with the most famous of the defectors.
The story is loosely based on the true story of a young Chinese man who won a major piano scholarship in Sydney in the 1980s.
Recommendation: This is a very accessible play for junior secondary students. Students will relate to the characters and be moved by Quian Lu's extraordinary story. The play makes very clear that huge historical events have impact on the lives of ordinary people. Try this with Years 8 or 9. -HS

House on Fire
by Debra Oswald. Currency Press, 2011. ISBN 9780868198880. 44 pp.
This is a high-interest play by a leading Australian playwright.
Recommendation: This would be an excellent play to explore with a Year 9 class in a girls' school.
An extended review of this title will be published soon in Deb's usual article in English in Australia. -DM

The Incredible Here and Now
by Felicity Castagna. Giramondo Publishing Company, 2013. ISBN 9781922146366. 187 pp.
This is first-person colloquial narrative in the voice of fifteen-year-old Michael from Parramatta. In very short chapters that are more like vignettes, it tells Michael's story during the most difficult summer of his life, the summer his older brother Dom, whom he hero-worships, kills himself driving recklessly. Dom's death devastates his family and Michael is left bewildered and directionless.
While this is clearly about the effects of loss and about coping with grief, it is also specifically about growing up in Sydney's multicultural western suburbs. It begins by suggesting that 'West' is something despised by some other Sydneysiders and sets out, I think, to prove that 'West' is full of real human beings. I had some problems with this. I feel in some ways it confirms the stereotypes about the western suburbs, but others disagree. This was shortlisted for the CBCA Older Readers' Awards for 2014 and won the Prime Minister's Literary Award: Young Adult Fiction 2014.
Recommendation: While it would not be my choice, this is something that should be looked at if you are teaching in the western suburbs of Sydney. -HS

In the Shadow of No Towers
by Art Spiegelman. Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, 2004. ISBN 9780375423079. 42 pp. Hardcover.
This is an extraordinary graphic novel by the internationally famous American author of Maus.
Recommendation: This graphic novel would offer much to Advanced students in Year 11 or Extension 1 and 2 students. An extended review of this title will be published soon in Deb's usual article in English in Australia. -DM

The Invention of Lying
directed by Ricky Gervais and Matthew Robertson. 2009. Rated M.
This little British comedy was no huge box office success, but it is great fun and absolutely perfect to explore the Area of Study: Discovery. It stars Ricky Gervais as a fat loser with no assets or talents, except for the fact that he is a really nice, caring human being - something that doesn't rate highly in his world. It is a world that is much like ours, except that human beings have never learnt to lie. The concept of a lie is completely unknown. Not only are there no big lies, but all those little white lies that are so essential to ordinary human civility are also impossible. A woman says to the mother of a newborn: 'Your baby is so ugly; it's just like a little rat.' The television ad for Coco-Cola is delivered by an employee of the company who can think of no greater inducement than to beg his audience to keep buying Coke so that he can keep his job. He's already admitted that Coke contributes to obesity in both adults and children and, when he takes a sip at the end of the ad, he shudders and admits that it's too sugary. The ad for Pepsi on the side of the bus spruiks: 'Pepsi - when they don't have Coke.' And the nursing home where the protagonist visits his elderly mother is signposted: 'A very sad place for hopeless old people.'
Ricky Gervais plays Mark Bellison, an unsuccessful scriptwriter for a leading film company. Mark is fired by his boss and is about to be evicted by his landlord. He knows there are insufficient funds in his bank account to pay his rent. When the bank teller asks him how much he wishes to withdraw, he has an epiphany - a Eureka! moment - represented in an over-the-top fashion with sudden extreme camera zoom in to his forehead and then to his brain. He lies - and his world is changed forever. This is the 'sudden and unexpected' discovery of the Board of Studies' rubric leading to 'new worlds and values'.
The world of the film up until that moment of discovery has no deceit, no flattery and also no fiction. The company Mark worked for was called Lecture Films, producing totally factual and mind-numbingly boring accounts of moments in history. The invention of lying allows Mark to tell fictional stories. He tells his former boss that he has woken in the desert to discover - 'one of the best discoveries man has ever discovered' - a half-buried chest containing an ancient manuscript. The story, set at the beginning of the year 1400, contains giant flying spaceships, robot dinosaurs and nude alien Amazonian women. Gervais is having fun with the idea that the ability to lie is at the heart of all fiction.
Lying, however, also brings trouble. Mark is at the bedside of his dying mother. She is terrified that she is facing 'an eternity of nothingness'. So he lies, telling her that she will go to a beautiful place where she will be surrounded by everyone she has ever loved and where she will have her own mansion - for eternity. The doctor and the nurses in the room are blown away by this revelation. Within hours, the whole world is clamouring to know what Mark knows about death. He becomes a modern-day Moses delivering ten important facts, on tablets made from pizza boxes - truths that have been handed down to him by The Man in the Sky. This is a terrific spoof on the concept of discovery as prophetic revelation. Some viewers may find it offensive.
The film uses exaggeration to achieve its humour. Mark's former colleagues gathered in the boss' s office to listen to the story he 'discovered' are gobsmacked, as are the people in the crowd outside his house as he delivers the message from The Man in the Sky. The musical score is used to good effect, soaring from time to time as if to suggest that something momentous has happened, contrasting starkly with the sheer absurdity of the situation. But the most commonly used technique is the use of an extreme close-up on Gervais's face, as he expresses dawning comprehension, astonishment, delight and apprehension.
The second half of the film, which develops the love story and the role of Mark as everyman hero, is fine but much less interesting than the beginning for the exploration of the concept of discovery.
Recommendation: This is a great choice as a related text for Discovery as it explores the concept of discovery in several ways: discovery as a sudden, unexpected Eureka! moment; that moment leading to the invention of a new way of living; the mythical unearthing of a treasure from the past;  and the discovery delivered by way of prophetic revelation. It's almost as if the film had been created especially for the NSW Area of Study. -HS

