Book Reviews

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Letters From Rapunzle

Published July 6, 2014 by electricbluegaloo

Letters from RapunzelLetters from Rapunzel by Sara Lewis Holmes

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is the story for anyone who loves fairy tales and the power they have to transport and transform. 12 year old “Rapunzel” is struggling to find her feet at a new school, a task made all the more difficult by the fact that she’s “three standard deviations above the norm” and her dad, beloved, strong and heroic, has been hospitalised with CD, Clinical Depression, the Evil Spell.
The story is told beautifully through the letters from “Rapunzel” to the mysterious owner of Post Box #5667 with a yearning and confusion that is balanced by a quirky and mischievous sense of humour. The retelling of fairy tales throughout demonstrates the creativity of both the protagonist and author herself. That “Letters from Rapunzel” won the Ursula Nordstrom First Fiction Contest attests to this being a very promising beginning to Sara Lewis Holmes career as a children’s author. She has tackled a difficult topic with sensitivity and a well developed understanding of Clinical Depression from the point of view of the child.
I would recommend this book to anyone looking to move on from (or to compliment their reading of) the traditional fairy tale, parents, teachers and anyone who would like to gain further insight into the experiences of children whose parent are effected by mental health issues.

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In Defense of The Hunger Games

Published July 12, 2013 by electricbluegaloo

In my current position I have the privilege to work in all the faculties of my high school. This means at one point I can be introducing a class of year 11 English students to the themes of Love and War, and in the next time lapse I’ll be sitting  in a completely different staffroom and overhear the teachers aghast that the English staff are teaching The Hunger Games now, oh my.

I shouldn’t make out that The Hunger Games is a walk in the park.  Anyone who’s read it knows there are some truly horrific moments, but what I really can’t stand is people making judgements, and particularly those strong negative judgments, about books they’ve never read and fully admit to having no intention of ever reading.

For those who haven’t read The Hunger Games here is a short summary: a teenage girl, grieving the loss of a parent, fights for survival against tyrannical ruler hell-bent on her death. Woops. That’s Snow White I’m thinking of.  President Snow doesn’t even want to eat Katniss’ heart, yet Disney’s Snow White is the movie we happily plonk our 5 year olds in front of (actually mine has never seen it based on the it’s-way-too-freaky-for-my-house policy.)

Perhaps it’s the kids hunting down kids that’s so disturbing, but isn’t that what happened in Lord of the Flies, a novel read by generations of year 9 students . . .

Yes it’s bad, what happens. Not just bad – incredibly and heart-wrenchingly beyond what we imagine humanity to be capable of.  But so are the events in The Book Thief, which is the novel the other year 11 class studied. The Book Thief is a horrific story in ways that The Hunger Games can only dream of.  A line of starving men scrambling for crumbs after they are paraded through town for being the scum of the earth. Two Papas taken away for displeasing the Nazi Party. Fiction verses fictionalised narrative, clever poetic language verses unpretentious and accessible storytelling. I’m enjoying The Book Thief, but I can see why the critics loved it. The language is so disturbingly poetic it reminds me of the scene in that Hannibal Lector film where the unfortunate dinner guest is forced to eat his own brain.  Is it style over substance that makes The Book Thief a more acceptable literary legacy for our future leaders? To come back to the point about critics loving it we have to caress that old pearl (compressed coal, for those of you who’ve read The Hunger Games)- who is the target audience? The average 16-17 year old is not in love with the juxtaposition of a unique personification, or pontification.  And let’s be honest some of the finer points of irony are lost on the teenage brain.  This is sounding like I think The Book Thief is over rated and I am sorry to give that impression.  It’s not overrated, it’s a phenomenal work of art.  However what I mean to say is that the language, the narrative style, of The Hunger Games is no less purposeful and deliberate.  Given that the language is equally valid and the events equally disturbing, I wonder if I will ever hear citizens aghast that the rest of year 11 are studying Marcus Zuzack’s  multi-award winning description of the truly brutal nightmare that was life in Nazi Germany. Not likely.

The Hunger Games will not be everyone’s cup of tea but it is certainly not glorifying the brutality it deals with and in many ways it shows a great deal more respect for the consequences of mortal combat than many of the classics. Did Frodo stop and reflect on all those that felt Sting’s sting?  I seem to remember quite a body count in the Lord of the Rings trilogy, and not a lot of remorse.  Perhaps, Tolkien, himself a war veteran, was not able to come to terms with the human face of his enemy in a way that we who are privileged to have seen war only through a lens may do.  Many years ago, the Australian artist George Gittoes toured with his “Realism of Peace” exhibition and he spoke to my art class about the dimension of reality he was able to achieve with a paintbrush.  This is a truth not always captured with a camera.  And in the same way,  authors such as Melana Marchetta and Suzanne Collins choose to speak their truth through fiction.
Perhaps, rather than standing by while The Hunger Games was dismissed as some gory, shallow teen novel with no greater complexity than a Kristen Stewart facial expression I should have whipped out my copy and read those teachers from a non-English teaching faculty the scene where Katniss sings for Rue or when Peeta describes the first moment he laid eyes on his beloved.
But that’s not what sells papers. That’s not the bit that makes the most interesting sound bites and perhaps that reason more than any other is why The Hunger Games does need to be analysed in school. It’s provocative.  While I can see how the armchair critics could be easily aghast, there’s much food for thought in The Hunger Games.

