Tuesday, 9 December 2014

Choices for English: ETANSW Conference 2014 Part II

28th November 2014. Session F4.3
Presented by Deb McPherson and Helen Sykes.
This is Part II. Part I is a separate post.

One Minute's Silence
by David Metzenthen and Michael Camilleri. Allen & Unwin, 2014. ISBN 9781743316245. 48 pp. Hardcover.
This is an impressive addition to the small group of Australian picture books about Gallipoli. This is aimed at a young adult audience and the story is framed by two pictures of teenagers in the classroom. The first is a very accurate representation of a group of kids who are totally disengaged, slumped in various poses of boredom or fiddling with their belongings to distract themselves. In the second picture, at the end of the book, they are alert, but they are also concerned. Many of them are turning to their peers as if about to talk to them about what they have heard.
In between the two images, we have the familiar Remembrance Day call to one minute's silence - one minute in which to think about what happened. The students have heard the call many times before and it has failed to capture their imaginations, but this time they listen. They are asked to 'imagine the grinding in your guts as the ironbark bows of the Australian boats bumped the stony shores of Gallipoli'. Among the crowds of sailors disembarking on the shore are the kids we've just seen slumped at their desks. We see the Turkish soldiers 'standing should-to-shoulder in trenches  cut like wounds', and behind them stand the kids from the classroom. The technique of putting the kids from the classroom in the pictures of Gallipoli continue: the soldiers scrambling to go over the top are two of the girls; on the next page they are being mown down by gunfire from the Turks, some of whom look exactly like other kids from the class. The message is spelt out clearly in a dark double-page spread:

But can you imagine the fierce Anzacs and the fighting Turks quietly returning to their trenches after this one day of truce ...
then firing at each other that afternoon, although they truly knew that the other men were not so much different after all.

That recognition of common humanity by the soldiers on both sides is not new. The Turkish generosity to our dead has been part of the Gallipoli story for many years, as has Attaturk's famous reassurance to mothers that 'your sons are now lying in our bosom'. But this telling of the story goes a little further, making it clear that the Turks are 'fighting for their land and their lives'. In the gunsight we see images of a woman and child and a once-peaceful rural village. We are asked to 'imagine what the Turkish fighters felt when they knew they could hold the high ground ... and the rain that lashed them felt like tears of joy.' We are being asked to consider not only the humanity of the enemy but that this defining moment in Australian history was an attempted invasion. At least that is my reading of this text.
The quality of Metzenthen's writing is evident from the quotations I've included here. The black and white drawings are unsettling: a picture of a hill with a line of soldiers, walking between a line of crosses, while beneath the soil are dozens of shapes of the dead; a double-page spread of a huge ugly fly; large close ups of guns drawn as cold, deadly machines.
Recommendation: This is confronting and provocative. I think it may well make your students sit up and take notice, like the students Camilleri has drawn. Find an excuse to use it at any Year level. -HS
Patient 12
by Kevin Summers. Currency Press, 2014. ISBN 9781925005103. 36 pp.
This is a fascinating play by an Australian playwright about the aftermath of World War 1 as a terribly wounded soldier lies unidentified in a hospital.
Recommendation: This would be an excellent play to explore with a Year 9 or 10 class. An extended review of this title will be published soon in Deb's usual article in English in Australia. -DM

Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief: The Graphic Novel
by Rick Riordan. Puffin, 2013. ISBN 9780141335391. 128 pp.
This is a high-interest graphic novel with a basis in Greek mythology.
Recommendation: This would be a good text to use as part of a wide reading unit on myths and legends in Year 8. An extended review of this title will be published soon in Deb's usual article in English in Australia. -DM

Persepolis I and II
by Marjane Satrapi. Vintage, 2008 (2003). ISBN 9780099523994. 352 pp.
This is the film tie-in edition.
This is a fascinating graphic novel by an Iranian writer. 
Recommendation: This would be a powerful text 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

Pulling down the Stars
by James Laidler. Hybrid Publishers, 2013. ISBN 9781921665820. 366 pp.
This is quite a dark novel, although there is quite a lot of humour, much of it black. Most teenage readers will find the opening chapter rather confronting. Teenager Charlie lives in an all-male household, with his father Roger and his stroke-affected grandfather, Frank. One of Charlie's tasks is to get Frank out of bed each morning, to give Roger - the primary carer - some respite. Frank is incontinent, and the unpleasant experience of cleaning him up is described in considerable detail.
The narrative is third-person but from shifting viewpoints. Many chapters are from Charlie's point of view. We learn in some detail about his job as a nurse in a mental hospital, including his work with uncontrollable patients and his experience of taking patients for ECT treatment. The second point of view is that of Maxine. At first she seems like a stereotypical spoilt rich girl out of control, but it is more interesting than that. Deeply angry with her father and despite excellent school results, Maxine has left home and has for two years worked in an abattoir. Her job is also described in grisly detail. The third voice is that of Bill - a homicidal maniac who is a serial killer, with a penchant for sporty girls who get their pictures in the paper. In Chapter 20 we have directly the point of view of Charlie's father, Roger. Charlie is impatient of his father, who has dedicated his life to looking after his sick father-in-law, but Roger becomes an increasingly sympathetic character. It is Roger who gives a desperately lonely Maxine some support. In Chapter 43 (there are 61 chapters in all) we discover that Bill, who at this stage has killed at least six women, works at the same abattoir as Maxine; it is not a surprise that his next intended victim is Maxine. What is a surprise is the ironic ending.
This is a competent novel. The action moves at a brisk pace and suspense is well-maintained. The characters are interesting, as is the situation of an all-male household that includes an old man who needs twenty-four-hour care. The hostile relationship between Maxine and her father is also well depicted, and the resolution is credible.
Recommendation: This is a good read for students in Years 9 - 10. It is part-thriller, part-romance, part-family-story. -HS

by Cassandra Golds. Penguin Books, 2013. ISBN 9780143204275. 189 pp.
The first chapter -'The Dream' - is a prologue: a boy dreaming the same disturbing dream every night, of being a knight desperate to rescue the damsel in distress. In the second chapter the knight and the damsel come face to face and we begin to assume that they are a real boy and girl in a real, harsh world, but they are presented to us in a kind of magical mist.
Although there is a very strong bond between Deirdre and Gal (Galahad, yes, really), Deirdre believes that they have met only twice in their lives: when they were five and then again at twelve. Together at age five they shared an experience that was so traumatic that neither can remember it, although they both believe it is vital that they do remember. Their time together at age twelve was just as unsettling. Deirdre, who had been home-schooled until age twelve, finds school an alienating place, especially as rumours are rife that the grandmother with whom she lives is a witch. Gal rescues Deirdre from a terrifying incident where bullying gets out of hand. That is the last day at school for both of them: Deirdre returns to home schooling and Gal is expelled. She believes, wrongly, that that was the last time she saw him, although she is aware of how strong the bond is.
This is a confident blending of realist fiction with a fantasy world in which an old block of flats becomes a nightmarish magic maze. While on one level Pureheart is a celebration of love, the story is very dark and makes uncomfortable reading at times. At its heart is the character of the Grandmother, who has said:

Justice has to be done. Or revenge. It doesn't matter. It has to happen. It's built into the scheme of things. But the funny thing is ... it usually doesn't happen to the person who deserves it. That's just the way it goes. Little girls cannot pay their fathers back. They don't have the power. But then little girls grow up and get some power of their own. So the revenge happens to someone else, someone they have power over, someone who wasn't even born when it all happened. Someone innocent, like you.

The 'you' refers to both Deirdre and Gal, on whom the Grandmother tries to wreak vengeance. She is a terrifying larger-than-life character who has Deirdre totally in her thrall. Her words are full of poison:

And although you will long for it, you will never have my total love again. Neither will you win the love of anyone else. Some things are unforgivable, Deirdre. This is one of them. You are unforgiven, and love is denied you, for the rest of your life.

Love triumphs in the end, but at terrible cost.
This was a Notable Book for the CBCA Older Readers' Awards for 2014. It was also shortlisted for the Prime Minister's Literary Award: Young Adult Fiction 2014.
RecommendationThis is a compulsively readable, beautifully written, dark fairytale, drawing on the traditions of Arthurian legend. It will be captivate fantasy readers in the Year 7 - 8 age group. -HS

Rain Dance
by Karen Wood. Allen & Unwin, 2014. ISBN 9781743316405. 293 pp.
This is a satisfying romance for girls in Years 7 - 9 that also happens to explore some important issues about sustainability. It is also, like Anne Brooksbank's Big Thursday, one of the rare novels for young adult readers that deals with the difficult issue of financial ruin. Holly's father's business has collapsed and the whole family is forced to sell their home, including the two ponies Holly loved so much. Their new home is a temporary stay in a very small, rundown farmhouse out of Gunnedah, where Holly's father has managed to get short-term work. There is tension between Holly and her neighbour, Kaydon, who also happens to be the son of her father's boss.
Gunnedah is experiencing severe drought, which is threatening the survival of some properties, such as the one teenager Aaron is trying to keep going after his father's death. Even Rockleigh homestead, the home of Kaydon's family and the social hub of the area, is financially stressed. Kaydon's father is suspicious of sustainable farming ideas and is about to take on a new financial partner - someone who proves to be more interested in disused oil wells than in farming.
Recommendation: Girls will enjoy this very much, although it may not have the depth required for whole-class study. It gives readers great insight into the difficulties of life on the land. Include it in a wide reading box of titles that deal with issues of sustainability. -HS

by Justine Larbalestier. Allen & Unwin, 2014. ISBN 9781743319437. 365 pp.
This is a fascinating young adult novel by a leading  Australian writer  about the lives of people during the gang wars in Sydney in the 1930s.  
Recommendation: This would be an excellent novel 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

by Amy Tintera. Allen & Unwin, 2013. ISBN 9781743315507. 365 pp.
by Amy Tintera. Allen & Unwin, 2013. ISBN 9781743316702. 340 pp.
In Reboot Amy Tintera has created the most interesting zombies I have come across. Wren  (number ‘178’) was shot when she was twelve and it took 178 minutes for her to come back to life. That makes Wren a very deadly Reboot; she is faster, stronger and tougher than any human and able to heal quickly – only a direct shot into the brain will destroy her. The Human Advancement and Repopulation Corporation  (HARC) make good use of Wren and other Reboots while controlling them at the same time. They use the Reboots’ abilities to track down, capture or eliminate other humans HARC consider a risk. Wren has been doing this for five years. The KDH virus she survived killed many people. In some people, especially the young, the virus acted differently and enabled the rebooting phenomena,
where people could come back to life without the emotional attributes of being human. Wren considers herself cold and clinical until Callum ‘22’, a ‘newbie’ enters her life and shows her she can, and does, experience emotions. But Wren is faced with a dilemma when she is ordered to eliminate Callum because he is disobeying orders. 
Recommendation: Reboot is set in a futuristic Texas; it has exhilaration and speed and a love interest as well. It will be a valuable edition to a post-apocalyptic wide reading unit and should appeal very much to Year 8 and 9 girls.
Rebel is a sequel to Reboot.
Recommendation: This would be a good novel to place in a wide reading unit in Year 8 or 9 class. An extended review of this title will be published soon in Deb's usual article in English in Australia. -DM

by Jackie French. HarperCollins, 2013. ISBN 9780732296179. 272 pp.
This is very different from the many novels about the refugee experience that I have previously read. The backcover blurb does, I think, give some clues that it is different, but I read this in ebook where there is no backcover blurb to consult, so it was a wonderful surprise as the story unfolded. It begins much as I had expected: teenager Faris and his grandmother Jadda are on a small crowded boat on a grey sea under a grey sky. We learn something of their story: the flight of Faris's father from home five years earlier to avoid arrest, their need to move to much poorer accommodation, the warning that they too were about to be arrested, the sale - piece by piece - of family jewellery to buy them the smugglers' help. Like so many others who have come to Australia by boat, Faris experiences a terrible storm that is too much for the fragile boat. Chapter 1 ends with Faris and Jadda being swept overboard by a gigantic wave.
The surprise begins with the opening of Chapter 2. Faris wakes in a soft bed in a beautiful bedroom in a luxurious house. Breakfast, with a smiling Jadda at the top of the table, is a buffet of everything he could dream of. Gradually the reader becomes suspicious that all is not quite as it seems: the pet koala gnawing a chicken leg is a pretty good clue.
French has made the transition seamlessly from the grim realism of the first chapter to a fantasy world - an Australia that Faris had imagined, based mostly on tourist websites. He leaves his fantasy house for his fantasy beach but discovers a different beach altogether:

This wasn't his beach! He had never seen this beach before.
It was a small beach, ending in two jagged cliffs of tumbled black rocks at either end. Six great stones rose like giant's teeth across the small bay, with a few metres of rippled blue water between each of them. Small waves purred a little way up the beach, then slipped back, leaving the shine of water on the sand.

