November 2 2021

Other Words For Home, by Jasmine Warga

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Other Words for Home, by Jasmine Warga

Title: Other Words For Home
Author: Jasmine Warga
Genre/ issues: Middle grade. Verse novel. Refugee/ migrant issues.

Shop local where you can: For Australian readers, you can find this book on Booktopia, or support your local independent bookstore. US readers, check out Bookshop.org.

“Hoping,
I’m starting to think,
might be the bravest thing a person can do.”

Other Words for Home is a breathtaking verse novel for middle grade readers, written with sensitivity, heart, and a beautiful lyricism that carries you from page to page.
Jude loves her family and her best friend in Syria, but when things in her hometown become volatile, she moves with her mother to live with relatives in Cincinnati. It doesn’t feel like home – it’s too fast, too loud, and the language is too different. But she finds hope in unexpected places – her ESL class, her new friends, and the school play that she might try out for. Jude finds her way in a new and unfamiliar place, trying to figure out whether home is where she has come from or where she is now. And as she finds home, she might also find herself.
@jasminewargabooks explores some heavy topics, such as racism, identity and belonging, and this book balances the depth and darkness of these experiences with a light and gentle touch. A beautiful story, beautifully written.

#TamaraReads #2021readingchallenge 184/2021

Happy reading,

Tamara

 

 

October 15 2021

Julia and the Shark, by Kiran Millwood Hargrave

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Julia and the Shark, by Kiran Millwood Hargrave

Title: Julia and the Shark
Author: Kiran Millwood Hargrave
Genre/ issues: Middle grade. Family/ relationships. Mental health. 

Shop local where you can: For Australian readers, you can find this book on Booktopia, or support your local independent bookstore. US readers, check out Bookshop.org.

“I am ten years and two hundred and three days old. I had to ask my dad to work that out for me, because numbers are not my favourite. Words are. You can make numbers into words, but you can’t make words into numbers, and so words must be more powerful, mustn’t they?”
Sigh. Have I already said I had a favourite middle grade book for the year? Whatever it was, I think it has some serious competition. Julia and the Shark is written by @kiran_mh and illustrated by @tomdefrestonart, and it’s a stunning book. Julia tells us the story of the summer she spent at a lighthouse with her father, who was trying to fix the lights, and her marine biologist mother, who was trying to find a shark. Not just any shark, though. One older than the trees, moving though the water slowly for centuries, and possibly holding a secret that might help people, if only they could unlock the mysteries it holds. Julia loses her mother, though, and she finds the shark. Don’t worry. That’s not spoilery.
There is something deeply poetic about this novel, pure and passionate, and at once both deeply profound and deeply simple. If I had read this as a child, I’d have resonated deeply with Julia. As an adult, I feel strongly connected to both her father, struggling to hold everything together for the people he loves, and her mother, who (spoiler alert!) is dealing with some mental health issues.
Content warnings: this book depicts a parent with bipolar, and the impact of their extremes on the people around them, including an overdose of pills which is presented with a profoundly sensitive touch. The emphasis is very much on the power of acknowledging mental health issues and seeking appropriate help.
I know, it sounds heavy. It’s really not. It’s such a beautiful narrative, supported and enhanced by the incredible art of de Freston. I am in awe of this book. I’ll be reading it again.

#TamaraReads #2021readingchallenge 173/2021

Happy reading,

Tamara

 

 

October 13 2021

The Curiousities, by Zana Fraillon and Phil Lesnie

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The Curiousities, by Zana Fraillon and Phil Lesnie

Title: The Curiousities
Author: Zana Fraillon
Illustrator: Phil Lesnie
Genre/ issues: Picture book. Neurodivergence. Fantasy.

Shop local where you can: For Australian readers, you can find this book on Booktopia, or support your local independent bookstore. US readers, check out Bookshop.org.

I usually do picture books posts in a set of 3 or 4, but the couple I wanted to share today are worthy of their own posts. The Curiosities by @zanafraillon and @phillesnie is breathtaking. Miro wakes one morning to find that the world is a little different. The Curiosities have chosen to nest on him, and they help him to discover all the marvels that hide in the shadows where no-one looks. Sometimes it’s wonderful, as he explores the world in new and different ways – but sometimes, the shadowy Curiosities that float around him make Miro feel alone and invisible.
There are so many layers to this wonderful book. On the surface, it could be seen as a lovely story about looking at the world differently, but there are myriad beautiful celebrations of disability and diversity, and a strong message about taking pride in who you are and what makes you you. Zana talks in the endnotes about drawing on her family experiences with Tourette syndrome, and about the importance of recognising how differently abled we all are. Phil reflects on the impact of his Filipino heritage on his illustrations, and his musing on how neurodivergence might be different in a world which valued and elevated brain difference, rather than viewed it as an impairment.
A powerful book, told with gentleness, sweetness and sensitivity. This is my favourite picture book of the year.