I Was Only Nineteen
Words by John Schumann, pictures by Craig Smith. Allen & Unwin, 2014. ISBN 9781743317235. Hardcover.
This picture book begs for a place in the classroom. Schumann has drawn on the words of the famous Williamson song to tell the story of a young Australian who was sent to Vietnam. Craig Smith's illustrations do more than just illustrate the story. It is from the end papers that we get the context: at the front of the book, we see a child and an old man looking at photographs; at the end of the book, they are marching together in what seems to be an Anzac Day march. Their story continues to be told by the pictures throughout the book: as the old man asks the doctor about his health on the right-hand page, we see the boy waiting for his grandfather in the doctor's waiting room on the left-hand page. Other illustrations are of the grandfather's memories of his time in Vietnam.
There is an epilogue, which is a letter from John Williamson, explaining the significance of the song and how it came to be written.
There are teachers' notes on the Allen & Unwin website.
Recommendation: This is a great way to introduce the history of the Vietnam War to students. The book will work with any class, from Year 7 - 10. It would be a great related text to use with the film, The Sapphires. -HS

Jamie Reign: Last Spirit Warrior
by P. J. Tierney. Angus & Robertson, 2013. ISBN 9780732295196. 385 pp.
This rollicking adventure for readers in Years 5 - 8 is set in Hong Kong's New Territories. The setting is a tiny fishing village, untouched still by tourism and following a traditional way of life. Jamie, who has just turned twelve, lives onboard his father's tug in the harbour and does the work of an adult man. He has never known his Chinese mother, but he knows his brutish father, Hector, only too well. Hector is a drunk, a bully and a racist bigot, who has refused to learn the language despite the fact that he has lived and worked in Hong Kong since before Jamie was born.
Jamie is a huge fan of the legendary kung fu expert, Master Wu, but has always assumed that he is not Chinese enough to ever participate in the ancient rituals of the Way. Jamie's world is turned upside down by the arrival of Mr Fan, an old man with surprising powers. To Jamie's astonishment, the last spirit warrior whom Mr Fan seeks - and who is needed to save the world - could just possibly be Jamie himself.
Jamie's adventure takes place in the company of an engaging cast of characters - the indomitable Wing, who is even worse at kung fu than Jamie, the mysterious and highly skilled Jade, and the obscenely wealthy Lucy. The presence of such strong female characters ensures that the book is as appealing to girls as boys. For girls, there's an extra bonus in the discovery of Jamie's mother's extraordinary story as a warrior.
There is plenty of action and the novel moves swiftly, against the well-realised setting of the fishing village and the dangerous waters around it. Some of the most exciting sequences occur on the remote island of Chia Wu that is the site of Mr Wu's warrior school. Jamie at first seems an unlikely hero, but, as the reader becomes better acquainted with his courage, his selflessness and resilience, we cheer him on.
The fantasy elements, including the spirit powers that Jamie discovers, are blended seamlessly with the realistic details of the setting.
Jamie Reign: The Last Spirit Warrior was shortlisted for the 2014 Readings Children's Book prize.
A sequel is now available: Jamie Reign: The Hidden Dragon. A third book, Jamie Reign: The Lost Soul, is due for publication in 2015.
Recommendation: This is a great addition to a Year 7 - 8 action adventure or fantasy box of wide reading titles. It would work well too as one of a selection of action adventure titles with Asian settings. The Jamie Reign titles give more insight than most of the other such titles into contemporary Asia. -HS