Full Trickle Ahead

Published September 16, 2012 by electricbluegaloo

Since I declared my book challenge my life has taken a rather dramatic change having moved 700+km to return to full-time work. Nevertheless I am proud of my recent committment to achieving my goal – I think I set it for 6.
I have read almost 2 Meme McDonald and Boori Monty Prior Books in the past couple of weeks and loved them. Inspired by Judith Ridge’s article I dove into My Girrandji. I can see why it was Book of the Year: Younger Readers.

I love the narrative style and the presentation of the story with interspersed pictures and page illustrations.  I love the use of authentic langauge, but here I do have one criticism.  Words such as gammin or charging didn’t really need to be translated within the narrative.  I know that having grown up around Aboriginal families and having taught in Aboriginal communities I probably have a better grasp of Aboriginal English than some, but this begs the question of who is the intended audience of this book.  I can think of plenty of kids I have taught that I hope will read this book. It is the very authenticity of the language and the rawness of the hairyman that cannot be replicated by someone who has not experienced the childhood fear of the “bad hairyman”.  Kids, adults, everyone reads books that they can relate to on some level, the more levels the better.

I would love some of my students to read this book and have their lives enriched by the knowledge that somewhere in the world of literature there are people who make a living telling stories using the same language they use with their families and talking about the same cultural experiences and beliefs as themselves.  This book has universal appeal to anyone who has experienced fear, overcome terror and gown into self-confidence.  It is about family, self belief and the knowledge that some things that others call superstition are really real.

My husband is now reading it and loving it too, and he’s much less of a bookworm than myself.  In many ways I see similarities between Aboriginal culture and that of the West Indies, where the husband is from.  Perhaps Allen and Unwin should consider sending a few copies over there.

I am currently reading Fly Trap and totally loving it.  Perhaps I can relate better to this one as it has a female protagonist – gotta love the girls.  I also got excited by the use of the story of how the echidna got his spines.  This is a great Dreaming story that the AERT teacher read to my class on Friday, but sometimes I wonder what is the next step from here.  What are the kids supposed to do with that story after they’re finished infants school? Thanks Boori and Meme for delivering the next step.

I can’t wait to finish reading Fly Trap.

After that I have Stop Watch Books 1, 2 and 3 by Sally Morgan, Ambelin, Blaze amd Ezekiel Kwaymullina lined up on my bedside table.  Hurrah for #NYR2012

Allen and Unwin Teaching Notes and website

3 Drops of Kickass

Published June 26, 2012 by electricbluegaloo

Sitting in “Snow White and the Huntsman” earlier in the week I had to ask myself “How are we supposed not to love Bella Swan?”

If you think about it, we girls and women have been conditioned to need rescuing. For generations we have been raised on a diet of imprisoned and sleeping princesses who can only be rescued by princes who we really know nothing about. If you want more for your daughters here are some princesses (and a queen) you can really sink your teeth into:

Elizabeth (The Paper Bag Princess)

Quintana (Froi of the Exiles)

Jatta (Jatta)

Snow White (Snow White and the Huntsman)

Merida (Brave)

Boudicca (Tacitus)

Isabeau and Isuelt (Witches of Eileanan Series)

Cassandra (The Ranger’s Apprentice Series)

Poppy (The Forgotten Pearl, not a “real princess”, but still totally awesome)

I’ve managed to quickly assemble quite an impressive list of complex female characters for mothers and daughters to enjoy from picture books through to adult.

What fun girls can have, and even occasionally indulge in harmless whimsies of helpless lamb-iness.

Hurrah for kickass girls!

On My To-Read List

Published June 13, 2012 by electricbluegaloo

Today I finished the exceptionally brilliant Heart of Stars by Kate Forsyth. Normally the conclusion to a fantastic series fills me with a melancholy akin to farewelling a friend you probably won’t every see again, or a fantastic holiday that must end. However, for two reasons the as I drew nearer and nearer the final pages I managed a quiet excitement. Firstly, it is a very talented fantasy novelist indeed whom the reader can trust to actually wrap the series up – not drag it out endlessly promising this will really, really be the last one. One of the masterful aspects of Kate’s writing is her pace. Reading the blurbs I sometimes wonder how all that can fit in one book – which are standard size, not overly large, the genre. There is a genuine satisfaction that comes from having all the important questions answered.

The second reason I am not in a mope is my to-read shelf. My excitement over the books I plan to read is a great antidote to the end of great series, so I will share them now. The only dilemma I have now is the order in which I should read them.

The Forgotten Pearl by Belinda Murrell

This is a time slip novel by the author of The Locket of Dreams and The Ruby Talisman. Belinda Murrell has proved her talent as a thoroughly entertaining reader with a gift for description and the easy appreciation of pace which distinguishes her sister, Kate Forsyth. I’d like to read this as I enjoyed the Ruby Talisman so much and I really enjoy finding the recurring themes in the stories by Kate and Belinda. Another appealing aspect is that it is not part of a series – I am just not ready for that level of commitment again so soon. I didn’t really appreciate “time slip” when I first came across the genre through Jackie French, but having read a few of them now I am really looking forward to the mix of historical fiction and social realism.

