Category Archives: Young Adult

New Zealand Post Children’s Book Awards – 2014

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And the nominations are…
Junior Fiction
* A Winter’s Day in 1939 – Melinda Szymanik (Already well read and loved in my classroom)
* Dunger – Joy Cowley (Doing the rounds at the moment)
* Felix and the Red Rats – James Norcliffe (Must get!)
* Project Huia – Des Hunt (Popular with the boys)
* The Princess and the Foal – Stacey Gregg (Well loved by more than just the horse book readers)

Young Adult Fiction
* A Necklace of Souls – Rachel L Stedman (Won the 2012 Tessa Duder Award for a work of fiction for Young Adults 13 and above)
* Bugs – Whiti Hereaka (Superb – have already reviewed)
* Mortal Fire – Elizabeth Knox
* Speed Freak – Fleur Beale (Consistent – Can see it in a Year 10 English Class replacing Slide the Corner – maybe)
* When We Wake – Karen Healey

Very exciting to finally have the short list and see that many of these books are already well known and loved. I am particularly pleased to see ‘A Winter’s Day in 1939’ by Melinda Szymnaik, and ‘Bugs’ by Whiti Hereaka, both of which I have really enjoyed.
I still have some reading to do, as I haven’t read ‘Felix and the Red Rats’ by James Norcliffe. Shame on me. But I have never been able to get ‘The Loblolly Boy’ or its sequel ‘The Loblolly Boy and the Sorcerer’ to take flight in the classroom. I will need to retry, perhaps.
This year, to try something a little different, I am going to try to post book reviews of the children who have read the books, as well as my own thoughts, before the Grand Announcement of the winners on Monday 23rd June.

I am slightly disappointed by the lack of male authors in the Young Adult Section, but as I think the judges have done a great job of selecting a range of fresh and interesting titles, as well as including some tried and true, I’ll suspend judgement on that for now.

Just for fun, I came back into my classroom this afternoon to see written on my whiteboard…
summons…lovely!
Good reading, everyone!

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Filed under Children 10+, Children 12+, Children 8+, New Zealand Post Children's Book Awards, New Zealand Writer, Uncategorized, Young Adult

Keeper – Mal Peet (2004)

Keeper Keeper – Mal Peet (2004)

Awards: Branford Boase (2004); German Youth Literature Award (2007).

 

I bought this book because I had recently heard Mal Peet and his wife, Elspeth Graham, interviewed on Saturday Mornings with Kim Hill, NZ National Radio: http://www.radionz.co.nz/audio/player/2558762

I remembered having read Tamar, his Carnegie Award winning book, and loving it.  I also have a young man in one of my English classes who is football/soccer mad.  He has finished reading the ‘Goal!’ series and I was looking for something that might capture his imagination (and have more to follow).  And the reality is that a lot of books that are specifically written for kids who love sports but don’t love reading, are of a pretty poor quality – which is frustrating.  I believe that to get children to love reading, they need to be exposed to quality writing.  Just like you can’t expect to get a beautiful sound out of a poor quality instrument, why would someone who only gets to read pedestrian writing learn to love reading!

This book certainly didn’t start out the way I had expected.  Faustino is a sports journalist interviewing El Gato, goalkeeper of the winning World Cup team.  This is to be a front page story, and Faustino knows exactly how he wants it to go.  He wants the story of El Gato’s journey from poverty to fame and fortune.  The only trouble is, El Gato doesn’t seem to want to play the game Faustino’s way.  He starts telling the story of how he came to be the one of a kind goal keeper, with seemingly superhuman powers, that he is, and it’s a story that’s hard to swallow.  It seems that this mythical goal keeper might not quite have a secure grip on reality.

I shared Faustino’s concern, initially.  I was completely taken by surprise.  I was sceptical.  I was anxious.  Faustino was worried about the sanity of his football hero.  I was worried about the credibility of this author.  Like Faustino, I decided to play along with the story – to hear El Gato out.  Certainly I was enjoying the language.  Mal Peet writes evocatively – he draws you right into a story:

Standing there, with its back to the trees, was a goal. A soccer goal. Two uprights and a crossbar. With a net. A net fixed up like the old-fashioned ones, pulled back and tied to two poles behind the goal. My brain stood still in my head. (Don’t you just love that image?  My brain stood still in my head…Wow!)  I could hear the thumping of my blood. I must have looked like an idiot, my eyes mad and staring, my mouth hanging open. Eventually I found the nerve to take a few steps toward this goal, this quite impossible goal. The woodwork was a silvery grey, and the grain of the wood was open and rough. Weathered, like the timber of old boats left for years on the beach. It shone slightly. The net had the same colour, like cobwebs, and thin green plant tendrils grew up the two poles that supported it.