Faris discovers children playing on the beach. Again, there are little clues that this is not what it seems. A boy of about Faris's own age wears 'a strange woollen suit, with short pants and long grey socks'. An older girl wears a head shawl, with bright green pants and a long shirt. An older boy describes Faris as 'a new cove'. Descriptions of clothing and the type of speech characters use usually give us clues to context - time and place, but the clues we pick up here are all contradictory.
French is not just telling us Faris's story. She is telling us the stories of all the children who have come by boat to Australia over the centuries. Even the First Australians came by boat, and they are represented in the character of Mudurra, who fishes with a spear on the beach. French mentions in the novel twenty-five children who have played on the beach, including those from Chinese, Portuguese, Dutch and French ships that predated Captain Cook. But she concentrates on a handful: Susannah, who came from Ireland in the 1920s; the little Greek boy Nikki, who arrived in the 1950s; fifteen-year-old Billy, the convict boy who grew up to become an important citizen and the patriarch of a large family; Afghan teenager Jamila, who arrived in the early 1990s; and David, also thirteen, a Jewish boy from Austria. In the fictional biographies French provides at the end of the book, each of these children - like Faris - passes from the real world in which he or she was dying to the fantasy world of the beach and then returns to reality, to live a productive life in modern Australia. Only the First Australian, Mudurra, and the Sudanese girl Juhi who falls in love with him, remain in the past, perhaps 60 000 years ago.
Faris remains the main character. Not only do we have much more detail about his past, before he boarded a boat in Indonesia, than we have about any of the other children, we also learn a great deal more about what happens to him after he arrives in Australia. But French has been careful not to tell us too much: Faris's nationality or religion are never mentioned. He could be from any one of quite a large number of countries. Because the detail is not there, any stereotypes the reader might be inclined to bring to the text are not relevant.
This is an awesome task that French has set herself - to tell the story of all of Australia's peoples - and it works beautifully. The transition between fantasy and realism is completely credible, and the novel becomes a celebration of nationhood.
This was a Notable Book for the CBCA Older Readers' Awards for 2014. Recommendation: This is a superb choice as a class novel for Years 7 or 8. It is also an excellent text to tick off both the Asian and Indigenous cross-curricular priorities. -HS

A Ring through Time
by Felicity Pulman. Angus & Robertson, 2013. ISBN 9780732294885. 296 pp.
Allie's parents have moved to take up work on Norfolk Island. For Allie, the move has been traumatic and she becomes even more isolated when she defends, in a history class at school, her ancestor, John Bennett, commandant of the island in convict times. Island history remembers the commandant as a brutal oppressor who made life hell for the convicts and sent many to the gallows, including the Irish ancestor of one of the Norfolk Islander boys, Noah. Noah and his family take their family history seriously and have not forgiven the wrong done to Cormac O'Brien one hundred and fifty years previously.
Allie decides she needs to find out whether the version of history passed down through her father's family is accurate. She finds a diary hidden under the floorboards of a room in government house, written by her namesake, Alice Bennett. The diary reveals the story of a tragic love affair between the original Alice, and the convict, Cormac O'Brien.
The characters in the book are fictional, with the character of Commandant John Bennett loosely based on that of two real historical figures, but the description of the conditions on the island is historically accurate and disturbingly grim. There are some improbabilities in the plot, including Allie's discovery of the diary (helped by the ghost of the original Alice) and the love story itself, but there is plenty to keep the reader turning the pages.
RecommendationThis is a good read for girls in Years 7 - 10. -HS

The River Charm
by Belinda Murrell. Random House Australia, 2013. ISBN 9781742757124. 294 pp.
This is a timeslip story in which a girl in the present, teenager Millie, visits an old mansion and sees a ghost from the past, who may be her ancestor. The story of the girl from the past and her family is supposedly told by Aunt Jessamine, who has studied the family history, but the story is historical narrative, with chapters with headings like 'Oldbury, Winter 1839', not recount.
The setting is the southern highlands of New South Wales and Oldbury has been a grand estate but Mamma, after being widowed, marries a violent and drunken spendthrift, and the lives of Charlotte, her sisters and her brother are changed forever. While fictional, the story is based on the real history of the Atkinson family, who are the author's ancestors. It follows the family through turbulent times into genteel poverty in Sydney, from which they are rescued by the publication of Mamma's book, A Mother's Offering to Her Children, the first children's book to be published in Australia.
The novel gives an excellent picture of time and place, including the importance at the time of social class and the difficulties for women who did not have the legal right to manage their own financial affairs.
RecommendationThis is a good read for girls in Years 7 - 8. -HS

The Road to Gundagai
by Jackie French. Angus & Robertson, 2013. ISBN 9780732297220. 422 pp.
One of the joys for a reader is a story that you know in your head is implausible but that your heart embraces completely because of the skill of the storyteller. The Road to Gundagai is such a tale. Beginning in 1932, it is based on the improbable premise that an orphaned teenage girl is rescued in the middle of the night by a nine-year-old boy, who uses a hastily erected pulley system to lower her out the second-storey window of her aunts' house. The girl is ill and weak, partly because of injuries she received in a fire; she is also, although she does not know it at the time, being slowly poisoned with arsenic. The boy, Ginger, is from The Magnifico Family Circus, where he plays - among other roles - both the hunched back dwarf in the House of Horrors and Tiny Titania, one of the stars of the trapeze act in the Big Tent. The girl, Blue (for Bluebelle) is welcomed into the circus by its owner, the blind fortune-teller Madame Zlosky, and her small team of multi-tasking entertainers, none of whom is quite what he or she seems. In fact, the shock of discovering the real identities and backgrounds of the circus family continues throughout the novel, with some of the biggest surprises kept back until almost the end.
Quite a lot of the characters who appear in the latter part of the story will be familiar to readers who have read French's previous books, A Waltz for Matilda and The Girl from Snowy River. For such readers, becoming reacquainted with those characters is a pleasure, although it is quite possible to enjoy The Road to Gundagai as a stand-alone title. But the real stars of this show are the circus characters - wonderfully eccentric, weaving their glamorous magic from the tawdriest of materials to delight their small-town audiences. They are endlessly inventive, each of them playing a range of apparently contradictory roles, and dedicated to providing the best possible experience for their audiences. Going behind the scenes to discover how they make their magic is constantly fascinating. Blue, although crippled, is transformed into a very convincing harem dancer. She also becomes one of the stars of the sideshows as Belle, the mermaid. The most captivating of all the circus characters is without doubt the Queen of Sheba, the elderly, rather tired and totally adorable circus elephant who leads the circus parade through the streets of the little country towns on their route and saves Blue's life at a climactic moment in the story.
One of the most interesting characters is Mah, the Chinese girl who had been Blue's servant and who was responsible for her rescue by the circus. Mah has been brought up in an orphanage and was sent into service as a child. Blue has thought of Mah as her friend, but it is only when their relationship becomes truly equal that she understands how limited that friendship was, because of class and racial prejudices. In the circus they become real friends in a way that could never have happened when they had a mistress-servant relationship. French uses Mah to challenge the rigidity of the social system that was still present in 1930s Australia.
The 1930s is of course the depth of the Depression and the little circus is touring country towns. The circus family take seriously their responsibility to bring some colour and happiness into the lives of the rural poor and especially to those living in shanties in the huge susso camp. We see through Blue's eyes the conditions in the camp and the poverty and hunger of the children. As usual, French's historical research is meticulous and she evokes time and place vividly. She contrasts the despair of the susso camp with the settlement that Miss Matilda has established for the unemployed and their families on Drinkwater Station. She also explores issues of workplace fairness and the treatment of women workers, when Mah and Blue finally set up their model factory where women receive equal pay.
Recommendation: This is a big, generous novel that will be devoured by girls in Years 7 - 10. French's enjoyment of her tale and her characters is obvious, and we immerse ourselves completely in the world she has created. While she is not afraid to reveal the dark side of human nature - in Blue's personal situation, in the often tragic stories of the circus performers and in the harshness of the Depression on the lives of ordinary people, she allows us the luxury of a feel-good happy ending where the characters mostly get what they deserve. -HS

Romeo and Juliet: The Graphic Novel
by Gareth Hinds. Candlewick Press, 2013. ISBN 9780763668075. 144 pp.
This is a high-interest graphic novel adaptation of Shakespeare’s play.
Recommendation: This would be an excellent resource to support the study of the play Romeo and Juliet 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

The Round Earth's Imagined Corners
by Ken Watson. 2nd edn. Phoenix Education 2013. ISBN9781921586668. 166 pp.
At the Round Earth’s Imagined Corners is an anthology that has been set for the NSW Higher School Certificate Standard English course. But it will have wide appeal for other school years and in other states as it brings together such a rich collection of
poets and cultures.  
Ken Watson explains in his introduction that the original anthology has been expanded in this second edition with poems written by recent immigrants to Australia and by a group of Australian poets strongly influenced by Asia. A third group of poets come from an Arabic background. In addition, there is a bigger presence of Aboriginal Australian poets. Watson’s placement of the quotation from Mahatma Gandhi at the front of his anthology gives an insight into the genesis of the collection and the nature of the poems you will find inside. 
I do not want my house to be walled in on all sides and my windows to be stifled. I want all the cultures of all lands to be blown about my house as freely as possible.
But I refuse to be blown off my feet by any. 
                                         Mahatma Gandhi 
The 43 poets in the anthology use different forms, employ distinctive styles, reflect diverse conventions and draw on a range of traditions. Wales, Italy, the Sudan, Iraq, Vietnam, Turkey, Hungry, Syria, China, India are just some of the countries represented and that diversity provides a vivid landscape for students to explore. 
Many of the poems in this quality anthology lend themselves to small group discussion and encourage a range of views. 
RecommendationAt the Round Earth’s Imagined Corners delivers an opportunity for students from Years 9-10 to dip in and out of different cultures and discover how familiar and diverse the world can be. Remember that those poems in the anthology set for study for the HSC cannot be studied in Year 11in NSW. -DM

The Rules of Summer
by Shaun Tan. App produced by We Are Wheelbarrow Pty Ltd. Available on iTunes.
This is a mesmerising app adaptation of Tan’s recently published picture book.
Recommendation: This would be an excellent text to explore perspective and salience with any class. An extended review of this title will be published soon in Deb's usual article in English in Australia.
The picture book itself, published in 2013, is available in hardcover from Hachette, ISBN 9780734410672, 48 pp. The picture book won the Children's Book Council of Australia award for picture book of the year in 2014 and was shortlisted for the Prime Minister's Literary Award: Children's Fiction 2014. -DM