#TamaraReads #2021readingchallenge 169/2021

Happy reading,

Tamara

 

 

October 13 2021

There’s a Ghost in This House, by Oliver Jeffers

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There’s a Ghost in This House, by Oliver Jeffers

Title: There’s a Ghost in This House
Author: Oliver Jeffers
Genre/ issues: Picture book

Shop local where you can: For Australian readers, you can find this book on Booktopia, or support your local independent bookstore. US readers, check out Bookshop.org.

What a delightful book! There’s a Ghost in This House by @oliverjeffers takes us on a journey through a house which on the face of it, appears to be largely empty. The young girl who lives there is convinced it’s haunted, but she’s not actually ever seen a ghost. As we turn the pages, though, we get a glimpse of some of her ghostly housemates. Translucent pages add additional layers to the existing beautiful artwork. Did you know that the collective noun for a group of ghosts is “a Fraid of ghosts”? Neither did I, but that’s just one of the joys I discovered in this beautiful picture book. Stunning.

#TamaraReads #2021readingchallenge 168/2021

Happy reading,

Tamara

 

 

July 31 2021

Truly Tyler, by Terri Libenson

Truly Tyler

Truly Tyler, by Terri Libenson

Title: Truly Tyler
Author: Terri Libenson
Genre/ issues: Middle grade. Graphic novels. Friendship.

Shop local where you can: For Australian readers, you can find this book on Booktopia, or support your local independent bookstore. US readers, check out Bookshop.org.

I had plans to keep reading my Murakami today, but the headache that’s threatening to develop into a migraine has kept me laid up in the dark for most of the day. I didn’t want to let the day pass by completely story-free, though, so I decided to finish this delight. Truly Tyler is the latest edition to the Emmie & Friends series by @terrilibenson, and we get to learn more about Tyler as he teams up with Emmie to work on a comic for their art project. Both Tyler and Emmie are dealing with some friendship issues – Tyler has had enough of friends teasing him over his new “girlfriend”, and Emmie is worried that the people who are teasing her friend Sarah are looking at her the same way too.
I love the “story within a story” structure of this, as the alternate chapters from both main characters’ points of view are interspersed with the comic book that they are writing together. A great middle grade read, with a nice mix of comic/graphic and text elements that make it an easy and engaging read.

.

#TamaraReads #2021readingchallenge 117/2021

Happy reading,

Tamara

 

 

July 24 2021

Pirate Stew, by Neil Gaiman and Chris Riddell

Pirate Stew

Pirate Stew, by Neil Gaiman and Chris Riddell

Title: Pirate Stew
Author: Neil Gaiman
Illustrator: Chris Riddell
Genre/ issues: Picture books. Comedy.

Shop local where you can: For Australian readers, you can find this book on Booktopia, or support your local independent bookstore. US readers, check out Bookshop.org.

Neil Gaiman and Chris Riddell are possibly my favourite storyteller/illustrator combination. I heard Neil read Pirate Stew at his show in Perth last February, just before the world went mad, and I knew without question that Chris’ illustrations would be perfect. I was not wrong. A delightful tale of 2 siblings whose babysitters turn out to be pirates, and when dinner time arrives, their go-to recipe is for the eponymous pirate stew. The only problem? When you eat pirate stew, you become a pirate too! This is not what the children want, do they avoid consuming the concoction – but they do go on an epic piratical adventure! A jolly delight.

#TamaraReads #2021readingchallenge 110/2021

Happy reading,

Tamara

 

 

July 4 2021

Heroes of the secret underground, by Susanne Gervay

Heroes

Heroes of the secret underground, by Susanne Gervay

Title: Heroes of the secret underground
Author: Susanne Gervay
Genre/ issues: Middle grade. Historical fiction. WW2. Timeslip.

Shop local where you can: For Australian readers, you can find this book on Booktopia, or support your local independent bookstore. US readers, check out Bookshop.org.

Historical fiction isn’t usually my genre, but when a dear friend writes a novel inspired by the experiences of her family, I’ll make an exception. Heroes of the Secret Underground by Susanne Gervay is a time slip novel in which Louie, Bert and Teddy find themselves transported from the grand old hotel they live in with their grandparents in Sydney, back to a world at war – Budapest, 1944. As Louie attempts to unravel the secrets of the rose-gold locket that acted as their portal to the past, she also uncovers other secrets that her grandparents never speak of – painful memories of a painful past that Louie and her brothers find themselves trapped in.
It’s often hard to effectively convey the pain and trauma of events such as war in narratives for younger readers, but this book does that really well. Susanne’s personal connection with this story – inspired by her own family’s escape from Budapest during the war – shines through, and there’s a real sense of love and heart in this novel. The enduring message of learning from the mistakes of the past is evident, and I love the emphasis on the power of each individual’s story to make a difference.

