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

 

 

June 17 2021

Pawcasso, by Remy Lai

Pawcasso

Pawcasso, by Remy Lai

Title: Pawcasso
Author: Remy Lai
Genre/ issues: Middle grade. Graphic novels. Pets. Family and relationships.

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.

Oh what a fluffy warm hug of a book this is! Pawcasso by Remy Lai is a middle grade graphic novel that ticked all the boxes for me this afternoon. A super-sweet story about Pawcasso, a grocery-shopping pooch who picks up a follower on his Saturday trip to the markets when Jo spots him out the window and follows him, intrigued. She runs into some kids from school who mistakenly assume this adorable pooch is hers, and she doesn’t correct them. No harm, right? Well, we know how these things go – and Jo needs to decide if she’ll risk her new friendships by admitting the truth. Funny, sweet, and beautifully illustrated – a highly recommended addition to your collection!

#TamaraReads #2021readingchallenge 81/2021

Happy reading,

Tamara

 

 

June 12 2021

We Dream of Space, by Erin Entrada Kelly

We dream of space

We Dream of Space, by Erin Entrada Kelly

Title: We Dream of Space
Author: Erin Entrada Kelly
Genre/ issues: Middle grade. Historical fiction. Family/ relationships.

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 gem of a book. We Dream of Space hit me in all the 12-year-old-Tamara feels, from the focus on the Challenger shuttle disaster to the obsessions with Star Wars, from the sense that you don’t quite belong to the feeling of being not quite “enough” at anything. And then the suckerpunch for 46-year-old-Tamara? The fact that this book, so intensely familiar to me with its 1986 setting, is labelled “historical fiction”. Ouch.
The main action of this book covers the month of January 1986, and Bird and her brother’s social science teacher is counting down. She’d applied for the Teacher in Space program, a spot that eventually went to Christa McAauliffe, who I wanted to be, and whose motto about her life is one I’ve used to guide my career. Bird is obsessed with space, and equally obsessed with machines – she pulls apart anything vaguely mechanical she can get her hands on and draws her own “birds eye view” schematics of how they work, in an effort to make sense of her world. Her twin brother Fitch spends every moment possible playing Major Havoc at the arcade, and wrestles with an explosive temper he doesn’t understand. And their older brother Cash is in the same grade as them after failing the previous year, loves basketball but isn’t good enough, and feels like a failure at everything. They share a house with their parents who constantly fight, but they all exist in their own orbits, with their own dreams of of hope, belonging, friendship, family and space.
This is a truly special read, and even though I knew it was going to break my heart to revisit January 28, 1986, I felt so cherished and supported along with these wonderful characters through Kelly’s beautifully sensitive and compassionate writing that I was happy to go on that journey again. This is going to be one of my best books of the year, I can feel it. Not just the best middle grade book, but one of the best overall.

#TamaraReads #2021readingchallenge 77/2021

Happy reading,

Tamara

 

 

June 8 2021

Center of Gravity, by Shaunta Grimes

Center of Gravity

Center of Gravity, by Shaunta Grimes

Title: Center of gravity
Author: Shaunta Grimes
Genre/ issues: Middle grade. Family and relationships.

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 thought Center of Gravity by Shaunta Grimes was YA when I picked it up, and from the blurb I was expecting something quite heavy. Instead, I found myself immersed in a lovely, sad, but ultimately exceedingly hopeful middle grade novel about Tessa, who has always been anxious, and since her mother’s death has been cutting the photos of missing kids of milk cartoons and memorising their details, in an attempt to feel less alone. Then her father announces he is about to get remarried – and his much younger fiancée is pregnant. Tessa finds herself living in a new city, with a stepmother who has her own mental health issues, and a new group of friends who are facing their own family dramas. She soon realises that if she wants to gain control of her life, she might need to let go of a few things.
This book deals with some heavy topics – death of a parent, parental neglect and parental abuse amongst the most challenging of them. And whilst these aren’t easy topics to read about, they are handled with a lightness of touch that acknowledges their impact and seriousness without dwelling on the gory details. It’s a lovely piece of writing with an utterly beautiful cover!

#TamaraReads #2021readingchallenge 76/2021

Happy reading,

Tamara

 

 

June 8 2021

The Book of Chance, by Sue Whiting

Book of Chance

The Book of Chance, by Sue Whiting

Title: The Book of Chance
Author: Sue Whiting
Genre/ issues: Middle grade. Family and relationships. Mystery.

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.

It’s always a relief when you read a book by someone you know and like, and discover the book is really good so you don’t have to do that polite diplomatic review so you don’t offend or upset them! The Book of Chance by Sue Whiting is one of those. Mystery isn’t usually my genre, which is probably why it’s taken me a while to get to this one, but I thoroughly enjoyed it, and curled up on campus today with a coffee and a blanket scarf I devoured it in one sitting!
Chance Callahan has no time for fakery in her life, and holds everyone around her to pretty high standards. So what happens when Chance discovers a truth that threatens to derail her trust in someone she loves dearly, and to turn her world completely upside down?
I loved the structure which sees us start at the end of Chance’s story, the authentic characters, and the glimpses of Wollongong and its surrounds that are so familiar to me. This middle grade novel is totally worthy of its position on the CBCA younger readers shortlist this year, and is a masterclass in engaging and compelling storytelling. And phew – no diplomatic platitudes required in this review!
The only possible content warning, if you have sensitive young readers or those with recent vehicular trauma, is the (spoiler alert!!!) description of a car accident with multiple fatalities. Sensitively told, no explicit details, not traumatic unless it’s likely to be personally triggering for a reader. A cracker of an Australian novel for upper primary or lower secondary readers.

#TamaraReads #2021readingchallenge 75/2021

Happy reading,

Tamara