It seemed to take an age, my whole life, to walk into that goalmouth. When I got there, I put out my hands and held the net. It was sound and strong, despite its great age. I was completely baffled and stood there, my fingers in the mesh of the net and my back to the clearing, trying, and failing, to make sense of all this.

Peet says that he has long since got tired of categorising by age or genre.  And this is apparent in ‘Keeper’.  There is enough about football in this book for any avid football fan to love.  But I don’t love football – at all.  And I really loved this book.  I highly recommend it.  Somehow, the weirdness works and becomes fantastically believable…Read Jan Mark’s review at the following link:

http://www.theguardian.com/books/2003/nov/15/featuresreviews.guardianreview3

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Filed under Children 12+, Five stars, Prize winners, Read Aloud, Young Adult

Far From Home – Na’ima B Robert

Far From HomeFar From Home – Na’ima B Robert (2011)

This book was given to me to read by a student in one of my English classes.

It is a challenging read.  The author initially introduces us to Tariro, daughter of the Baobab.  Tariro tells the stories of her people, and the simple explanations given really help to develop an empathy in the reader.  She explains, in her uncle’s voice

‘Now, Lobengula, son of Mzilikazi, king of the Ndebele, had grown concerned about all these varungu – the Boers, the Portuguese, the British – bothering him, wanting him to let them look for gold and other minerals in his territory. But, because he trusted the British Queen’s representative, he finally agreed to sign a document called the Rudd Concession, giving the mining rights they wanted.’

Cecil John Rhodes was granted a charter by Queen Victoria, allowing him to run the country on behalf of Britain. As Tariro quite rightly asks,

‘Who gave her the authority to decide our fate?’ I asked.  ‘We have never seen her.  We did not accept her as our queen.

The removals of the Karanga people, Tariro’s people, from the land, are violent and merciless.  Tariro and her family suffer terribly, with the loss of many people and the removal to poor land with no rights to cut down trees, or to irrigate.  And the girls sent to fetch water from the river live in constant danger of attack from the white men.  (In Maori, a karanga is a spiritual call to welcome, or summon, the manuhiri – visitors – on to a Marae.  It is a thread between the two women, one tangata whenua and one manuhiri, calling through the passages of time.  This felt really appropriate to me,as this novel is so much about the calls of woman to woman, and identity through time and place).  A good friend of mine who speaks Shona, tells me that Maori and Shona languages have unexpected connection.

Tariro suffers such an attack, and the result is a daughter, Tawona.  Despite her hatred of the man, Ian Watson, Tariro loves her daughter, and brings her up in the Karanga way, as best she can, suffering the deprivations that they do.

However, as time passes, discontent grows, and the African National Congress grows and develops.  The Karanga, and other displaced African people, build an army and start to reclaim their land.  This is also the time of Robert Mugabe.  Tariro becomes involved and fights in the battles as a soldier.  This is an historic time, where the people of Zimbabwe not only reclaim their land but also reclaim their name.

About two thirds of the way through the novel, we are introduced to Katie, the white and legitimate daughter of Ian Watson, and the White African version of events is told.  To be fair, it is difficult for the reader to develop a lot of empathy with Katie and her family.  Our first and loyal affiliation is to the family we know and love already, who were so badly treated by her white ancestors and by her father.  Racism is conveyed very effectively, especially in moments where Katie herself acts in ways that reflect her upbringing, rather than what she learns.  I guess this could be uncomfortable reading for some, but it reflects very much a perspective that was real.  What the author attempts to do is to help us understand why Katie might feel that she has had her heritage ripped away from her.  She is not successful in this.  But I did find myself thinking that it wasn’t Katie’s fault she was born into the family and the place that she was.

This novel demands that the reader asks some really difficult questions of themselves and their lives.  The author bravely attempts to present two sides of a story that she cannot really feel in her heart.  While this is courageous, I think ultimately Katie as a character fails.  She is relatively two-dimensional compared to Tariro or Tawona.  I’m not sure that is entirely fair, but it is a brave attempt to acknowledge the possibility of another perspective to this story.

This is a very well written book that taught me much about the recent history of Zimbabwe.  I will be asking my friend who grew up in Zimbabwe, to read it and tell me his view.

Because of the violent acts that happen within the story, I feel this is probably a Young Adult / Adult novel.  I would rate it a 4/5 stars.

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Filed under Children 12+, Four stars, Historical, Young Adult

The Ocean at the End of the World – Neil Gaiman

The Ocean at the End of the LaneThe Ocean at the End of the Lane – Neil Gaiman (YA and Adult)

Nobody looks like what they really are on the inside.  You don’t. I don’t. People are much more complicated  than that.