#TamaraReads #2021readingchallenge 104/2021

Happy reading,

Tamara

 

 

July 1 2021

Shockingly good stories, by RA Spratt

Shockingly good stories

Shockingly good stories, by RA Spratt

Title: Shockingly good stories
Author: RA Spratt
Genre/ issues: Middle grade. Comedy. Short stories. Fractured fairy tales

Shop local where you can: For Australian readers, you can find this book on Booktopia, or support your local independent bookstore. US readers, check out Bookshop.org.

I have to admit, I’d not read anything by RA Sprett before I picked up this gem. I’ve met her, I’ve admired her passion for storytelling and her ability to engage with her readers, and I’ve gifted many of her books to people in my life (including the reader pictured!) but I’d not gotten around to reading any of her work myself. Shockingly Good Stories is an incredibly entertaining collection of short stories – fractured fairytales from Nanny Piggins, previously unpublished Friday Barnes mysteries, and a bunch of other witty, hilarious and entertaining tall tales. It’s perfect for fans of her work, or for those who need convincing that they should really pull that box set they bought last year off their shelf and get stuck into it! (Yes, self, I’m looking at you.)
One of the things I love the most about the writing in this collection is how much Spratt obviously respects her young readers. Some stories deal with some fairly higher-order concepts, including stereotypical gender roles and discrimination. Spratt manages to handle the complexity of these issues with both brevity and humour, without talking down to her readers – there’s an implicit acknowledgment and respect of the ability of young readers to understand and appreciate the nuances of such ideas. I’m definitely a fan, and will be incorporating some of the storytelling tips scattered throughout the book into any future presentations on why stories matter.
This gem is out tomorrow – it’d be a great gift, or a fab addition to your read-aloud story collection.

#TamaraReads #2021readingchallenge 102/2021

Happy reading,

Tamara

 

 

June 30 2021

Are you there, Buddha? by Pip Harry

Are you there, Buddha?

Are you there, Buddha? by Pip Harry

Title: Are you there, Buddha?
Author: Pip Harry
Genre/ issues: Middle grade. Verse novels. Coming of age.

Shop local where you can: For Australian readers, you can find this book on Booktopia, or support your local independent bookstore. US readers, check out Bookshop.org.

Happy book birthday to the wonderful Are You There, Buddha? by the very talented Pip Harry. The second I saw this book I was transported back to my early teens, reminded of the impact that Judy Blume’s novel had on me, and I was thrilled to discover that the title was no coincidence. The verse novel introduces us to Bee, whose mother left to find herself in an ashram in India, and whose stepmother gives her a copy of Are you there, God? It’s me, Margaret, in her ongoing attempts to connect with her. Bee reluctantly admits that it’s not a completely terrible book, and starts talking to Buddha in an attempt to feel connected with her mother, and begs for her first period to not arrive. Bee is a talented swimmer, and whilst she doesn’t have a close group of friends at school, her BFF Leon is a surfer, a fellow member of the swim team, and the hottest guy in year 8.
We follow Bee through starting high school, navigating a swim season, dealing with family changes, and her experiences with puberty hitting whether she’s ready for it or not, against the backdrop of bush fires, smoke haze and water restrictions. It’s beautifully written, insightfully capturing the voice of a unique, engaging and resilient main character who I quickly loved and cared about. Whilst it’s a beautiful homage to Blume’s timeless novel, Are You There, Buddha? is an important and powerful novel all of its own. A must-read for middle-grade and YA readers who could do with some reassurance that their experiences of navigating family, friends, and their changing bodies are completely normal, as well as adults who could do with the reminder of just what our young people are dealing with. A joyous, sweet and emotional book that is one of my favourites of the year so far.
Content notes (and spoilers): contains description of parental pressure and abuse of a side character, and description of the process of figuring out how tampons work. Neither are extended or explicit, and are presented with a gentle and insightful sensitivity and honesty to support readers and Bee through these experiences. It’s out today- get yourself a copy!

#TamaraReads #2021readingchallenge 101/2021

Happy reading,

Tamara

 

 

June 22 2021

A pile of picture books

 

Shop local where you can: For Australian readers, you can find this book on Booktopia, or support your local independent bookstore. US readers, check out Bookshop.org.

Picture booksTitle: Eyes that kiss in the corners
Author: Joanna Ho
Illustrator: Dung Ho
Genre/ issues: Picture books. Asian representation. Diversity and acceptance.