Rules of Summer is an intriguing picture book for all ages from Australia's most-awarded creator of picture books. Like all of Tan's work, it repays constant re-reading: each time you pick up the book you go on a journey of rediscovery. It is summer time and two little boys are free to roam and have adventures. The voice we hear in the minimal text is that of the younger brother who is discovering 'the rules', as laid down by the older brother - rules that are often arbitrary and bizarre: 'Never leave a red sock on the clothesline', 'Never step on a snail', 'Never forget the password'. All the rules begin with 'never' until almost the end of the book, where there are some that begin with 'always', including the best advice of all: 'Always know the way home'. The brothers' world is full of bizarre creatures and scary monsters. Older brother finds younger brother annoying and does a deal with one of the ever-present black crows that leads to him being imprisoned in an odd bunker, but the older boy relents fairly soon and comes to the little brother's rescue, which leads to another rule: 'Always bring bolt cutters'.
Most readers report that they find the book puzzling but it also resonates emotionally with them and they want to read and re-read, discover and re-discover. Tan is exploring the relationship between siblings - the shared experiences, the tensions, the intensity of emotions, and ultimately the strength of the bond; most of us can relate to that. He sets his story in a landscape that has both the familiarity of suburbia and the strangeness of nightmare. As the little brother discovers 'the rules' and the older brother discovers a sense of protectiveness, the reader explores a range of meanings.
Tan has published his book as an app which allows even more discoveries for the reader. With the app it is possible to zoom in and out of Tan's extraordinary paintings, to discover detail that simply can't be detected in the printed book form. The soundtrack on the app also enhances the reader's experience.
There are teacher's notes on the Hachette Children's website.
Recommendation: Use this at any level: it will intrigue and delight your students. Consider it as well as a related text for Area of Study: Discovery, in either its picture book or its app format -HS

The Sapphires
directed by Wayne Blair. 2012.
The Sapphires: The Screenplay
by Tony Briggs. Phoenix Education, 2013. ISBN 9781921586712.
Even the best of Australian films have a hard time with the Australian box office, but this lively, upbeat film was enthusiastically embraced by local audiences when it was released in 2012. It is based on the highly successful stage musical that was also written by Tony Briggs, telling the real story of four young Aboriginal women who meet Dave, a feckless Irish musician, who is looking for a new act to revive his career. The girls love music, by which they mean Country and Western; Dave introduces them to Soul Music, so that they can perform in Vietnam for the American Marines.
Part of the appeal of the film are the many musical numbers and the great sense of fun, at times interspersed with real black-and-white television of the war in Vietnam. While the film touches on the futility of the Vietnam War and the reality of racism in Australia in the 1960s, the issues are not pursued in any great depth.
Recommendation: The film is usefully rated as PG, making it available at any level, from Years 7 - 10. The existence of the filmscript is a bonus for class study.
Bran Nue Dae, directed by Rachel Perkins (2009) is also rated PG and would be a useful comparison to The Sapphires. Music, humour and a great sense of vitality are common to both. -HS

Scarlet in the Snow
by Sophie Masson. Random House Australia, 2013. ISBN 9781742758152. 318 pp.
This is another re-telling of the Beauty and the Beast fairytale, and I was a little disappointed at first, as there have been so many of these. But Masson knows what she is doing, and she has created a wonderful character in the courageous and resourceful Natasha, who shelters from a deadly blizzard in the mansion with the beautiful garden. The book is full of magic characters, of whom the two most powerful - and most interesting - are Luel, the old woman with supernatural powers who guards the Beast, and Old Bony, the witch who lives in a cottage in the woods surrounded by a fence of human bones. One of the joys is that these two unexpectedly combine their powers on the side of good.
Masson rightly spends very little time on Natasha's discovery of the Beast's magic mansion and the beginnings of the rapport between them. We really don't have time to get to know the Beast, so that we have to take on faith Natasha's realisation that she is devotedly in love with him. But the glossing over of this part of the story, because it has been told so many times before, is well compensated for by some wonderful insights that give new depth to the old story. Natasha is a storyteller, and she takes her writing seriously, just as her mother is a serious artist. The transformative power of the arts is a theme of the novel. It is no surprise to discover that the Beast, in his original person, is a talented artist.
The setting is a kind of alternate eastern Europe, perhaps a century or so ago.
RecommendationThis is a great read for girls in Years 7 - 9. -HS

The Secret River
by Kate Grenville, adapted for the stage by Andrew Bovell. Currency Press, 2013. ISBN 9781925005004. 94 pp.
This is a remarkable adaptation of Grenville’s award-wining novel by a leading Australian playwright. It is destined to become a classic of Australian theatre. 
This won the 2013 Helpmann Award and the 2013 Sydney Theatre Award for Best New Australian Work.
Recommendation: This would be an outstanding play to explore with a Year 10 class. An extended review of this title will be published soon in Deb's usual article in English in Australia. -DM

Sense Shape Symbol: An Investigation into Australia Poetry
edited by Brian Keyte. Phoenix Education 2012. ISBN 9781921085857. 217 pp.
This excellent anthology will come as no surprise to teachers who used A Phantom Script (edited by Brian Keyte and Richard Baines) in the 1980s and 90s. Dorothy Porter’s poem ‘Bull-leaping’ introduces the anthology with its comparison of the risky leap of the athletes with poets’ risk-taking as they create their poems which can succeed or fail just as the bull-leaper does.
The structure of the anthology is clearly defined and set out to aid student investigation. Poems are presented under different headings with helpful introductions and commentary from the editor. Talk Write Do suggestions follow each segment. In the first section, The Senses - the poet’s raw material, students can consider a range of Australian poems that illuminate the use of sight, sound, smell, taste and touch imagery. The section on Shape  – the poet’s medium considers vowels and consonants, syllables, rhyme, metre and rhythm, while Symbol the poet’s response looks at metaphor, simile, personification, antithesis and metonymy. The next section, Identification - the poet’s personal voice, presents a selection of different poets’ work, including Judith Wright, Ooderoo Noonuccal, David Malouf, Les Murray and Mark O’Connor. The final section, Issue s- the poets’ concerns, considers poems that reflect attitudes about gender, race, status, fear and hope. 
Recommendation: The selection of poems is best suited for students in Years 9 - 12 and contains a mixture of  widely anthologised poems such as ‘Spring Hail’, ‘Woman to Man’, and ‘Last of His Tribe’, as well as newer selections such as  John Irving’s ‘New World’,  Gundy Graham’s ‘Slow’ or Kay Water’s powerful portrait of a ‘Grandmother’. It’s wonderful to see so many different Australian poems gathered under one cover. For some students the editor’s commentary will offer revision opportunities; for others it will provide enlightenment. -DM

Shakespeare on Toast
by Ben Crystal. Icon Books, 2009. ISBN 9781848310544. 272 pp.
This non-fiction text by a British actor and writer provides a remarkable insight into making Shakespeare relevant and engaging for students. 
Recommendation: This would be a helpful resource for any teacher engaging with a Shakespearean play. An extended review of this title will be published soon in Deb's usual article in English in Australia. -DM

Shakespeare Uncovered DVDs
ITV. 2013.
6 hour-long DVDs covering:
·      Hamlet presented by David Tennant
·      Richard II presented by Derek Jacobi
·      The Tempest presented by Trevor Nunn
·      The Comedies (As You Like It, Twelfth Night) presented by Joely Richardson
·      Henry IV and Henry V presented by Jeremy Irons
·      Macbeth presented by Ethan Hawke
This is a high-quality television series presented by some of Britain’s most recognised actors, such as David Tennant and Jeremy Irons. 
Recommendation: This would be a helpful resource for any teacher engaging with a Shakespearean play. An extended review of this title will be published soon in Deb's usual article in English in Australia. -DM
This is a wonderful resource. All the presenters are either actors or directors who have worked on the plays. They speak of their own experiences but they present as well video and photos from a range of different productions. All are articulate and thoughtful speakers whose insights into the plays are invaluable.
This series has been shown twice to my knowledge on ABC TV but each time on a weekend afternoon, so many people have missed it. -HS

by Justin Fleming. Phoenix Education, 2014. ISBN 9781921586910. 79 pp.
This begins in the trenches of Gallipoli. The scene is mainly presented by a narrator, with shadowy figures on a screen representing the troops on both sides. At the end of the scene there is a remarkable monologue:

MATTHEW     Mum, Dad, my gun is empty so I sprint to the top. Bullets and burning shrapnel whiz past me in a blur. My body aches, I'm so tired, so tired and I trip, I fall, I'm crying into the mud, I collapse in a heap waiting to be shot dead. Kill me! Kill me! I manage to crawl, I crawl past a mob of Turks. Then the shelling and the bullets start again and so I lie there, on the earth, nothing but an empty gun and a dagger. Then rain, pelting rain. I'm crying into the mud with the rain. I think of you, Mum. I see you, Dad. I die dreaming of Hundred Acres. Agate in the river. Topaz shining in the water. And oh, the sun, the sun ...

In scene 2 a wounded Matthew is recovering from war wounds in an Egyptian hospital. He is worried about someone called Hermann; a nurse reassures him that Hermann has had excellent medical care.
Scene 3 is set 100 years later, in rural Australia. In fact, the stage directions tell us that the scene is Hundred Acres, which Matthew was thinking about when he thought he was dying. The narrator introduces us to fourteen-year-old Tom, Matthew's descendant. We learn that Hermann is a tortoise, brought back from the war all those years ago by Matthew. Unfortunately, a story in the local paper alerts the Turkish authorities to Hermann's existence. They want him repatriated. Tom is devastated.
This very different approach to the Gallipoli story is refreshing. While I'm not sure how a director will cope with the fact that the tortoise, Hermann, appears on stage, his story is intriguing. I think the back cover blurb is correct in describing this as a play for people of all ages.
Recommendation: This is accessible enough to be used in Years 7 or 8. However, I always think it makes sense to read about World War I in English classes in Years 9 or 10, when it is being studied in History. This will work too with Years 9 or 10. -HS

The Ship Kings series
by Andrew McGahan. Allen & Unwin.
Book 1 is The Coming of the Whirlpool (ISBN 9781743312056, 2011).
Book 2 is The Voyage of the Unquiet Earth (ISBN 9781743319567, 2013).
Book 3 is The War of the Four Isles (ISBN 9781743315095, 2014).
A fourth volume, still to come, is The Ocean of the Dead
Books 1 and 2 are now available in paperback; Book 3 is still only available in hardcover.
In Book 1, The Coming of the Whirlpool, the inhabitants of New Island have lost the long war with the Ship Kings and are now controlled by these mysterious and powerful figures. Dow Amber is the descendant of the most famous sailor in New Island's history and yet he has never been to sea and is initially unaware of his connection to such a famous man. But Dow feels the pull of the ocean and gains permission to leave his small timber-cutting community to travel to the coast to seek work with boats in the fishing village of Stromner. The time he spends with embittered Nathaniel Shear does teach him some sailing skills and he learns of the power of the ocean and of the whirlpool that lurks at the entrance to the Claw, a body of water surrounded by high peninsulas. When the Ship Kings visit Stone Port, near Stromner, Dow risks everything to get aboard a ship to try and discover their sailing secrets. His sailing heroics in the whirlpool earn him a reprieve from punishment and a berth on the Chloe as she sails away from New Island into the Great Ocean.
The Voyage of the Unquiet Ice is the second novel in the series. After a revolt Chloe is recalled to
report to the Sea Lord who lives on The Twelfth Kingdom, a ship so vast it seems more like an island. Dow finds intrigue and treachery swirl around the court. When Chloe is sent north into the frozen ice to seek news of Nadal, the son of the Sea Lord who disappeared five years ago on a quest to find a passage through that ice to the southern ocean, Dow goes too. Dow has already acquired a mysterious link to an enormous Ice-Albatross that alights briefly on the ship. His enemy, Lieutenant Diego, persists in his efforts to humiliate Dow while a growing rapport with Ignella, the ship’s scapegoat, complicates Dom’s life further. It is Dow and Ignella who discover the secret of the warm currents of the north and the true nature of Nadal’s expedition but their return to The Twelfth Kingdom is shattered by betrayal and war.
McGahan is a fine world builder and the Ship Kings' universe is believable and engrossing while his icy north owes something to the journeys south of Shackleton and Mawson and to Coleridge’s The Rime of the Ancient Mariner:
And now there came both mist and snow,
And it grew wondrous cold:
And ice, mast-high, came floating by,
As green as emerald.