by Mark Greenwood and Terry Denton. Allen & Unwin, 2013. ISBN 9781742375700. 48 pp. Hardcover.
This picture book is a great retelling of the story of Aboriginal warrior Jandamarra. Greenwood's very accessible text emphasises the intelligence and resourcefulness of the young man torn between conflicting loyalties. After being chained and imprisoned, Jandamarra decides to fight for his people. His unmatched knowledge of the area and his skills enable him to continually evade pursuit. Eventually, badly wounded, he is shot by an Aboriginal tracker, who cries as he takes aim.
Greenwood's text is beautifully supported by Denton's watercolours. The focus here is on the magnificent Kimberley landscapes. Denton's paintings are presented in various ways. They range from a dramatic two-page spread of cattle being driven along the Lennard River into the huge, rocky ranges to comic-strip style frames, one group of three showing Jandamarra, standing on the edge of a cliff, shooting the hat off a startled trooper below. The variety works very well. The paintings are not just illustrations: they reward close reading.
There are teachers' notes on the Allen & Unwin website.
Recommendation: While most schools will use Jandamarra in Years 7 - 8, it could also be used in Years 9 - 10 alongside the M-rated television documentary, Jandamarra's War (see annotation below). It's a worthwhile addition to the resources available for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Histories and Cultures. -HS

by Steve Hawke. Currency Press, 2014 (2008). ISBN 9780868199733. 74 pp.
This is a high-interest play by an Australian playwright about the Kimberley Aboriginal warrior, Jandamarra.
Recommendation: This would be a powerful play to explore with a Year 10 or 11 class. An extended review of this title will be published soon in Deb's usual article in English in Australia. -DM

Jandamarra's War
directed by Mitch Torres. 2011. Rated M.
This is a documentary-drama narrated by Ernie Dingo, with a cast of first-time actors from the Bunuba/Gooniyandi nation. It follows the life of Indigenous hero, Jandamarra, from age six until his death at twenty-one at the hands of an Aboriginal tracker, after a long three-year chase in which he evaded the might of the white man, determined to punish him for his resistance. Torres decided to tell the story with documentary footage, including still photographs and contemporary newspaper extracts, supported by dramatic re-enactments. The re-enactments include fictional interviews with Jandamarra himself. The re-enactments were filmed entirely on location on Bunuba country, around Tunnel Creek, Windjana Gorge, Lennard Flats and the Napier Ranges.
Jandamarra's war on the invaders who were destroying his country is one of the great stories of Australian history, but it is unknown to many white Australians.
The documentary is 55 minutes long.
Recommendation: The film has an M rating but could be used in most Year 9 - 10 classes. Use it alongside the picture book, Jandamarra. -HS

