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Finding Your Feet

Welcome to June. I hope the start of this month finds you coming closer to a new kind of normal – even if that ‘normal’ might have dramatically changed for you. I think we’re all getting used to the fact that whatever normality comes to us over the coming months, things will never be the same as they were before COVID-19 swept across the world.

Wherever you are in your journey towards normality, I hope the books below can help.

Frances ‘Frankie’ Ripley was born in a storm, and she’s been full of tempestuous, fierce emotions ever since. When a tsunami hits her town, she – along with everyone else – dies. But, this is just the start of the story in Storm. One hundred years later she wakes to find her home has been turned into a tourist destination, and Frankie finally has an outlet for all her raging emotion; becoming a poltergeist and really letting loose. This is an unusual premise, but Nicola Skinner’s beautiful writing, deft use of humour and wonderful characters make this a fantastic book, just for the story alone. However, difficult topics such as death, anger and betrayal are tackled sensitively, but without sugar-coating, and in a way that teachers, parents and children will find both refreshing and helpful. This book is a great one for any library, and would make an excellent focus text for a unit on feeling and expressing emotion.

The Blue Giant is a beautifully illustrated fable about our need to look after the oceans and seas, which make up two-thirds of our planet. Mia and her mum are enjoying a day at the beach when a blue giant appears from the water, asking for help with all the rubbish. While they answer the blue giant’s plea, Mia and her mum come to realise there is too much for them to do alone, so they enlist the help of friends and their community to make a difference in clearing up waterways and reducing pollution. This is a wonderful book to use with children of all ages. While it’s quite realistic about the problems we face in cleaning up our oceans, it also offers practical solutions about how each of us can help tackle the problem. The illustrations make a wonderful visual literacy study in the use of colour, style and subverting expectations. This, along with author Katie Cottle’s debut, The Green Giant, look at the environment and sustainability in hopeful, beautiful and practical ways.

Many of you will know of Ewa Jozefkowicz from her previous books, The Mystery of the Colour Thief and Girl 38. In The Key to Finding Jack, Jozefkowicz’s exploration of big, important and difficult topics is continued, this time looking at sibling and other familial relationships, grief, and how difficult it is to ever truly know someone. Flick adores her funny, fun older brother Jack. While she knows she’ll miss him when he takes his gap year in Peru, at least it means he’s not heading down the path of ‘taking his future more seriously’ like their father would like him to. But then there’s an earthquake and Jack goes missing. Flick is determined to find her brother, but along the way discovers the greater mystery: who is he really? And was the Jack she knew and loved ever truly real? This is a brilliant book to help children begin to see the older people in their lives as complex and varied – people who struggle with right and wrong, and who sometimes make enormous mistakes. Teachers’ notes are available.

Read of the Month – Saving Missy

Over the past couple of years, ‘uplit’ (uplifting, positive, heart-warming literature) has become a ‘thing’. I can honestly say that, until recently, it had passed me by. While I had noticed books like Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine and The Other Half of Augusta Hope in bookshops, I’d walked right past them to the crime and Australian literature sections. Well, that has changed! Real life is gritty, scary and unpredictable enough without also encountering it between the covers of a book. So, I decided to give Saving Missy a go. And I surprised myself!

Missy Carmichael could charitably be described as prickly: grieving for her lost husband, with her children distant and no real friends, she feels adrift. Then a chance encounter in the park forces her to interact with two women who are enormously different to herself. In turn, this leads to firm friendships, an adopted dog, and a surrogate grandson. All while Missy comes to realise that she is both capable and deserving of more love than she ever felt possible.

Missy is a very real character, who has few illusions about herself, or the world around her. It was Missy herself who drew me into the story. She’s not immediately likeable, and yet she is so hard on herself that you wish for good things to happen to her. So when she started to develop relationships with other members of her community, I wasn’t as resistant as I might otherwise have been to enjoying the story. The fact that many of these relationships are based around dogs definitely didn’t hurt either; nor did the mysteries that are at the heart of Missy’s poor opinion of herself, which are slowly unravelled across the course of the book.

This novel was just what I needed: entertaining, full of positivity and well written. If you need a bit of lightness in your life, Saving Missy fits the bill. If you think it would a good selection for your book club, reading notes are available.

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