The ice was here, the ice was there,
The ice was all around:
It cracked and growled, and roared and howled,
Like noises in a swound!
In Book 3, The War of the Four Isles, the tale continues. Three years have passed and Dow finds himself kept away from the war by his Twin Island hosts. But when he finds out that Nell has been imprisoned, he sets out as an envoy on a great voyage to a part of the map where whales and monsters lie. Dangerous and deadly as these sea monsters are, they are not as lethal as human deception and lies. The Twin Islander War Master who sends Dow on his voyage has his own agenda and it is not a peaceful one. While a rescue is organised for Nell and the other heretic King Ship people, massacre and mutiny lie ahead. What lies beyond the Barrier doldrums will be the subject of the next book. 
RecommendationThe Coming of the Whirlpool was the first young adult text from Andrew McGahan, who is better known for his adult novels, and it is a terrific read. The vivid descriptions of land and water, the striking characterisation, the mystery of the Ship Kings origins and the young girl who is called the scapegoat of the Chloe combine to produce a novel that will engage and excite readers in Years 7 and 8 and encourage them to continue reading this four-part series. All books is the series are quite complex. It would be fascinating to compare the details of  the sea voyages in Books 2 and 3 with that of the Mariner in Coleridge’s great narrative poem. -DM

The Silent History. Ying Horowitz & Quinn.
This is a high-interest digital novel. Awarded by Apple as one of the Best Apps of 2012. Webby Awards winner. Available on iTunes.
Recommendation: This would be an excellent text to explore multimodal digital fiction with a gifted Year 10 or Advanced 11 class. An extended review of this title will be published soon in Deb's usual article in English in Australia.
The Silent History is also now published in print form. -DM

The Sky So Heavy
by Claire Zorn. UQP, 2013. ISBN 9780702249761. 294 pp.
Novels about future disaster and chaos are very popular at the moment, but to find one that takes us back to the devastation of nuclear war is a surprise. While large parts of the northern hemisphere and its population are eliminated instantly, Australia suffers a nuclear winter that instantly disrupts all communications. The result is an inevitable breakdown of civil society. The government realises that it can only sustain a small proportion of the population, if any at all, and barricades the chosen few in the inner city, leaving the rest to die of starvation or violence.
The story of this apocalypse is told in the voice of teenager Fin, who has lived a comfortable life in the Blue Mountains of New South Wales, despite his parents' fairly recent divorce and the arrival of a stepmother who is not much older than he is. When disaster strikes, Fin is at home alone with his little brother, Max. Their mother works for the government in a senior role and cannot be spared and their father and stepmother have left for the city. Their father never returns, as he had promised; it is some time before they realise that the roads are probably impassable. The major problem is food. Shops have been looted and there are no new supplies. There is one emergency handout by the Army, but then nothing.
One of the most depressing features of the story is the fact that the adults in Fin's affluent mountain suburb become so soon obsessed with their own survival; there is no attempt to work together as a community. Fin and Max make their own community as they try to get into the city with friends Lucy and Noll; they are helped by illegals sheltering in an underground car park.
The interest in the story lies partly in the struggles of the four young people to overcome the dangers they face and in their resourcefulness as they work out ways to survive. Noll's difficulty in reconciling the terrible chaos they see with his former strong belief in a benign God is also important. The backcover blurb asks: 'When things are their most desperate, where can you go for help?' The answer is that you must depend on yourself and a very small group of your peers; adults and the authorities cannot be trusted.
This was an Honour Book in the 2014 Children's Book Council of the Year awards for older readers and was shortlisted for the 2014 Inky Awards.
RecommendationThis is an interesting read for readers in Years 7 - 8. -HS

Staging Asylum: Contemporary Australian Plays about Refugees
edited by Emma Cox. Currency Press, 2013. ISBN 9780868199832. 204 pp.
This collection contains 'CMI (A Certain Maritime Incident)'; 'The Rainbow Dark'; 'The Pacific Solution'; 'Halai-eil-Mashakel'; 'Journey of Asylum - Waiting'; 'Nothing but Nothing'.
These six plays represent a range of styles and voices.
Recommendation: This would be a useful collection to use to explore issues of prejudice, justice and resilience 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

Steal My Sunshine
by Emily Gale. Woolshed Press, 2013. ISBN 9781742758497. 333 pp.
This is an engaging read about family dysfunction and personal growth. Hannah is so lacking in confidence that she allows her best friend, Chloe, to make most decisions for her. Her home life is miserable, and it is no surprise to the reader when her father - the only family member she relates to - announces suddenly that he has had enough and is leaving home. The announcement, which might have brought Hannah and her mother closer, drives them further apart, and Hannah is thrown increasingly into the company of her difficult elderly grandmother, Essie. Essie's relationship with Hannah's mother is as prickly as Hannah's own: the hostility is palpable. But Essie has a secret, and her decision to tell Hannah and Chloe about her past changes everything.
This is basically a coming-of-age novel, as Hannah struggles with family dysfunction and the disappointments of a crush on the wrong boy, but it also deals well with the terrible history of teenage, unwed mothers and forced adoptions. 
This was longlisted for the 2014 Inky Awards.
RecommendationGirls in Years 7 - 8 will enjoy this, as they shed a tear or two for the injustices of the past. -HS

Stories in the Dark
by Debra Oswald. Currency Press, 2008. ISBN 9780868198316. 56 pp.
This is a high-interest play by a leading Australian playwright.
It won the 2008 NSW Premier's Literary Award for Best Play and the 2008 AWGIE Award for Best Theatre for Young Audiences.
Recommendation: This would be an excellent play to explore with a Year 7 or 9 class. 
An extended review of this title will be published soon in Deb's usual article in English in Australia. -DM

The Sultan's Eyes
by Kelly Gardiner. Angus & Robertson, 2013. ISBN 9780732294809. 336 pp.
Although it does not say so, this is a sequel to the excellent Act of Faith, and you really need to have read the first book to fully understand this one, especially the viciousness of the Inquisition and the relentlessness of its pursuit of those who were believed to threaten the authority of the Church. Like its predecessor, this is a big book - not quite so much in pages (although it is a fairly substantial read) but in the breadth of its settings and characters and in the meticulously researched detail. Isabella is happily settled in the tolerant, multicultural city of Venice and is continuing to print books, with her friends Signorina Contarini, Willem and Al-Qasim, when the news is brought to them that the Inquisitor is about to arrive in Venice. Even the Signorina's social status and many powerful contacts are inadequate to protect them from the power of the Church; they must flee. The decision is made to travel so far that even the Inquisitor's spies will be reluctant to follow - to Constantinople, centre of a magnificent but troubled empire, ruled by an eight-year-old boy under the control of a powerful grandmother who had had his father removed from power and killed.
All the characters are beautifully drawn. The relationship that Isabella develops with the young Sultan and his sister is central, but every character is complex and interesting. There are three improbable and beautifully told love stories: Willem's dangerous love affair with the Sultan's slave girl, Suraiya; Al-Qasim's equally dangerous and secret relationship with Luis; and Isabella's own discovery of her feelings for Justinian.
Much of the strength of the novel lies in its fascinating revelation of the Sultan's world, meticulously researched by the author. But the plot is strong, too: Isabella and her friends have underestimated the determination of the Inquisition and their lives are in great peril, quite apart from the hazards of negotiating the murderous intrigues of the Sultan's court.
This was a Notable Book for the CBCA Older Readers' Awards for 2014. Recommendation: This is a book for good readers, from Year 8 upwards. Some will find it daunting at first but it is well worth pursuing. There are many rewards to be had. -HS

Summer of Monsters: The Scandalous Story of Mary Shelley
by Tony Thompson. black dog books, 2014. ISBN 9781742032252. 335 pp.
The girl who grew up to become Mary Shelley was the daughter of two famous writers, the philosopher William Godwin and the feminist Mary Wollstonecraft. Despite an unhappy childhood and a complete lack of any kind of formal education, Mary Shelley became more famous than either of her parents - and not for the scandalous life she chose at age sixteen, running away to Europe with the married Percy Shelley. Mary Shelley's fame rests on the publication of her ground-breaking work Frankenstein, a novel that has never been out of print in the two hundred years since its first release. Frankenstein is seen as the founder of the science-fiction genre and a major contributor to the horror genre. It has also inspired a constant stream of other literary works, including dramatisations and film versions of Shelley's novel. The recent publication of Man Made Boy (annotated above) makes it clear that Frankenstein is still inspiring new creations.
Thompson has written a fictitious biography that follows Mary's life up until that famous night when a group of writers challenged each other to write a story about monsters - the notorious poets Byron and Shelley, Byron's doctor John Polidori (who would go on to write The Vampyre) and the very young Mary, at that time pregnant with Shelley's child but not yet married to him, as his first wife was still alive. Thompson's novel ends with Mary, in the stone cottage overlooking Lake Geneva, writing the first paragraph of her novel - 'the novel that would make her more famous than either of her parents, a book that would last as long as anything by Percy or Byron'.
This is historical fiction and, specifically, literary history, but it is also about social history. Mary's life was scandalous but, as she herself explains in the letter she wrote to her father when she ran away with Shelley, hardly surprising, given her upbringing:

In some sense, I have grown into the sort of woman that you might have created in one of your novels. Nothing you ever said or did with regard to my welfare ever pointed me towards a conventional life in proper society. You have instructed me that it is right to question everything and to accept no proposition on faith. Remember too, dear Father, you are famous all over Europe for exposing marriage as a fraud and suggesting that it only serves to stop two people from following their own minds. You may be angered by my decision but you shouldn't be surprised by it. I am, like Hamlet, to the manor born.