Joyous and Moonbeam
by Richard Yaxley. Omnibus Books, 2013. ISBN 9781862919877. 170 pp.
This short novel for young adults is an engaging read. The story is told mainly through the voices of the two characters, Joyous and Moonbeam, interspersed with a series of letters to Joyous written by his Mamma. Joyous tells his story to an unknown 'mister'; it is only right at the end of the novel that we guess, not the specific identity, but the likely profession of the man questioning Joyous. Joyous, a big man aged thirty-three, works in a sheltered workshop. I was a little unsure of his unconventional use of language at first: 'doopy-do', 'truesome, 'a swish-wash of beer and stinks', 'honkingly', 'kookity'. But the language is wonderfully expressive and flawlessly maintained by Yaxley, so that it becomes inseparable from the character. Joyous is visited in the workshop by an unhappy teenage girl, Ashleigh, whom he names Moonbeam. Moonbeam's family is falling apart after the birth of a stillborn baby and she is acting out her sadness by lashing out at home and at school. Moonbeam is recording her story, on the advice of the school principal who is about the only adult she still respects. Her voice is very, very different from that of Joyous and completely authentic. As well as their two voices and the letters from Mamma, there are some scenes between Joyous and Moonbeam that are told entirely in dialogue. There are no speech marks, no 'he said' or 'she said', but the voices are so distinctive that there is never any confusion.
Yaxley skilfully reveals the stories of each of the characters. Joyous's story is dark: he has been brutally bullied at school, abused physically and mentally by his thuggish stepfather, wrongly accused of theft in the shop where he loved to work, confined to pointless craft work in the sheltered workshop. But Joyous lives up to his name. His whole life is infused with love for his Mamma and dedication to the philosophy of the father he never knew: 'All life is joyous. The good bits are naturally joyous but even the bad bits can be too. You just have to work them around a little.'
Mamma's letters reveal a number of secrets: Joyous's story is not quite as he believes it to be. But his philosophy triumphs over all.
This is a book that lifts the spirits, despite the brutishness of stepfather Sammy-K and the cruelty of school bullies like Matthew Berrings. The style - especially the sections in Joyous's idiosyncratic voice - might seem strange to readers at first, but they will enjoy exploring Yaxley's success in using distinctive voices to create his characters. The book is short, with many short chapters, and it moves at a fast pace. I've seen reviews from some young readers who are disappointed with the ending - perhaps because they missed some vital clues. The book demonstrates very well the importance of close and attentive reading.
There are teachers' notes on the Scholastic website.
Recommendation: This could be an interesting choice for class set use in Years 7 or 8, or even with a less academic Year 9 class. -HS

by Sean Williams. Allen & Unwin, 2013. ISBN 9781743315866. 396 pp.
This is Book 1 in the intended trilogy, Twinmaker. The sequel, Crash, is now available. It will be followed by Fall.
This is a complex science-fiction thriller that has been much praised by sci-fi fans. It is set in a post-apocalyptic world that postdates the disastrous Water Wars, a world that has been revolutionised by d-mat, a global teleport system that allows people to transport themselves instantaneously around the world. Bored teenagers use the system to 'jump' to exotic venues to party. The main character, Clair, finds herself at one point on the viewing platform that allows tourists to see where the island of Tuvalu used to be, before the waters rose.
Clair's best friend, Libby, is seduced by a promise that she can use d-mat to achieve Improvement - to change her body so that she will be perfect. Clair becomes concerned that Libby has suffered serious personality change, and she sets out to investigate what is going on.
Clair's quest takes her to all kinds of locations and into great danger. In the company of Jesse, regarded as a freak at school because he and his father will have nothing to do with modern technology, she survives bomb explosions, gun fights and endless chases. Her only guide is the mysterious voice of Q, who speaks to her through her personal communicator and provides her with information that saves her life on many occasions.
The novel has a cliffhanger ending that will ensure readers will want to read the next volume.
Recommendation: This is well-written and well-executed and no doubt deserves the huge amount of praise that has been lavished on it by sci-fi fans. I personally found it difficult to read. -HS

by Diane Samuels. Nick Hern Books, 2008. ISBN 9781854595270. 112 pp.
This is a fascinating play by a British playwright about the Jewish children sent by their European parents to safety in the UK before the outbreak of the Second World War.
Recommendation: This would be an excellent play to explore with a Year 11 class.
An extended review of this title will be published soon in Deb's usual article in English in Australia. -DM

Loyal Creatures
by Morris Gleitzman. Viking, 2014. ISBN 9780670077427. 154 pp.
Gleitzman has dedicated this to Michael Morpurgo, author of War Horse, and to his wife, Clare, acknowledging that Loyal Creatures is inspired by Morpurgo's book. In fact, Gleitzman's research for the book began with a commissioned piece from the National Theatre on Australian horses in World War I, as they prepared to bring their production of War Horse to Australia. Gleitzman has produced a very accessible novel about the experiences of the Australian Light Horse in Egypt and Palestine, with his trademark blend of humour and sadness. The opening page sets the tone:

Nineteen fourteen.
Did I want to go?
Course I did.
Who wouldn't want to choof off to distant exotic places, give a pack of mongrel bullies what for and have the sort of experiences you just didn't get in the Cudgegong district.
When I told Dad I wanted to go, he tried to wallop me round the head with a canvas bucket.
Not too hard, I was bigger than him. But I was still surprised. Hitting people with buckets wasn't Dad's style. Plus, since Mum died, me and Dad were a team. Mates. You didn't go round whacking your mates in the head with work utensils.
Something was going on.
Dad glared at me.
'You and me'll be first in the trenches,' he said, 'if Germany invades New South Wales. Till then we'll stay out of other dopey idiots' wars.'

That's such characteristic Gleitzman. It looks so easy, and yet as exposition it is masterly. We know already quite a lot about the who?, the when? and the where? We soon learn more of the why: Dad has promised his dying wife to stop their fifteen-year-old son from joining up. But that wasn't so easy in World War I, even if the war was really the business of 'other dopey idiots'; when Dad is given a white feather, both of them sign up, with their horses.
One important difference between the British and the Australian horses in World War I is that the Australian horses could not be repatriated, even if they survived. The climax of the story tugs at the heart strings in a way that Gleitzman does so well.
I had some doubts at first about the title; it seemed rather pompous for a Gleitzman novel. But it is justified I think by the last brief chapter:

We did our best over there, us blokes.
But it was never in our hands. Not completely. Never is in war.
We were just loyal creatures too, our heads turned this way and that by politicians and generals and the dark waters in our own souls.
That's what we were, all of us.
Just loyal creatures.

Recommendation: Use this, as always with Gleitzman, with Years 5 - 8. It would work too with a Year 9 class of reluctant readers. Use it in 2015 as a springboard for some wide reading of World War I stories. -HS

by Robert Hillman. Allen & Unwin, 2014. ISBN 9781743312551. 195 pp.
The book opens with a scene in the yard of the school where Malini's father is principal. There are 22 boys and 128 girls. The Tamil Tiger commander has come to recruit more child soldiers. Although he only takes six boys with him - the youngest just eleven - he has done this at least twelve times previously, which explains the fact that there are so few boys among the school's pupils.
The setting is a Tamil town on the east coast of Sri Lanka in 2009, not long before the end of the civil war. Malini's father knows that the Tamils are doomed to lose the war, but that they will fight desperately to the end. The next morning the soldiers come at dawn for the whole village. The people are to be used as human shields, herded into a small 'no-fire zone' between the Tamil Tigers and the advancing Sri Lankan army. In the chaos of the evacuation, Malini manages to escape with her younger sister Banni. Together they embark on a dangerous journey of survival through disputed territory to try to reach their grandfather's village. On their way they are joined by other child refugees, scarred by wartime experiences.
This novel is part of the excellent 'Through My Eyes' series, novels that give young readers (the Years 5 - 8 age group) insight into the lives of children in areas of conflict. As in other titles in the series, the author is careful to give readers some hope for the characters with whom they have empathised, while making clear at the same time that war exacts a terrible toll on civilian populations - and, especially, on children.
There are teachers' notes on the Allen & Unwin website.
Recommendation: This is an excellent novel for the Year 5 - 8 age group. It's another worthwhile title to add to a wide reading selection of titles about the lives of children in other countries. -HS