The Invaders by John Flanagan 

I absolutely loved the first series , The Ranger’s Apprentice, and have had this book on my shelf for months while I ploughed through The Witches of Eileanan and Rhiannon’s Ride . There’s a lot to love about this series too. I had been thinking “maybe not just yet” because it is a little too similar the Kate Forsyth books of which I have read 9 in a row (with a brief pause between series to read The Ruby Talisman). However the major differences are a) the obvious age difference of the intended audience, b) Flanagan “writes for boys” while Forsyth has very strong female leads and c) there is a greater percentage of wry humour in Flanagan than the more occasional comic relief in the aforementioned Forsyth series/s.

Punchlines by Oliver Phommavahn

Now this is definitely a funny book for boys, and I would have read it ages ago if I hadn’t locked myself in for a nine book deal. A definite juxtaposition to my recent reading habits, but am I still too wrapped in the world of magic and sorceresses to appreciate Phommavahns contemporary references? Hmm, I think I’ll read this second.

Ok, need to help daddy with the post bath naked “Running of the Babes” so a snap decision

Pearl, Punchlines, Invaders! Good one.

“Am I Black Enough For You?” Review: Review

Published April 25, 2012 by electricbluegaloo

Michael McGirr, April 21-22 2012: Challenging the belief that Aboriginal stories are all sad, SMH Spectrum, p. 30

What a fantastic title for a review of Anita Heiss’ memoir, because there are a heck of a lot of depressing movies and books out there. The review started by pointing out the obvious strengths of Heiss’ career and contribution to Australian literature, but hit a sour note with a beguiling comment about the nasty Bolt business last year. I read the comment several times and quote below for your benefit:

“Bolt wrote things Heiss found hurtful and insulting, not least because, as she argues here, they were untrue”.

What is it about this seemly benign sentence that has left such a bitter taste in my mouth?

Bolt’s comments not only insulted Anita Heiss, they insulted the entire nation. There have been certain programs and entitlements put into place that go some small way to repairing the damage that has been done to generations of Indigenous men and women, elders, adults and children. Anita Heiss is Aboriginal, was, is and always will be. However, that is not the point. The claims that Bolt made were UNTRUE! By stating only that Anita was “hurt and insulted” by these comments, and using the qualifying statement that “she argues” that they are untrue undermines the dignity which Heiss maintained through the ordeal, and that Bolt publicly made untrue statements. Though she is Aboriginal, the “plum” positions she has held have been the result of hard work, persistence and the giving up of her own time as an unpaid volunteer. For more details and a typically eloquent explanation please read ANITA HEISS’ STATEMENT ON EATOCK VS HWT .

The review then goes on to further Bolt-like ignorance by questioning her relationship with her parents. Should Anita consider herself Austrian rather than Aboriginal because she was close with her father? What the reviewer seems to forget is that genetic background is but one aspect of an individual’s identity. Spoiler alert! She is also a woman, who grew from girl. She is entitled to have a close relationship with her father and still consider herself indigenous. Anita Heiss should write her next memoir entitled “Am I Female Enough for You?”, because while I am not indigenous myself, Anita Heiss is an inspiration to me as a woman.

As I read over the review again I wonder if the title is not ironic. I get the sense that Michael McGirr wants to be positive but the review is underwritten by a genuine lack of understanding of the historical and contemporary experiences of Aboriginal Australians. It is sad that McGirr likens consumerism to Catholicism. I can only shake my head. Let me explain: Harrods and Grace Bros. did not send sales assistants to Aboriginal communities in order to train the youth for servitude, etc, etc, etc. For further information on what shops did not do, but representatives of churches of all denominations did do read any number of sources, including The Bringing Them Home Report (1997) .

Anita made a comment on Facebook last year about a book that was poorly reviewed (please see previous post for more detailed discussion of review responsibilities). Sorry to say this review suffers from the same failings. While the review concludes thus:

“Her writing makes amiable and life-affirming company”

overall it just goes to show how little the majority of non-Indigenous Australians really understand about our own history, and why this is such an essential un-sad story for us all to read.

Published April 12, 2012 by electricbluegaloo

I am desperate to see the Hunger Games, not just because my hideous cousins were disscussing it in detail right in front of me while I was TRYING to finish my assignment. Not just because of the massive publicity and hype surrounding the film, but mostly because of the following review. While the review here is of the book rather than the movie I have discovered something about myself: I like to see the movie first. I saw Harry Potter before I read it, I saw the BBC mini-series before I read The Lion The Witch and the Wardrobe (rumoured to be appearing at the Powerhouse museum, Sydney soon) and of course the dearly beloved Twilight Saga caught my attention, well . . . basically when Jacob ripped his shirt off. And to add to that record I also had to see about 6 different interpretations before I connected with Pride and Prejudice. Who knows what will spark the connection, oh ye teachers who write, and writers who teach.

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