I’m going to tell you something important.  Grown-ups don’t look like grown-ups on the inside either.  Outside, they’re big and thoughtless and they always know what they are doing.  Inside, they look like they always have.  Like they did when they were your age.  The truth is there aren’t any grown-ups.  Not one in the whole wide world.

This book is Neil Gaiman’s first novel for adults in eight years.  Some say it is his best novel yet.  I read and enjoyed the award winning Coraline (see awards for Coraline below), but this is another step up again. Expect to see it winning plenty of awards. It draws on the very best in storytelling, with Gaiman perhaps stating his game plan in the novel itself, when the seven and a half year old version of his narrator says:

I liked myths.  They weren’t adult stories and they weren’t children’s stories.  They were better than that.  They just were.

In the same way, this story is ostensibly told by a very middle aged ‘handsome George’, who deviates from his journey to a funeral, to revisit where he used to live when he was seven.  His childhood memories begin very much like a 1960’s children’s novel.  He loves his bedroom in the attic, his books and his parents – not so much his little sister.  He has a kitten, and everything is good in his world.  But it all changes rather abruptly, when his parents suffer some financial misfortunes which mean they need to take in boarders.  George has to move bedrooms and share with his sister, which he takes quite philosophically. And then the boarder arrives, unfortunately killing the kitten as he does so.

The shocking lack of empathy the boarder has for the boy’s loss is the first indication that the story is going to become quite dark.  And then, quite suddenly, the boarder dies, which is how our narrator meets Lettie Hempstock, her mother and her grandmother.  Lettie is eleven, but she is also mysteriously ageless.

‘How old are you, really?’ I asked.

‘Eleven.’

I thought for a while.  Then I asked, ‘How long have you been eleven for?’

She smiled at me.

When we are introduced to her grandmother , she has, ‘long grey hair, like cobwebs, and a thin face.’  The crone image is very clear, and that there are three of them is very mythical and magical.  The food in their farmhouse is the ultimate in comfort food.  It made me think of Enid Blyton picnics, or the good wholesome food that Colin and Mary are restored to health on, in Frances Hodgson Burnett’s The Secret Garden.  There is something restorative about this food, beyond its nutritional value.

‘Nothing I had drunk had ever tasted like that before: rich and warm and perfectly happy in my mouth.  I remembered that milk after I had forgotten everything else.’

It is lucky that our young narrator has been fortified by the women at the farm, since things go from bad to worse very quickly.  Before we know it, his world is a very, very dark place, where no-one that he knows can be relied upon to protect him, except Lettie, her mother, and her grandmother.

Some of the cruelty that happens is very disturbing, and reminded me of Roald Dahl in his darker (darkest) writing, and the evilness permeates like the evil witch, Queen Jardis, in Narnia.  Beautiful and cold and wicked beyond belief.  The food is in distinct contrast to what the Hempstock’s farmhouse provides, much like the Queen’s hot chocolate and Turkish delight in Narnia.  (In fact, I would not eat Turkish Delight for years, after reading The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe!  It still feels like a very naughty dessert, to me.)

Neil Gaiman says, ‘Children are a relatively powerless minority, and, like all oppressed people, they know more about their oppressors than their oppressors know about them.  Information is currency, and information that will allow you to decode the language, motivations and behaviour of the occupying forces, on whom you are uniquely dependent for food, for warmth, for happiness, is the most valuable information of all.’

This story, like many fables, myths or fairy tales (I’m talking Grimm, not Disney, here) is a cautionary tale.  I think it perfectly captures the ideal Gaiman presents in the novel.  This is mythical; it is not an adult story, it is not a children’s story. It is better than that.  It just is.  It explores a child’s view of adults through an adult remembering the child he was.  Gaiman is expert at thrilling his readers with the terrifying, mysterious and strange.  And yet he writes so poetically that you want to read and reread each line as you go.

I think that this is a book that I would not necessarily present at school.  There is a lot of darkness. Josh Roseman puts it well, when he says: Note to Parents: While this book is written from a seven-year-old’s POV, it still contains disturbing imagery, nudity, scenes of child abuse, and discussions of corporal punishment. I’m not sure I can put an age range on this one; just read it first, and then decide if your kids are ready for it. Which, when you get right down to it, is what I always say – Read more at his website.

I highly recommend this book.  For me, it was a secure 5/5.

Read another review of this book here

Coraline – Neil Gaimain – Awards:

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Filed under fantasy, Five stars, Young Adult