Man Made Boy
by Jon Skovron. Allen & Unwin, 2013. ISBN 9781743315132. 368 pp.
This is a great read - one to be savoured at a single sitting if possible. Among other things, it is both a great coming-of-age story and a charming and offbeat romance. It is strikingly original, inventive and funny. The action is fast and the reader is keen to turn the pages to find out what will happen to this improbable but entirely engaging cast of characters, particularly Boy - child of Frankenstein's Monster and the Bride. Boy's parents hide away from a society that would find them abhorrent in a remarkable theatre in New York, where their fellow monsters and freaks perform amazing theatrical acts for the public. The acts include performances by satyrs and harpies, an ogre, the Siren from The Odyssey, whose partner is the Minotaur, some dancing trolls including their star dancer Liel, with whom Boy is infatuated, and the diva, Madame Medusa, who occasionally has a deadly effect on members of the audience. Dad - the Monster - is head of security, while Mum - the Bride - is a technical whizz who keeps the mechanics of the theatre running. Theatre manager is Lord Ruthven, the protagonist of The Vampyre, the box office is under the care of Charon the Ferrymaster and the control booth is staffed by a faerie and a werewolf.
Unlike most of those who live and work in the theatre, including his parents, Boy can pass for a human being in the outside world - albeit an extremely ugly and deformed human being who appears to have survived some terrible accident. At seventeen, Boy is restless, anxious to see the world. But he has no intention of going along with his father's plan - to send him to university in Switzerland where he can board with Frankenstein's descendants. The Frankenstein family feel some responsibility for their ancestor's disastrous creation of the Monster and his Bride and want to help their son, but Boy feels nothing but hate and resentment towards them.
Boy is a computer nerd, with amazing powers as a hacker and programmer. He is obsessed by the project he is working on to produce a hacker virus: 'a fully autonomous virus that could assess and understand any new situation and make its own choices and adapt accordingly based on that information'. While he hates with a passion Frankenstein for having created the Monster and the Bride, it never occurs to Boy that he may be replicating Frankenstein's experiment - bringing a new creation to life that will not only be beyond his control but that can adapt endlessly. Boy's 'monster' has the potential to be even more dangerous, but he fails to recognise the threat. Instead, he feels nothing but pride - 'a first in computing history' - when he realises that his computer program has done something no computer program should be able to do - something unpredictable.
Boy's adventures in the wider world and his growing awareness of the monster (VI) he has let loose are what keep the reader turning the pages. And the intertextual surprises continue to happen, especially when Boy meets another descendant from famous literature, the girl who switches from being Sophie Jekyll and Claire Hyde. At times it seems over the top - when, for example, the Dragon Lady gives Boy an urgent ride back from California to New York - but it is such fun that the reader accepts each outrageous new creature and each new twist in the plot.
The parallelling of Shelley's Frankenstein's obsession to create new life with a computer programmer's obsession with virtual intelligence is inspired. Part 2 of Man Made Boy is prefaced with a quotation from Mary Shelley: Victor Frankenstein reflecting on 'how dangerous is the acquirement of knowledge'. Beneath all the outrageous fun, there are some serious issues being explored.
For those who need to take account of such things, there is occasional vulgar language.
This was shortlisted for the 2014 Silver Inky Awards.
Recommendation: This might be a little long for class-set use, although it would be a great springboard for an exploration of all the intertextual references. It would be great to use it as a core text in Years 8 - 10 and then give students a range of historical texts to explore: Shelley's Frankenstein, Stevenson's Dr Jekyll and My Hyde, Polidori's The Vampyre and Homer's The Odyssey, to begin with. Some students could read Tony Thompson's Summer of Monsters to find out about the origins of the Frankenstein story; John Polidori was there as well, with Mary Shelley, Lord Byron, and Percy Shelley.
The originality of Man Made Boy stands in stark contrast to the stultifying plethora of young adult novels of recent years that feature vampires, werewolves, faeries, sirens and other creatures in the bizarre setting of American high school life. The intelligence and energy of Skovron's storytelling may make readers a little more critical of the sludge they have been served up, including the near-pornography of the most recent 'must read' - the angel genre. -HS

Midnight Feast by Slap Harry Larry.
This is a high-interest app about a girl called Roya who is excited to stay up late for a midnight feast.
Recommendation: This would be an interesting app to explore another culture with a Year 7 class. An extended review of this title will be published soon in Deb's usual article in English in Australia. -DM

Midnight: The story of a light horse
by Mark Greenwood and Frané Lessac. Walker Books, 2014. ISBN 9781921977718. Hardcover.
This is based on the true story of Guy Haydon from the Hunter Valley who joined the 12th Light Horse Regiment, taking with him the horse, Midnight, that he had raised and trained from birth. It tells the story of their trip to war, their separation when Guy spent four months at Gallipoli, and then their reunion, serving in the desert. Guy and Midnight were among the eight hundred soldiers and horses who stormed the ancient town of Beersheba, held by three thousand Turks. Guy was wounded but survived but Midnight was killed in the attack.
The story is told in bold and fairly simple paintings that represent the vivid colours of the desert. Mark Greenwood's text is spare, with a lot of use of short powerful sentences: 'Guy braces for the bullet', 'Hours quiver by' and 'Shrapnel kicks up dust'. There is also frequent use of evocative incomplete sentences such as: 'A jostle of horses and buckling straps' and 'Weeks in the saddle'. The refrain - 'Coal black. Star ablaze. Moonlight in her eyes.' - occurs at the beginning, at Midnight's birth, and is then repeated at the end of the book as she dies.
Recommendation: This would be a great support to a unit of work based on Michael Morpurgo's novel, War Horse. It could be used at any level. -HS