Title: I am every good thing
Author: Derrick Barnes
Illustrator: Gordon C James
Genre/ issues: Picture books. Black excellence. 

Title: I am perfectly designed
Author: Karamo Brown
Illustrator:
Genre/ issues: Picture books. Family. Self esteem.

📚Eyes That Kiss in the Corners  a love story to family connections and to celebrating oneself. A young girl notices her eyes are different to her friends … but her eyes kiss in the corners and shine glow like warm tea, crinkle like crescent moons, and are filled with stories of the past and hope for the future. It’s a beautiful book, and one is highly recommend.

📚I Am Every Good Thing is a powerful celebration of Black boyhood, of all the amazing features that make each individual special and unique and wonderful. Stunning artwork, and a powerful emphasis on the importance of recognising your place in the community of strong men who have come before you.

📚And continuing the theme of “books which celebrate YOU”, I am Perfectly Designed. Super sweet illustrations with a diverse range of skin colours represented, it tells the story of a conversation between a father and son reminiscing on their past experiences together, and about how perfectly designed they are for each other and for the role they play in the world. So lovely, it’s be a wonderful text to read with someone you love to remind them how special they are.
Picture books setTitle: Oona
Author: Kelly DiPucchio
Illustrator:
Genre/ issues: Picture books. Fantasy. Exploration

Title: Ernest the Elephant
Author: Anthony Browne
Genre/ issues: Picture books. Exploration. Family. 

Title: Small in the city
Author: Sydney Smith
Genre/ issues: Picture books. Isolation. City life.

📚Oona is a fabulous mermaid with an appetite for adventure, by @kellydipucchio and @rizzyfig. She spends her time treasure hunting with her pal Otto, and she’s got her eye on a particularly sparkly treasure, but it lurks too far down in the deep for her to reach. Does she look like that’s going to stop her, though? I adore this book, and I’m always enthralled by illustrations that are obviously 2d but convey such a sense of movement and life. This is a gem!

📚The Shape Game by Anthony Browne is one of my favourite picture books to teach, so when I saw Ernest the Elephant I knew I’d be adding it to my pile. Ernest is on a trek with his family when he spots the forest, and despite warnings from his mother, he decides to go exploring … but of course he gets lost! Vibrant, engaging, and as full of life and hidden adventures as you would expect from this master artist.
📚Small in the City, by Sydney Smith. Wow. It’s hard to capture in a brief description what this book is about, because the deceptively simple narrative about being lost in the city is so multilayered and complex. It’s visually stunning, and lends itself to a number of rereadings as you get lost alongside our protagonist. This could definitely be a favourite for the year.
I didn’t select these three books to be posted together for any particular reason, but now I’m realising that they all have the overarching theme of finding your way in your world as someone small – in the ocean, forest or city, there’s always a place for the littlest of us. If you’re after a book for a little person in your life, you can’t go wrong with any of these, but I’d perhaps recommend Smith’s as suitable for older readers as well. It’s be a great text for visual analysis in an upper primary context I think!

Picture booksTitle: Where the heart is
Author: Irma Gold
Illustrator:
Genre/ issues: Picture books. True story. Environment.

Title: Hike
Author: Pete Oswald
Genre/ issues: Picture books. Worldless. Family. 

Title: Leilong the library bus
Author: Julia Liu
Illustrator: Bei Lynn
Genre/ issues: Picture books. Libraries. Stories.

Title: The art of words
Author: Robert Vescio
Illustrator: Joanna Bartel
Genre/ issues: Picture books. Words and language.

📚Where The Heart Is, by @irma.gold and @oh.susannah.illustration is the beautiful story of Bindim, a young penguin who washes up on the beach in Brazil and is rescued by Joao who nursed him back to health. Based on a true story, it’s a lovely celebration of the power of friendship, and it’s so beautifully illustrated!
📚Hike by @peteoswald follows a father and son on a hike. Almost completely wordless apart from some onomatopoeiaic words, it’s utterly lovely, displaying both the beauty of nature and of the bond between parent and child. Stunning.
📚I can’t resist a picture book about libraries. A dinosaur library book? Hell yes! Leilong the Library Bus by Julia Liu and Bei Lynn sees Leilong try to join his friends at Storytime – but he doesn’t have a library card and is too big to successfully follow the rules! A super cute book which emphasises that libraries are for everyone.
📚The Art of Words by Robert Vescio and Joanna Bartel is my favourite kind of book – one that celebrates the magic and power of words, with a nod to the important role that punctuation can play in how we engage with words. An absolute gem.

#TamaraReads #2021readingchallenge 85-94/2021

Happy reading,

Tamara