Recommendation: This is very accessible. Use it in Years 9 or 10 alongside a study of Frankenstein in any of its versions - the original novel, in play format or as film. Read some Shelley and Byron. And have copies of Man Made Boy available for extension reading. -HS

Summer of the Seventeenth Doll app. 
Currency Press.
This is a well produced app that supports the study of the play. 
Recommendation: This would be a excellent app to support the study of Lawler’s Summer of the Seventeenth Doll in HSC Standard Module A. An extended review of this title will be published soon in Deb's usual article in English in Australia. -DM

The Truth is a Cave in the Black Mountains: The Graphic Novel
by Neil Gaiman. Headline Publishing, 2014. Headline Publishing Group, 2014. ISBN 9781472221070. 80 pp. Hardcover.
This is a fascinating picture book by a master storyteller.
Recommendation: This would be an excellent text to use as part of a wide reading unit in fthe antasy/horror genre 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

To Brave the Seas: A Boy at War
by David McRobbie. Allen & Unwin, 2013. ISBN 9781743313077. 230 pp.
This is an interesting World War II story, told in the first-person by fourteen-year-old Adam, who joins the merchant navy when war breaks out. McRobbie served in the merchant navy (although not during World War II) and he brings to life the world on board, its rituals and its language, as well as a range of different characters, including the Australian, Diggy, and the Scotsman, Archie, who take Adam under their wing.
McRobbie points out in an Afterword that, on a percentage basis, more merchant sailors died in World War II than in any other branch of the services. Adam's ship is torpedoed and only a few of the crew make it to the lifeboats. Some of the more remarkable incidents in the story are based on real wartime events, such as the discovery by shipwrecked sailors of an abandoned oil tanker in mid-Atlantic, which they board and, with some difficulty, sail home. The triumphant scene towards the end of the book where Adam's captain decides to ram a U-boat in neutral Portugal is fictitious but satisfying.
This is a celebration of the courage and decency of ordinary men, whose behaviour is contrasted with that of the bosses. When Adam's ship is torpedoed, for example, his pay is immediately stopped; his employers take no interest in his fate from the moment when he is unable any longer to work the ship. Similarly, when Adam and his mates bring home the valuable oil tanker and its cargo, the owners, initially, intend to charge them for the clothing and food they have taken from the ship's shop. When a clever lawyer wins compensation for the men for salvaging the ship, they pass the money on to the families of the tanker's dead crew, demonstrating a compassion and selflessness that is very different from the rapaciousness of the shipowners.
Recommendation: This very readable historical novel gives young readers an insight into a world very different from their own. It will be enjoyed especially by boys in Years 7 - 8. Make sure to include it in wide reading selections for that group. -HS

Ubby's Underdogs: Heroes Beginnings
by Brenton McKenna. Magabala Books, 2013. ISBN 9781922142139.  168 pp.
This is the second book in a planned trilogy. It was preceded by Ubby's Underdogs: The Legend of the Phoenix Dragon. It is a wonderful contribution to the range of Indigenous texts available for use with secondary students. Firstly, and most importantly, it is the work of an Indigenous Australian. Secondly, both books published so far are richly inventive and beautifully presented texts that will engage many of our students, including some who have been reluctant to engage with what has previously been offered to them in the classroom. They are fantasy graphic novels set in Broome, drawing on the lives and stories of both the Indigenous peoples of that area and the many newcomers from around the world who have made Broome such a fascinating multicultural community. This has some links to manga but its style is ultimately its own. Ubby is a tough streetwise Indigenous girl who is the leader of ‘a rag-tag group of misfits who make up the town’s smallest gang’ and who, against all the odds, triumph over the bigger, nastier gangs who constantly challenge them.
In the second book of the trilogy, Heroes Beginnings, Sai Fong, the little Chinese girl with extraordinary powers, is missing. The villain appears to be the pearling master, Paul Donappleton, who is greedy and ambitious. Donappleton's son, Scott, is torn between loyalty to his father and a desire to do what is right. Donappleton believes an ancient scroll can give him unlimited powers: are the myths and legends that surround it true? 
Recommendation: It is wonderful to have an Indigenous graphic novel, especially one as powerful as this. Use this at any level in secondary school. -HS

directed by Haifaa Al-Mansour. 2012. Rated PG.
This is the first fictional film made in Saudi Arabia. It is about a young girl’s goal of owning a bike. 
Recommendation: This would be a wonderful film 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

The Wall: A Modern Fable
by William Sutcliffe. Bloomsbury Publishing, 2014 (2013). ISBN 978140883843. 304 pp.
Notice that, like John Boyne's The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas and Morris Gleitzman's Once, the author has called this a 'fable'. That signals immediately that it is a made-up story - made up to teach us a lesson. While the setting of the story is very like the Israeli West Bank and the people who live behind the wall are very like the people we know as Palestinians, Sutcliffe is careful never to suggest that the story is set in a real place. 
Joshua is a troubled boy who lives with his mother and stepfather in a divided city, where a wall and soldiers separate two communities, and the rubble-strewn residue of their broken world gives hints of the old life before the wall was built. Joshua discovers a manhole, which leads to a tunnel, which leads in pitch darkness under the wall and across to the other side. Forbidden territory, dangerous territory, violent territory, which a boy like him - visibly different - shouldn't stray into. An act of kindness from a girl saves his life, but leads to a brutal act of cruelty and a terrible debt he's determined to repay. And no one, no one must find out that he's been there - or the consequences will be unbearable.
Our first view of Joshua reveals the arrogance of the bright adolescent, contemptuous of the security guard who 'is probably a bit stupid'. 'David is my best friend in Amarias, even though he's extremely annoying. Amarias is a strange place. If I were living somewhere normal, I don't think David would be my friend at all.' When he discovers the manhole he is torn between excitement - 'the best adventure playground, the best climbing frame, the best secret hideout I've ever seen' - and 'a feeling I can't quite understand ... something to do with the obvious suddenness with which this place was transferred from a home into a heap of junk'.
Joshua hates his step-father Liev ('my anti-father'), who is a religious fundamentalist with very narrow ideas. He hates living in Amarias: 'All the houses in Amarias are the same. You see new ones going up all the time: first the concrete, sprouting metal bars like a dodgy haircut, then the red roof and the windows, and finally the cladding of stone slapped on like a paint job. This one's different. There's no concrete. Just proper lumps of solid stone.'
On one level this is a boy's adventure story: 'Maybe I ought to work out the risks, remind myself of everything I've been warned about, take stock of what I have to lose ... but that's not the kind of person I am, and it's not who I want to be, either. Mysteries are for solving, walls are for climbing, secret hideouts are for exploring. That's just how things are.'
Joshua's meeting with Leila and her father is transformative. In an attempt to make some restoration for the harm he has caused them, Joshua begins to tend their olive grove, owned by their family for generations but now inaccessible to them, except on the rare occasions when they can get a permit to cross the wall. The arrogant teenager becomes a compassionate human being as he tries to nurture the dying olive trees.
Recommendation: This is a beautifully written novel. It is a book for children - a boy's adventure into a dangerous new world. But it is a book for intelligent children, like Joshua himself - children who can learn that they share a common humanity with people who at first appear to be different. It is unquestionably a pro-Palestinian book, in the sense that it portrays these people who happen to be in circumstances rather like those of the Palestinians as decent human beings, oppressed by their more powerful neighbours. For that reason, it may be a difficult choice for class use in some communities. But its 'lesson' about tolerance and common humanity is very important. If you can, share it with bright kids in Years 7 and 8. -HS

War Brothers: The Graphic Novel
by Sharon E. McKay and Daniel Lafrance. Walker Books, 2014. ISBN 9781406358377. 176 pp.
This story about child soldiers is confronting. In a postscript it is described as 'a book of fiction based on interviews in Gulu, Uganda'. We are informed that events such as those described in the book are not only real but still happening, even though this representation of those events is fictitious, with fictional characters. The book begins with a handwritten note, dated 2002, from the character Jacob, a schoolboy who warns us that we will be reading about 'unthinkable violence and brutal death'. The opening sequence is a bloody ambush of a truck full of children. The attackers, who thought that they were ambushing an army truck, are very young and very distressed; the blood-red graphics emphasise the horror. This is followed by a flashback, to Jacob's school two months earlier and a world that seems normal and full of hope.
Jacob and thirty-seven other boys from his school dormitory are kidnapped by the Lord's Resistance Army. The story focuses on a small group of the boys: Jacob, from whose point of view the story is told; Paul, who had spent his holidays in New York; Norman, a little younger than the others and a gifted mathematician; and Tony, who cannot forgive himself for what he is compelled by his captors to do. All the boys are savagely beaten and deliberately brutalised - forbidden to help each other and forced to participate in the fatal beating of one of them. There is also Hannah, who is glad that she has been punished by having her ears cut off, as her perceived ugliness has saved her from being forcibly married to a soldier. The obscenity is that all of this is happening in the name of a Christian God: 'The Bible says, "And ye shall chase your enemies, and they shall fall before the sword."' The climax is the scene that opened the story - the ambush of the truck.
One of the most disturbing aspects of the story is the attitude of the community to the boys when they escape. Many of them are feared and ostracised, because they have been forced to participate in violence. In a concluding letter, dated 2012, the main character, Jacob, hopes that the telling of the story might lead to understanding and help.
This is a compelling and disturbing read. The violence is confronting, but it is never gratuitous, and there is a sense of hope at the end. The graphic novel format works beautifully. Most interesting is the use of colour, which sets the mood of each sequence. For example, early on the boys expect to be rescued at any moment and the jungle is a lush green; later it is darker, more the colour of army camouflage. We come to dread the blood-red images, but towards the end there is the gentle purple of breaking dawn. There is also an interesting use of frames of various sizes. For example, in the sequence when the boys are flogged to toughen them up, a large frame gives an overview from above of many injured bodies scattered on the ground; subsequent frames focus in close up on just one or two boys. The lion that attacks as the boys escape is an explosive full page of the monster's fangs with the 'RROAARR', in blood-red, opposite three panels of close-ups as the lion attacks the boys' pursuers. The first panel focuses on the terrified eyes of one of the pursuers and Jacob realises that they are the eyes of a boy. Their persecutors were boys like them who had been brutalised and compelled.
Recommendation: I would want to know my class well before using this undoubtedly powerful book as a class text. Some of our refugees have come from terrible situations. There are estimations that there are as many as 250 000 child soldiers in 35 countries, but that terrible statistic is also of course an argument for educating all of us about the situation. There is a note from Amnesty International inside the back cover. I would consider using this from Year 9 upwards. It could be a very interesting text to explore with a Year 11 class. -HS

War Horse
by Michael Morpurgo, illustrated by Rae Smith. Egmont, 2013. ISBN 9781405267960. 214 pp. Hardcover.
This is a very handsome illustrated edition of Morpurgo's now famous novel. The striking black and white illustrations are the work of Rae Smith, who designed the National Theatre production of War Horse. Smith took on the role of Captain Nicholls in the production, drawing his war diary. Those images were projected as background to the story of War Horse on stage. In this book, we see Captain Nicholls drawing Joey, alongside the text where the captain tells Joey that he will honour his promise to Albert to look after him. 
This book is not just a great tribute to the novel, but it is also a source of a wealth of understanding about the nature of World War I, beginning with the end papers mapping the trenches on both sides. The story begins of course in pre-war rural England, which is lovingly evoked by Smith's drawings. For those who have seen the stage production, there is even a goose. 
At the end of Chapter 5 there is a dramatic double-page fold-out showing the angry sea that the ships must cross to take the men and the horses to war. From then on, the illustrations are increasingly dark and confronting. A line of wounded men runs along the bottom of a double page. Another fold-out is full of explosions. Chapter 8 has the nightmare of barbed wire. Interestingly, in Chapter 12 there is a large image of a horse that flows across two pages: that horse is the puppet horse of the stage production, not a drawing of a real horse, as we have seen in the other images. The intertextual reference is a reminder that this superb edition of Morpurgo's story has two different audiences. One audience is obviously young people coming to the story for the first time, for whom the illustrations provide great insight into the times. But there is a second audience - people of all ages who have seen the production on stage and who bring to the reading of this text their memories of the intense emotions that production evoked.
Recommendation: As this is still in hardcover, not many schools will be able to use it as a class set, although it would work beautifully if you could afford it. The novel itself is definitely for students in Years 7 or 8, but this illustrated edition could be used with any age. You would want to give as much attention to the images as to the text. If you can't afford a class set, at least have a few copies for students to explore. Use it as a support to a study of the novel itself or for any study of World War I. Remember that there is also an excellent app for War Horse. -HS