Much Ado About Nothing
directed by Josh Whedon. 2012. Rated M.
This is a marvellous film version of the Shakespeare play by the well-known creator of the Buffy and Firefly television series.   
Recommendation: This would be an excellent film to explore a modern Shakespearean interpretation with a Year 11 class. An extended review of this title will be published soon in Deb's usual article in English in Australia. -DM

by John Heffernan. Allen & Unwin, 2014. ISBN 9781743312483. 197 pp.
This has been published as part of an excellent new series, 'Through My Eyes', stories about children living in conflict zones. Heffernan has written an engaging story about a resourceful and courageous teenage boy living close by Bagram Airfield, the huge American airforce base in Afghanistan. Naveed is the sole supporter of his widowed mother and his irrepressible younger sister, Anoosheh, who - like so many others in countries that have been battlefields - has lost both her legs after stepping on a landmine. Naveed makes an uncertain living finding work wherever he can - making deliveries and stacking the shelves for shopkeeper, Mr Waleed; helping with the lunch time orders at Mr Hadi's chai house; washing cars. When desperate, he scavenges at the tip, but the gangs that control the trade there are dangerous, and he cannot afford a beating that would disable him to the extent that he could not work. The landlord who rents the family their one-room hovel will not wait for the rent, and Naveed's mother and sister are dependent upon him for their next meal.
Naveed occasionally shares the little food he has with a stray dog. She is a big dog, although starving. His kindness to the dog saves his life when she defends him against the gangs. From that moment on, Naveed and Nasera are inseparable.
While the story is told mainly from Naveed's point of view, there are occasional chapters from the point of view of Jake, an Australian serving as a dog handler with the military. It is the dog, Nasera, that Jake first notices; he is looking for Afghans who can become dog handlers and continue the work of detecting explosives after the Australians and the other westerners leave Afghanistan. While Naveed is much younger than the recruits he was wanting, he and Nasera prove to be a formidable team. The opportunity of a real job and a regular income transforms Naveed's life.
This very readable story gives great insight into the lives of ordinary Afghans living in desperate circumstances.
Recommendation: This is a great novel for class study in Years 7 - 8. Students will relate to Naveed and enjoy the story of his dog, Nasera, and Jake's dog, Stingray. There is plenty of action and danger, as well as some hope for the future.
The novel Shadow, by British novelist Michael Morpurgo, is a good companion piece; it is also about sniffer dogs and Afghan boys. -HS

