May finds us all well into the swing of both Term Two and 2021; we’re almost halfway through the year! At least this year has been a little calmer, for most of us, and allowed for a more consistent school experience for both educators and students.
On the blog this month we have quite a varied selection of books: the second Australian YA novel of 2021; a beautiful picture book; and a collection of poetry.
Zoë, Samira and Dahlia don’t know each other, but after a difficult year each is heading off with friends to celebrate finishing school and becoming an adult. Zoë is still on tenterhooks waiting to find out if she will be accepted to do medicine at university, and is feeling overwhelmed with the weight of her parents’ expectations; Samira is heading off with her boyfriend and friends that made completing her education at a new school a bit easier — that is until she’s dumped at the train station and begins to wonder if her friends really have her best interests at heart; and Dahlia is struggling with the death of her best friend and what that means for the gap year they’d planned together. Schoolies is a time where many teenagers have their first experience of being an ‘adult’: making their own decisions without parental supervision and learning to live with the consequences. Can’t Say it Went to Plan by Gabrielle Tozer is a funny, lovely book that uses this milestone to look at some important life lessons around friendship, reliance and love. Classroom resources are available.
A young girl notices that she and her friends have different shaped eyes; while some of them have blue eyes or round eyes, she has Eyes That Kiss in the Corners. She also notices that her eyes are the same shape as her mother, grandmother and younger sister. Through the symbolism of ‘eyes that kiss in the corners and glow like warm tea’ we learn about the Asian heritage of the narrator’s family, and the love they all have for each other and their shared history. The book includes illustrations full of joy and colour, butterflies and flowers, to reflect the beauty and uniqueness that can be found in this story by Joanna Ho and Dung Ho. Classroom resources are available.
In Cast Away: Poems for Our Time, Naomi Shihab Nye, the Poetry Foundation’s Young People’s Poet Laureate, examines things that our society considers disposable. Trees which once had beautiful straight trunks, and were a beloved home for birds, are pulped to make paper. A homeless woman finds a purse in a rubbish bin and decides that a passer-by suits it more than her. Plastic water bottles become a metaphor for despair and our deliberate ignorance about the giant garbage patches in our oceans. Sometimes confrontational, often whimsical and always insightful, Nye looks at people, objects, and ideas that we no longer need, and challenges us to do and be better. Classroom and community activities can be found in the book.
Read of the Month – The English Spy
If, like me, you’re a crime fiction aficionado looking for something just a bit different, can I suggest spy fiction? Spy fiction generally contains the plot twists and turns, the red herrings and intellectual engagement that make crime fiction so enjoyable, but in a format that is different enough to be refreshing.
Daniel Silva is most famous for his series focussing on master Israeli spy Gabriel Allon, and The English Spy is one of the books in this series (which currently runs at 20 titles). In this instalment, Allon’s wife is travelling back to Israel to await the imminent birth of their twins, while he stays in Italy to complete the restoration of a painting (yes, he’s a highly-accomplished restorer). However, MI6 ask him to employ his skilful touch to find the master-bomber who has blown up the boat of an English princess. But all is not as it seems, and it quickly becomes apparent that Allon himself is the target and some very powerful people want him dead. Sometimes it’s easiest to give people what they want…
Plot twist after revelation after subversion of expectation unfold in quick succession to keep the reader engrossed in a story of international intrigue where no one is safe, and nothing is sacred. Can Allon save the innocent, punish the guilty and make it back to Jerusalem in time for the arrival of his children? Well-written and highly entertaining, each book is quickly paced to ensure the reader stays on their toes until the very end.
Having read half a dozen of the books in this series, I feel confident in recommending them all. Each book, while not formulaic, furthers Allon’s personal story while also having him race against time (and the bad guys) to prevent an international catastrophe. After finding a series like this, I would normally go back and read books in order, but this time I’ve read books as I’ve come across them. Enough information is provided in each book for you to understand how past events have impacted the current story without being repetitive even if you have read previous novels in the series. This may not be high literature, but it is well-written, fast-paced fun!