We Were Liars
by E. Lockhart. Allen & Unwin, 2014. ISBN 9781760111069. 225 pp.
This is very contemporary, very compelling and rather uncomfortable reading. The setting is a private island just off the coast of Martha's Vineyard, summer playground of America's wealthy aristocracy. The Sinclair family who have owned the island for generations are the epitome of the beautiful people: 'The Sinclairs are athletic, tall, and handsome. We are old-money Democrats. Our smiles are wide, our chins square, and our tennis serves aggressive.'
And under no circumstances must anything threaten that beautiful image.
The family have built four substantial homes on the island - one for parents, Harris and Tipper, and one for each of their married (and divorced) daughters and their offspring. All family members spend every summer on the island. There are increasing tensions among the daughters, as it seems that their trust funds may be inadequate to maintain them in the manner to which they have become accustomed, but life on the island is paradise for the children: a group of littlies and the four older children - Cadence, Johnny, Mirren and the outsider, Gat. To the family, the four older children are known as the Liars.
Gat, the outsider, first came to the island when the Liars were all eight. He is the nephew of Ed, boyfriend of the divorced Carrie, and of Indian heritage - a striking contrast to 'our white, white family'. Of course they are all too well-bred to be racist, but Gat's otherness becomes a threat the summer they all turn fifteen, when it is obvious that Cadence - the eldest of the generation and presumably the heir - is falling in love with Gat. It is Gat who tells Cadence that to her grandfather, the patriarch, he is Heathcliff: 'There's nothing that Heathcliff can ever do to make these Earnshaws think he's good enough.'
Cadence is the narrator. Her narration opens a little before the year in which she will turn seventeen, and we learn everything in flashback. However, it is confusing flashback, as Cadence has had a terrible accident that has left her with selective amnesia. She has no memory of the accident and only flashes of memory of that fifteenth summer.
The novel is very tautly written. The reader is as eager as Cadence is to find out what it is she cannot remember. The truth, when it hits us, is deeply, distressingly shocking. This is a novel whose ending must never be revealed to anyone who has not yet read it.
As well as a structure that so cleverly conceals the truth - despite the fact that all the clues are there, if we hadn't been too blind to see them, there is much to admire about the writing. The first-person narration in Cadence's voice gives us an incisive look at the life of privilege and the thin veil of normality that must always be kept in place. Cadence describes emotional situations in extreme terms. She watches her father get into the Mercedes and drive away, out of her life and her mother's life, and she explains the pain like this:
Then he pulled out a handgun and shot me in the chest. I was standing on the lawn and I fell. The bullet hole opened wide and my heart rolled out of my rib cage and down into a flower bed. Blood gushed automatically from my open wound,
               then from my eyes,
               my ears,
               my mouth.
It tasted like salt and failure. The bright red shame of being unloved soaked the grass in front of our house, the bricks of the path, the steps to the porch. My heart spasmed among the peonies like a trout.
Mummy snapped. She said to get hold of myself.
Be normal, now, she said. Right now, she said.
Because you are. Because you can be.
Don't cause a scene, she told me. Breathe and sit up.
It's a technique that Lockhart uses frequently through the novel, especially when Cadence is describing the terrible migraines she suffers as she tries to remember.
The other narrative technique that Lockhart uses with great effect is the insertion throughout the narrative of versions of a fairy story about a rich and powerful king with three beautiful daughters.
Recommendation: This is a high-interest novel that will thoroughly engage readers in Years 9 - 10. Consider it too for less academic Year 11 students. Its only flaw as a class-set novel is that you will have to threaten your students with something very dire indeed if anyone discloses the ending before everyone has finished reading.
This would also be a great text for Area of Study: Discovery. Discovery is occurring on two levels: you have the process of Candace trying to remember, to overcome her selective amnesia. That is a process of the slow reveal, as piece by piece glimpses of that fifteenth summer on the island come back to her. But there is another process of discovery - that of the reader. We share in Candace's gradual revelation, but then there is the sudden, terrible shock of the truth. -HS

When We Wake
by Karen Healey. Allen & Unwin, 2013. ISBN 9781742378084. 300 pp.
Sixteen-year-old Tegan Oglietti goes out one day in 2026 to a protest rally in Melbourne and the next thing she knows she is waking up in a military establishment 100 years into the future. It’s quite a shock, as you could understand. The boy she loved, her family and friends are all long dead and yet it was only yesterday to her. A sniper at the rally, who was aiming for the Prime Minister, shot Tegan instead and she was cryogenically frozen and successfully revived decades later. 
The military tell her she is part of a New Beginning project that wants to revive soldiers who have been killed and Tegan, as the daughter of a solder, feels supportive of the project, although she is a feisty character who tries to make sure the military don’t utterly control her utterances and appearances. She is an instant celebrity but starts to realise that all is not right with the project and that she is being manipulated to cover a terrible lie. 
The descriptions of the effects of climate change, the plight of refugees in the No Migration Australia of the future, the underground houses and the societal and education changes make for fascinating and disturbing reading. 
This was longlisted for the 2014 Silver Inky Awards.
Recommendation: Year 8 students would find this a compelling novel for class study.  DM

The Whole of My World
by Nicole Hayes. Woolshed Press, 2013. ISBN 9781742758602. 370 pp.
This very Melbourne-centric novel is set firmly in the peculiar world of Victorian AFL. As the protagonist tells us: 'Even people who hate football - in Melbourne, anyway - have a team. It's like a rule. The moment you're born in this city, or even if you move here, you have to choose a team to barrack for.' The novel chronicles the rituals of the AFL world and the extent to which people's lives revolve around the fate of their team. We see something of the privileged lives of the stars, the devotion of the cheer squads, and the adoration of the groupies.
Shelley's life is dominated by football. When she reluctantly changes school in Year 10, it is because of a shared football obsession that she finds a friend in the rebellious and unhappy Tara. Tara in fact introduces her to the attractions of attending football training and becoming personally acquainted with the players - attractions that are not without their risks. Shelley's crush on Mick, a star player who has recently transferred from Western Australia, gives her at first a reason for living but leads her into uncomfortable territory.
Shelley and her father are living with grief that neither of them can articulate. The only conversation they can have is about football. Shelley's father is too preoccupied with his own feelings to realise that Shelley is in emotional trouble. Throughout the narrative there are hints as to the extent of Shelley's pain, but it is not until page 201 that the reason is revealed. The shock revelation has been carefully prepared for - so much so, that I expect that most readers will have anticipated it. At this point, it becomes obvious that Shelley is suffering from survivors' guilt, as well as grief.
The setting of the novel is the mid to late eighties, at a time when a young Jason Donovan is very much a favourite of the girls at school. Shelley has been hugely frustrated by the fact that her AFL playing days were cut short as she approached puberty; the unfairness of the gender discrimination is one of the issues that the novel explores. I'm not sure that the situation is much better today. Girls have more opportunities of playing, but only in girls'-only teams and without the attention that is given to male players.
This is a coming-of-age novel, with Shelley working through her problems and arriving at a better understanding with her father. There's a gentle romance with a happy ending, in contrast with the dangerous flirtation with the older, married Mick. Shelley's troubled friend, Tara, faces a more hopeful future. And Shelley gets a part-time job in the office of her beloved football team.
This was longlisted for the 2014 Inky Awards.
RecommendationThis is a feel-good novel that girls in Years 7 - 9 will enjoy, especially if they are from Melbourne and understand the bizarre world of AFL. -HS

by Fiona Wood. Pan Macmillan, 2013. ISBN 9781742612317. 367 pp.
This beautifully written novel is a coming-of-age story that explores the nature of love and friendship. The story takes place during the term in which Crowthorne Grammar's Year 9 experience outdoor education at Mt Fairweather. The setting has much the same effect as a crime writer stranding all the characters on an island or an isolated mansion: a small group of characters is brought into intense contact over an extended period of time.
Wood tells the story through two very different voices: Sibylla and Lou. Sibylla, who has never been part of the really popular gang at school, has shot to unexpected prominence when her aunt, a marketer, uses a glamorous photo of her for a billboard advertisement for perfume. She can't help but be flattered when the most popular boy at school, Ben, kisses her at a party, even though she is aware that he is very drunk at the time. She can't help but be delighted when it becomes clear that the wonderful Ben now considers himself to be her boyfriend. Her best friend, Holly, is even more delighted at the reflected glory she experiences as a result of the relationship and is keen to coach Sibylla in how a popular boy's girlfriend is supposed to behave, such as making a fuss about anniversaries.
Lou, the second voice, is writing a journal, on the instructions of her therapist. Lou is in very deep grief, having lost, in an accident, the boy she was in love with. Much of her journal is written directly to Fred. Unable to cope with the sympathy of her former classmates, Lou has reluctantly agreed to change schools and attend Crowthorne Grammar where she knows no one. No one knows of her loss and she is determined to keep to herself. She is treated very badly by the other girls because of her apparent coldness. But despite herself, she is intrigued by the strange relationship between 'best friends' Sibylla and Holly. Her natural empathy gets the better of her resolution to ignore the others: she gives support to the not-very-bright and bullied Annie and to the brilliant loner Michael.
Both girls, although so different, are really sympathetic characters. Sibylla's patience with the increasingly infuriating Holly is frustrating. Lou's pain as she remembers Fred is strongly felt. The use of both voices to tell the story adds considerable depth to our perception of the characters. Wood succeeds in balancing our interest in both characters, and we are not at all surprised that by the end of the novel they have become good friends.
Wood handles the issue of teenage sexuality very well in this novel. With Lou and Fred, it had been easy. They talked about it and then decided that they were ready. Sibylla's situation is very different. Not only is she being pressured by Ben, but Holly is reinforcing the idea that, if she doesn't give Ben what he wants, she risks losing her 'perfect' boyfriend. By contrasting the two relationships, Wood provides insights that she could never have provided if she had simply told one of the girls' stories.
Ultimately, this is a story about betrayal, as well as about love and friendship.
This won the 2014 Children's Book Council of the Year Award for Older Readers.
Recommendation: This will be deservedly popular with readers in Years 7 - 9, especially girls. -HS

The Year It All Ended
by Kirsty Murray. Allen & Unwin, 2014. ISBN 9781743319413. 243 pp.
This is about the aftermath of World War I. Set in Melbourne, it actually begins on the protagonist's seventeenth birthday, Armistice Day, 1918. On that day, everything seems wonderful for Tiney Flynn. She and her family have survived, despite the difficulties. Her mother's German ancestry and the fact that they have German relatives in Australia has been a problem and their father, who used to teach German, has been struggling to make a living, but their most important concern has been fear for Tiney's brother Louis, who went off to the war in August 1914. There had been months of anxiety when they had no news of him but recently, in August 1918, there had been news that he was coming home.
Murray evokes vividly the spirit of the times, especially the excitement at the end of a war that seemed to go on forever. But the end of the war brings its own problems. Some of the men who return are badly damaged. There are even more who won't come home at all, including Louis. And there are concerns for the German cousin, Wilhelm, who fought on the other side.
This is a moving coming-of-age story set against the background of a important period of transition in Australian history.
Recommendation: This will be very popular with girls in Years 7 - 9. -HS