No Stars to Wish On
by Zana Fraillon. Allen & Unwin, 2014. ISBN 9781743315149. 167 pp.
No Stars to Wish On is fiction based on fact. Zana Fraillon has written a novel for upper primary/lower secondary readers, based on the stories of the Forgotten Generation. Fraillon's protagonist, Jack, is typical of the 'generation': he is removed from his family, along with his sister and two of his cousins, because his single mother has difficulty supporting them. He is told that his family does not want him.
The Home in which Jack is placed is, like most of the institutions at the time, run by the church. It's an austere, underfunded place, exploiting children in many ways, including as human guinea pigs to test new vaccines. Fraillon exposes the reader to the horrors of such institutions, but she does so skilfully in a way that will anger and sadden child readers but will not traumatise them.
Fraillon tells the story through Jack's voice, the voice of an innocent narrator who does not always understand the significance of what he is telling us. Jack remembers warmly his big, loving family. Mum is the only breadwinner; there is not always enough to eat, but there is no shortage of hugs. To the authorities, the children are 'in moral danger' and neglected. Their home is raided at night by men in boots.
Fraillon has created an engaging character in Jack. Despite his fear and loneliness, Jack remains determinedly optimistic, convinced that he will find out how to escape. Jack has always loved telling jokes. In the institution, Jack clings to his jokes for comfort. Fraillon uses Jack's jokes - the not-very-funny, rather corny jokes of a seven-year-old - to mark off episodes in Jack's narrative. No one smiles in the Home - neither the nuns nor the children - and Jack is determined to change that. In a triumphant moment towards the end of the novel, he defiantly shouts nun jokes to the room full of children and sees them laugh.
The narrative is divided into three different types of text. Jack's first-person narrative predominates, interspersed with the sections in which he remembers the jokes he learnt. There is also third-person narrative that focuses on Jack's older cousin, Amrei. Amrei grieves for the lost children and dreams of recovering them. The sections of narrative to do with Amrei and her eventual journey to find Jack are set off from Jack's first-person account by the use of italic font. The style is very different. Jack speaks in a very simple, colloquial voice, telling his story in a bare, understated style that reinforces the horror. The third-person narrative is almost lyrical in contrast. In a surprising but effective experiment, it also moves beyond the grim realism of Jack's narrative to a fantasy world that records Amrei's 'Visions' - visions that lead her to Jack. Jack rejects the nuns' religion and their God but he shares his family's belief in 'the Spirits', a world of spiritual possibilities beyond those of the material world. Fraillon's ability to combine so seamlessly two such different narratives is one of the strengths of the novel.
As well as exploring the conditions for the forgotten children in institutions, Fraillon has written a thriller about the fate of one child - the one Jack calls 'the real Number 49'. The nuns claim that Number 49 ran away, but slowly Jack - and the reader - piece together the clues about a terrible crime that has been committed.
The novel has been likened to Louis Sachar's Holes, partly because of the blending of realistic narrative and fantasy but also because of its success in exploring injustice. No Stars to Wish On will make young readers angry, as Holes does. Both books make readers question a world in which the young are powerless against the system. Comparisons have also been made with John Boyne's The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas. Both Boyne and Fraillon handle very confronting and painful material. Both reveal the truth while carefully negotiating the narrative so that young readers are not traumatised.
There are teachers' notes on the Allen & Unwin website.
Recommendation: This is a novel that begs to be shared with readers. It may be just a little young for high school, although it will suit some Year 7 or 8 classes quite well. It's a perfect class-set novel for Years 5 - 6. -HS

The Ocean at the End of the Lane
by Neil Gaiman. Headline Publishing Group, 2014. ISBN 9781472200341. 272 pp.
Not many authors can segue from a duck pond to the beginning of the world in only 103 words but Neil Gaiman does so on his first page of The Ocean at the End of the Lane. And what an extraordinary beginning it is to this marvellous and frightening novel.
The first-person narrator has returned to his hometown for a funeral. In driving to his sister’s house he turns down an old lane and comes to the Hempstock farmhouse, a place he thinks he visited when he was young. He has vague memories of Lettie and her duck pond. Lettie isn’t there but old Mrs Hempstock tells him where the duck pond is and he remembers that Lettie called it her ocean. ‘I remembered that, and remembering that I remembered everything.’ The return triggers a wave of recollections: a terrible birthday party that no-one came to, the killing of a kitten and a suicide by a lodger in the family car that opens the way for an evil presence. Standing against that presence are the remarkable Hemstock women: grandmother, mother and eleven-year-old Lettie. It is at their farm with them that the narrator finds comfort and support. But when he and Lettie set out on what seems to be a simple task, they both find themselves in terrible and fantastic peril.
Gaiman’s prose is simple and unsentimental; as the blurb suggests it’s ‘as delicate as a butterfly’s wing, as dangerous as a knife in the dark’. He evokes the modest pleasures of warm porridge and fresh milk from the cow and also delivers the primal horror of the hunger birds. He puzzles and delights us with his creation of the Hemstocks. Are there really three of them? Why don’t they age? He imbues them with such toughness, matter-of-fact power and wisdom that it takes your breath away.
Gaiman says he plundered the landscape of his childhood to write this adult novel.  It’s deeply rooted in the real-life situations of childhood that blend, both prosaically and terrifyingly, into a fantasy world. In both worlds Gaiman explores betrayal and sacrifice. It’s such a potent book that it stays in the mind a long time after you finish it; it’s undoubtedly one of the best books I read in 2014.
Recommendation: Students in Years 9, 10 and 11 will be eager to discuss the mesmerising qualities of The Ocean at the End of the Lane. -DM

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