You Don't Even Know
by Sue Lawson. black dog books, 2013. ISBN 9781922179715. 332 pp.
Using the main character Alex as narrator, Lawson slips between the present time when Alex is lying in an induced coma in a hospital bed and the recent past, where we learn about Alex's relationships with the members of his family, his life at school and his passion for water polo. Alex has been hit by a bus, but he has no memory of the accident. As we learn about his family life, we are appalled by the brutality of his domineering father, the bullying of his older brother and the tenderness of his love for his little sister, Mia. It is Mia's death by drowning in the family pool, while Alex was looking after her, that is the pivot of the book.
Without Mia, life seems pointless. Both the medical staff and his family suspect that Alex has walked under the bus deliberately, and Alex himself simply does not know. His doctor has the inspiration to leave him in a ward where the only other patient, Mackie, is dying of cancer. Mackie is beyond the point of being able to communicate directly with anyone, but Alex learns a little about her from her distraught mother and a lot more from Mackie's scrapbook, full of hopes and dreams that will never be realised. In his compassion for Mackie, Alex begins to live again.
The issue that will engage readers most strongly is the relationship between Alex and his father. Ethan, the oldest in the family, is a chip off the old block and is constantly held up as a model for Alex to follow. Alex is despised because he has taken up water polo, instead of joining the school rowing team, in the footsteps of his father and older brother. When Mia drowns and Alex is blamed, a terrible injustice is done.
The characters of the father and older son are perhaps too black. It is difficult to find any redeeming qualities. Even when the truth of the drowning incident is revealed, the father shows no rapport for his younger son. 
This was a Notable Book for the CBCA Older Readers' Awards for 2014. Recommendation: This is an appealing story for Years 7 - 8 about loss, love and family dysfunction. Some reviewers see it as being also about forgiveness, but there is no forgiveness. -HS

The Zigzag Effect
by Lili Wilkinson. Allen & Unwin, 2013. ISBN 9781743313039. 345 pp.
This is an enjoyable novel for girls in Years 7 - 8, with elements of the coming-of-age genre, an innocent romance and a mystery that may even involve a ghost. Sage's family has just moved from Queensland to Melbourne because of her father's job and she is unhappy: she's anxious about having to change schools, missing her friends and unimpressed with Melbourne's climate and the old house they've moved into. The offer of a holiday job helping out in a magician's theatre promises at least a distraction.
Armand the magician has seen better days. He's out of fashion, still specialising in the sort of tricks that involve locking his beautiful young assistant in boxes and appearing to stab her with swords. Bianca is very beautiful but also obviously sad and lonely. Herb, who acts as stage manager, is an aspiring magician, frustrated by Armand's reluctance to try anything new. And there is definitely something odd going on. Bianca insists it's the ghost of a magician who died on stage when a trick went wrong in the 1920s. Sage hopes to use her skills as a photographer to capture the ghost on camera. Herb is scornful, but even Herb has to recognise that there is a mystery when Armand disappears, warnings in blood-red lipstick appear on the mirror in Bianca's dressing-room and Herb and Sage are locked in overnight in a tiny storage room.
The mystery is interesting, but this is not a page-turner based on suspense. The interest lies in the characterisation, both of the theatre people and of Sage and her family, including her little Harry-Potter-obsessed brother, Zacky. The insight into the world of the stage magician is also absorbing, as Sage discovers how some of the tricks work and learns from Herb about the differences between Armand's old-fashioned style of magic and contemporary emphases, especially on mentalism. Sage becomes increasingly uncomfortable about the values inherent in Armand's magic, where the audience is constantly titillated by the possibility of real harm to the beautiful young assistant.
Sage appears to capture 'the ghost' on camera, but her photographer teacher helps her to understand that what we see is not always what it seems. The solution to the mystery of Armand's disappearance is a surprise. Students will want to debate whether the decision to allow the culprit to go free is the right one.
Recommendation: This is a great title to include in a wide reading selection for girls in Years 7 - 8. -HS

Stories of World War I
Boys of Blood and Bone
by David Metzenthen. Penguin, 2003. ISBN 9780143001300. 304 pp.
This has two parallel stories: the young man in the present learning about the story of a boy of the same age who died in World War I. Henry Lyon is eighteen and is enjoying the holidays between the end of school and the beginning of an arts/law course at university. He is driving from Melbourne up the New South Wales south coast when a problem with the car strands him in the small country town of Strattford. On the phone to his girlfriend he describes Strattford as ‘a time warp … like a bad movie’. Andy Lansell, also eighteen, had been killed in France in 1918. His is one of the plaques on a memorial avenue of trees lining the road just out of town. It is Andy’s diary, left to his fiancé Cecelia, that first links the two lives.
Metzenthen is very good at depicting the lives of young men. The parallel stories enable us to understand the similarities in the lives of these eighteen-year-olds, but even more importantly the differences. The young man in the present is so much more privileged and knowledgeable, yet his life has an emptiness that Andy would not have known. Metzenthen has used the Anzac legend to explore some big questions about the purpose and value of life.
The story is told in the third-person, with the point of view shifting between the two characters. Andy’s section always begins with a short excerpt from his diary, but these excerpts are usually more revealing for what is left out than for what is said. The narrative allows the reader to experience feelings that Andy would never have recorded in his diary. The horrendous scenes in the trenches are beautifully written, impeccably researched. 
Teacher’s Notes are available on the Penguin website.
Recommendation: This was popular as a class set in Years 9 - 10 when first published. It’s a substantial read at 304 pages of reasonably small print, making it longer than is perhaps desirable for a shared text, but it still has a great deal to offer. -HS

Evan’s Gallipoli
by Kerry Greenwood. Allen & Unwin, 2013. ISBN 9781743311356. 216 pp.
Kerry Greenwood takes us behind enemy lines in this engrossing account of the Gallipoli campaign from the point of view of a young non-combatant. Fourteen-year-old Evan Warrender has sailed to Gallipoli with his evangelical father to help support the Australian troops with supplies and prayer. As the terrible impact of trench warfare starts to send his father mad, the pair stumble behind the lines and are captured by the Turks. With some help from the enemy they escape, and it is Evan who increasingly takes responsibility for their fate. The pair are aided by a range of kind strangers as they struggle to return home. Friendships are formed and Evan discovers much that binds people together even when separated by race or religion or nationality. They cross Turkey, Thrace and Bulgaria until they finally reach Greece. After more obstacles and a crushing moral dilemma, Evan is able to secure a passage home where a final twist brings the story to its conclusion.
Kerry Greenwood has used the diary form convincingly in this well researched, complex and absorbing novel.
RecommendationEvan's Gallipoli will provide an enriching text for Year 7 students to explore. - DM

Flora's War
by Pamela Rushby. Ford St, 2013. ISBN 9781921665981. 238 pp.
See review above.

The Gallipoli Story
by Patrick Carlyon. Penguin, 2003. ISBN 9780143001430. 192 pp.
This is an excellent factual account for teenage readers, with the emphasis on the personal stories – soldiers, politicians and generals. The text is supported by an excellent selection of evocative photographs and there are some very clear and helpful maps. Boxed text includes interesting background material: daily rations for the troops; a ‘Who’s Who of Gallipoli’; casualty statistics. A brief appendix contains a sample of soldiers’ letters home.
Recommendation: Use this as a class text in Years 9 - 11. Use it as a related text in any unit that involves the study of World War I. -HS

The Girl from Snowy River
by Jackie French. Angus & Robertson, 2012. ISBN 9780732293109. 343 pp.
The time is 1916-1919 and the setting is a rocky farm on the high slopes of the Snowy Mountains. Flinty sees her brothers and neighbours go off to war. Some, such as Flinty's brother Jeff, never return; others, such as older brother Andy and the boy she loves, Sandy, have changed markedly and refuse to talk of their experiences overseas. Flinty's mother dies of a heart attack when she hears of her son's death and her father succumbs to the influenza that swept the world post-war. Rather than staying to look after the family when he gets out of the army, older brother Andy has gone a-drovin' in Queensland. So Flinty, at seventeen, looks after younger siblings, Joey and Kirsty, and tries to eke a living out of trapping rabbits. 
French brings together a wide variety of different elements to tell Flinty's story: stories of the soldiers of World War I and of the traumas they brought back with them; stories of the nurses on the battlefields; the very different experiences of Australia's Vietnam troops; Banjo Paterson's ballads, including the legend of Clancy of the Overflow and of a wild ride to round up mountain brumbies; the struggles of small farmers in a bleak environment; French's own personal experience of crippling back injury. Part of me believes that it shouldn't work, but French is a magic storyteller and as usual she engages her readers. The element that is most unlikely is the presence, in 1919, of the ghost of a Vietnam veteran; Nicholas, who has lost both legs in Vietnam and is in a wheelchair, belongs fifty years into the future and - most oddly - is acquainted with the rather formidable old lady Flinty will become. Nicholas (from the future) and the seventeen-year-old Flinty become friends and confidants; she encourages him to try the artificial limbs that might allow him to walk again and he reassures her that, while life will be hard, happy times are ahead. By juxtaposing Nicholas's experience as a Vietnam veteran alongside the experiences of returned soldiers from World War I, French is able to explore ideas about the wastefulness of war.
This is a grand, sweeping story with some nail-biting moments, especially the two terrifying horse rides. It's an excellent historical novel, vividly evoking both time and place, but its strongest appeal is the character of Flinty. Girls will empathise with her courage and resilience and will rejoice in the eventual happy ending when Sandy admits that he has never stopped loving her. 
Recommendation: Like so many of French's novels, this could work as a class set - for girls in Years 8 or 9, although it would not be my first preference from the very impressive body of work that French has produced. Make sure to introduce it to your girls; add it to a selection of historical fiction, or love or war stories, or stories about resilience. -HS

In Flanders Fields
by Norman Jorgensen and Brian Harrison-Lever. Sandcastle Books 2014 (2002). ISBN
9781920731038. 32 pp.
This award-winning Australian picture book is set on Christmas morning in the trenches of the Western Front in World War I. The illustrations are all sepia and grey, realistic drawings of soldiers in khaki, the muddy fields, the grey of the timber and sandbags lining the trenches, the harsh barbed wire. Against this background there is a vivid spot of red – a robin caught in the barbed wire. The story is clearly inspired by the reports of enemy soldiers laying down their weapons and meeting in no man’s land on Christmas Day.
This won the Children's Book Council of Australia picture book of the year award in 2003.
There are teacher’s notes on the Fremantle Press website.
Recommendation: Use as an additional resource in any unit on war, in any Year. -HS

Light Horse Boy
by Dianne  Wolfer, illustrated by Brian Simmonds. Fremantle Press, 2013. ISBN 9781922089137. 119 pp. Hardcover.
This is a handsome hardcover volume, a companion volume to the previously published Lighthouse Girl. It's a fictional story, firmly based in research, of a young man from the country who joins the Light Horse Regiment at the beginning of World War I and sails off to war. His ship picks up German survivors from the Emden; he discovers that the Emden's captain shares his rapport with horses and confesses, in a letter to his sister, to feeling uneasy about his perception that the 'enemy' is not all that different from friends and family back home.
Jim serves at Gallipolli, where he sees his best friend Charlie blown to bits, and then on various battlefields in the Middle East, in both the medical corps and the veterinary corps. He is severely wounded in Palestine and returns to Australia believing that he will probably be blind for life.
The story is told mostly in letters between Jim and his sister Alice, supported by other documents, and interspersed with some short passages of conventional historical narrative. The text is enhanced by the dramatic black and white sketches and by many photographs from World War I.
Recommendation: This will work as a class set text in Years 7 - 9. It could be used as a companion text to Michael Morpurgo's War Horse, as both are well-researched fictional accounts of the part played by horses in World War I, or it could be used alongside Lighthouse GirlLighthouse Girl uses the same narrative technique of telling the story through a range of different kinds of text, both written and visual. There are a number of direct connections between the two books, including the fact that it is Fay's lighthouse on Breaksea Island off Albany that is the first thing that Jim sees when he tentatively removes the bandages from his eyes. Both are beautifully told, exciting and often moving stories of the experiences of Australian young people in World War I. -HS

Lighthouse Girl
by Dianne  Wolfer, illustrated by Brian Simmonds. Fremantle Press, 2010 (2008). ISBN 9781921696572. 120 pp.
This is obviously a companion to Light Horse Boy, annotated above. It uses the same format: a fictitious story of World War I firmly based in fact and reading like a factual text. Fay, who is based
on a real girl, lives on Breaksea Island with her father, the lighthouse keeper. A large part of the text is her journal, begun as Prime Minister Cook announced that Australia was at war. She writes at first of her isolated life on the island, but then she learns that troopships on their way to the war would be stopping in Albany to take on coal and water and that she will be able to see them quite closely from her island. She begins communicating with the soldiers on board one of the ships by semaphore. She passes messages from them on to their families. She establishes a special rapport with a young man called Charlie who has no family. Months later postcards come, most addressed to 'the little girl on Breaksea Island'. 
Fay and Charlie's story is told through the journal, through postcards, through newspaper extracts, and occasionally in short passages of narrative. The story is told too in the entrancing pictures, especially the sepia photographs from World War I and Simmonds' evocative black and white drawings.
Recommendation: This moving story of World War I would make a great class text for Years 7 - 9. -HS

Loyal Creatures
by Morris Gleitzman. Viking, 2014. ISBN 9780670077427. 154 pp.
See annotation above.

Midnight: The story of a light horse
by Mark Greenwood and Frané Lessac. Walker Books, 2014. ISBN 9781921977718. Hardcover.
See annotation above.

One Minute's Silence
by David Metzenthen and Michael Camilleri. Allen & Unwin, 2014. ISBN 9781743316245. 48 pp. Hardcover.
See annotation above.

Patient 12
by Kevin Summers. Currency Press, 2014. ISBN 9781925005103. 36 pp.
See annotation above.

A Rose for the Anzac Boys
by Jackie French. HarperCollins, 2008. ISBN 9780732285401. 288 pp.
Jackie French is very good indeed in leading young readers into a topic they may not know much about – in this case the conditions that young men and women experienced in World War I and the lifelong impact the war had on the lives of those who survived. 
The story begins on Anzac Day 1975 in the small country town of Biscuit Creek where Lachie has been reluctantly conscripted to push his great-grandfather’s wheelchair in the Anzac Day march. Lachie is mainly worried about being embarrassed – that he might look foolish struggling to push the wheelchair uphill or that his deaf great-grandfather’s too-loud voice will attract unwanted attention. He knows very little about the war his great-grandfather fought in: ‘Did they have guns back in World War I when Pa was young? Or was it swords and bayonet things?’ The book closes with another Anzac Day march in the same town in 2007, with Sergeant Lachlan Harrison recently returned from Afghanistan, continuing his great-grandfather’s tradition of laying a single rose on the memorial.
In between we have the story of young New Zealander Midge Macpherson, who at sixteen is sent to school in England when her brother enlists. Midge and two school friends, frustrated at feeling useless when their brothers and cousins are fighting, set up a canteen for soldiers at a French railway station not far from the Front. What begins as an adventure turns into mind-numbing hours of work as they force themselves to keep going, to provide a cup of cocoa and a sandwich to the hungry men passing through or a smile to the wounded left on stretchers on the station, waiting hours for a train. It is through Midge’s eyes that we see the conditions, in particular the inability of the medical facilities to cope with the slaughter. Midge for a time drives an ambulance and then works, beside her aunt, in a field hospital. As usual, French’s research is extensive and meticulous, and this is a faithful and memorable account of the conditions.
This is also a love story, as Midge meets and corresponds with an Australian soldier – Harry becomes the Pa we see laying the rose on the memorial in the opening scene. Harry, like so many of those who returned, is badly damaged: the deafness that embarrasses Lachie is one of the consequences of his wartime service.
As French explains in notes at the back of the book, the experiences of women in war have not had the attention they deserve. Midge is a strong and appealing character and she is surrounded by other strong – sometimes eccentric – women. As I said, this book is based on thorough research and I kept coming across little details that I didn’t know, such as the fact that British women took to combing their dogs to collect hair that could be woven into light pyjamas for wounded soldiers unable to bear anything heavier on their injuries.
Recommendation: The fact that this begins with Lachie may get boys in – they are notoriously reluctant to read stories with female main characters – and they will enjoy this if you can get them started. Girls will find it a rewarding read. It is a great resource to use if your students are studying World War I in history. It should definitely be considered as a possible class set for Year 9: it is accessible enough to be used with mixed-ability classes. It would be interesting to use it alongside David Metzenthen’s Boys of Blood and Bone, which is a longer and more challenging read and which shows the conditions at the Front through the eyes of an ordinary soldier. -HS

by Justin Fleming. Phoenix Education, 2014. ISBN 9781921586910. 79 pp.
See annotation above.

Soldier Boy
by Anthony Hill. Penguin, 2001. ISBN 9780141003306. 192 pp.
This might be called biographical fiction or fictional biography. Whatever you call it, this was a tremendous success in English classrooms for many years after its publication. With the centenary of the Gallipoli landings in 2015, it might well be time to bring out those old copies from the bookroom - or even invest in a new class set.
This is the story of Jim Martin, the youngest Australian ever to go off to war. Jim signed up at age fourteen and three months. At fourteen and nine months he was dead in a hospital ship off the coast of Gallipoli – not a glorious death from battle wounds but a miserable death from typhoid contracted in the trenches.
Jim's story was unknown except to his family when Tony Hill discovered it, but, once published, Soldier Boy was widely read. Jim's life is remembered now at many Anzac ceremonies.
At fourteen and nine months you don’t leave a lot of documentary evidence behind you, so Tony Hill has had to fill some gaps. This is why it might be said to have some fictional element: but what biography doesn’t? It’s quite a simple narrative but one that students seem to empathise with quite strongly. The main narrative is supported by appendices that include, for example, the boy’s letters home, a letter to his parents from the nurse who was at his deathbed, and the words of the regimental song. Thanks to the appendices it is possible to study a range of factual text types. There is also some excellent supporting visual text.
Hill wrote quite detailed notes on his sources and the assumptions that he made in order to flesh out the few details of Jim's life. Those notes can be found on the Penguin website, described as 'Teaching Notes Supplement'. More precisely, they are academic endnotes. I find Soldier Boy an excellent text to introduce students to a discussion of the nature of non-fiction. I see fiction and non-fiction as a continuum, not a dichotomy. Soldier Boy is closer to the fiction end of the continuum than many biographies, because of the need to fill in some of the gaps, but all non-fiction is shaped by the writer, if only by the decisions that are made as what to include and what to omit. 
There is a detailed module of work on Soldier Boy in The TEXT Book 3, which I edited many years ago for Cambridge University Press. There are also Teacher’s Notes on the Penguin website.
Recommendation: I was happy all those years ago to recommend this very highly for close study of a non-fiction text, as part of a unit on biography or in a unit on war. I'm still happy to recommend it. It can be used anywhere from Years 5 - 11 (the Board of Studies’ list of recommended resources for the previous 7-10 syllabus recommends it for Years 7 - 8), but consider the advantages of using it in Year 9 to integrate with the history curriculum. -HS

War Horse
by Michael Morpurgo. Egmont, 2007 (1982). ISBN 9781405226660. 182 pp.
There is also a new edition, published in 2014, with a cover provided by Rae Smith, who designed the stage production and who illustrates the handsome hardcover edition published in 2013. The ISBN for the new 2014 edition of the novel, which is also published by Egmont, is 9781405271882.
Despite all the publicity that accompanied the advertising for the stage performance of Morpurgo's novel, War Horse was not a bestseller when it was first released. In fact, it took two years to sell as many copies as Morpurgo's new titles now achieve in a matter of weeks. However, I've always liked it. I thought it was a good class set novel in 1982, and it's even better now, with a much better cover, the support of the app dedicated to the book (see the notes below in the section on apps) and some terrific video available online of the development of the stage production.
This is a very moving war story, told through the experiences of farm boy Albert and his beloved horse Joey, which is commandeered by the British army at the beginning of World War I. Morpurgo has based the story on meticulous research: many thousands of farm horses crossed the Channel to be used in the war effort and most of them were injured and killed by the deadly new weapons of war. Morpurgo is very successful in evoking the terrifying atmosphere of the battlefield.
The most interesting feature of this novel is Morpurgo's decision to use first-person narration - in the voice of Joey, the horse. It shouldn't work; it should seem clunky, or cute, or sentimental. But it's exactly right, and very powerful.
Interestingly, the ending of the stage performance is a little different from that of the original novel and, I think, an improvement. That's a question that you could explore with students.
Recommendation: Consider this as a class set novel for Year 7. -HS

War Horse
by Michael Morpurgo, illustrated by Rae Smith. Egmont, 2013. ISBN 9781405267960. 214 pp.
See annotation above.

War Horse app
produced by Touch Press. $9.95
This is a rich resource to support the study of Michael Morpurgo's novel War Horse, but it would be valuable as well for any work on World War I. It includes an ebook version of the novel, which also has audio, the text read by author Morpurgo while the lines he is reading are highlighted. There is an engaging eighty-minute performance version of the novel, presented by Morpurgo accompanied by two musicians. There is a detailed World War I timeline; readers can browse the entire timeline or they can follow one of a long list of 'themes', such as horses, the war at sea, civilians, particular theatres of war and particular battles. There is also a section in which various experts talk about the role that horses played in World War I and their fate. -HS

When We Were Two
by Robert Newton. Penguin Books, 2011. ISBN 9780143566830. 193 pp.
This much-awarded novel focuses on an aspect of Australian history that young people probably know little about. During World War I, recruits from country towns marched to the coast to join up. The two boys who are the protagonists of this story are taken under the wing of such a group of would-be soldiers, marching across the mountains from Walcha to Port Macquarie. The boys have already made a long journey from Gunnedah, where they have fled an abusive father. The older boy, Dan, hopes that they might be reunited with their mother, who had left home some time before. Younger brother Edie is brain-damaged, after a near-drowning accident.
This is an episodic novel that follows the stages of Dan and Edie's journey. Along the way they encounter and get the better of a pedophile, meet a girl to whom Dan is strongly attracted, and travel with a Chinese hawker who is subjected to racist violence. Dan feels heavy responsibility for his disabled brother, who becomes the recruits' mascot and flag-bearer. The novel is ultimately a bildungsroman, with Dan developing into manhood as a result of his experiences.
Recommendation: This is a deeply moving book that offers rich possibilities for class study in Years 7 - 8. -HS

by Nikolai Popov. North-South Paperbacks 1998 (1996). ISBN1 9781558589964. 48 pp.
The great advantage of this is that it is a wordless text, which ensures that students engage with the visual story. It is a provocative look at the causes of violence and the escalation of conflict and aggression. The use of colour is particularly important to the development of the story. The book begins with bucolic scenes that could come out of The Wind in the Willows – the characters are mice and toads - and ends with scenes reminiscent of the battlefields of World War I. The theme is the senselessness of violence.
Recommendation: While this is not specific to World War I, Popov has definitely taken his inspiration from the trenches of that war, and it would be a very useful addition to any unit of work on the War. -HS

The Year It All End
by Kirsty Murray. Allen & Unwin, 2014. ISBN 9781743319413. 243 pp.
See annotation above.

Young Digger
by Anthony Hill. Penguin, 2002. ISBN 9780141000626. 300 pp.
This was less successful than Soldier Boy – although many schools reported that boys read it, of their own volition, after enjoying Soldier Boy. It’s less satisfying for the very reason that non-fiction is different from fiction: it fizzles at the end (because that is what happened to the protagonist’s life), whereas a fictional account would have had a nice, shaped, satisfying resolution. Nevertheless, it is a readable account of an interesting personal story from World War I and an excellent picture of the battlefields of Europe just after the war. ‘Young Digger’ was a French war orphan who wandered into the mess of an Australian air regiment in Germany on Christmas Day 1919. The Australians adopted him as their mascot – then smuggled him home.
Recommendation: Use as a related text in any unit on World War I. Add it to a collection of biographies. Use it as extension reading for classes studying Soldier Boy.

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